British Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to keep alive her agreement for Brexit, when there is now less than a month March 29th, the date of fate, the one within which she should automatically shoot – except for surprises – the exit of Britain from the European Union. But the fronts are multiple.
The Eurosceptics of the Conservative Party feel the agreement is too soft, especially as regards the notorious backstop clause, which would serve to avoid reintroducing border controls on the island of Ireland. The pro-pro-European Tories, on the other hand, want to avoid a disorderly exit from the EU. A really hellish March awaits us: let’s see why…
The Laborers, after they saw themselves rejecting their amendment for a milder Brexit last Wednesday, decided to officially support the hypothesis of a second referendum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the shadow government, John McDonnell, has already said he is willing to vote again.
But the idea does not seem to excite too much their secretary Jeremy Corbyn, who according to some observers could sabotage the vote should this become a real possibility. And it is not obvious, because the hypothesis of a return to vote is incredibly divisive – at least to read polls – and in any case finding a majority of parliamentarians willing to vote for this option in the House of Commons will be very difficult. In any case, it must be found no later than March 12th. Until then, voting may take place to finally approve a no-Brexit deal or postpone the UK’s exit from the EU.
What will happen to the Irish border?
In the week of March 4th, there will be further meetings between the British delegation in Brussels and the Eurocrats to understand what to do with the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in the case of Brexit. First, to avoid creating a rigid border between the two territories (a hypothesis that would rekindle social, political and religious tensions). The EU had proposed to the United Kingdom to let Northern Ireland remain even after Brexit both in the customs union in the single European market. But this hypothesis had met the hostility of Theresa May, who feared that such a solution would shift the rigid border into the Irish sea, that is to say between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This year an intermediate solution was found with the backstop, which provides for the extension of a special form of customs union not only to Northern Ireland but to all of Great Britain, so as not to create disparities between the various regions of the Kingdom. For anti-Europeans this hypothesis does not go down for two reasons: the first is that according to the latest agreements the backstop would not have a deadline, and could end only with the mutual consent of the United Kingdom and the EU; then because this option could tie the UK to the European market infinity. In practice, it would make Brexit a clown. By March 12th some MPs will try to present a backstop plan with an expiry date, so as to please the skeptics as much as possible.
To avoid or not the exit without agreement?
On March 12th, there will be a vote on the new plan negotiated by May. If it is not approved, the prime minister promised that the next day Westminster would have the opportunity to vote explicitly on the no deal. If the parliament were to reject the exit without agreement there would instead be, on March 14th, a vote to demand the extension of the deadline of the famous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which commits the United Kingdom to leave the EU by March 29th (the extension should however be unanimously approved by all the other 27 EU member states).
However, the British premier explained that a possible shift of Article 50 must be limited in time and “almost certainly can only be done once“. Also because in June there are the Europeans, and an extension beyond that date would force the United Kingdom to take part, adding confusion to the confusion.
The European Council
That is to say the meeting of EU Heads of State and Government, will meet on 21st – 22nd March in Brussels and will address the priorities for this year’s European Semester. On the table will weigh the Parisian meeting between Macron and Merkel, who have launched an unequivocal message on Brexit: willingness to give more time to the negotiation, if the British government will want, but the agreement reached with the EU is not renegotiated.
The fateful date
March 29th. It is the Brexit Day. It will be a day of memorable political statements, of “last times” that we will remember for years and also of concrete changes in the lives of millions of people – depending on how the negotiations went in the previous days. The outcome of the battle between eurosceptics and moderates will determine whether the transition will be peaceful or not.
The United Kingdom enjoys the benefits of the 40 free trade agreements signed by Brussels with over 70 countries as a member of the European Union. Treaties that regulate partnerships with developing economies, political cooperation agreements, agreements of a commercial nature with favorable conditions for access to national markets, from the reduction of duties to the protection of intellectual property. The British government is seeking an agreement to guarantee most of these conditions to companies and consumers even after Brexit, but as we see these days it is easier said than done.
But it does not end here
If the exit is ordered, starting from March 30th will begin the transition period of 21 months, as established by Article 129 of the Withdrawal Agreement, within which the membership of the common market and the union customs will still remain in force. In the case of Brexit without the deal, however, the trade discussions between the European Union and the United Kingdom will be zeroed and will have to be reconstituted in a rather hasty and chaotic way. No transition period and the need to stipulate alternative agreements with the World Trade Organization, in able to replace the Community ones. The United Kingdom, for sure, will no longer have the right to vote in any European institution.