Brexit: Only Corbyn and May in concert can make the needed compromises

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visited the UK (January 10, 2019. 10 Downing St. photo. Some rights reserved)

A small group of British Tory MPs numbering around 120 representatives are decisively planning to send Britain to the cliff in a no-deal Brexit. Before last Xmas, they triggered an intraparty procedure to oust Prime Minister Theresa May from the party Presidency and consequently drive her out from 10 Downing Street. They were in minority and May survived. Out of the 317 Tory MPs, 117 voted against their leader. They could have predicted the outcome very easily. Obviously, those sworn Brexiteers just wanted to belittle the PM and her kind of soft Brexit Agreement on the EU Withdrawal.

Then, on Tuesday 15 January, a round number of 120 Conservative MPs again defied their leader. They joined the opposition deputies, including the Labour Party, and all of them together downvoted May’s soft Brexit proposal by 432 to 202. To be reminded, this is the only divorce accord the European Union has agreed upon, after two years of unrelenting negotiations. Brussels continue working on Britain’s exit from the Union on this text of 585 pages foreseeing the terms of UK’s withdrawal. Last December, this legally binding text was approved by the other 27 EU leaders. It’s very difficult, rather, impossible, to substantially amend it before the Brexit day of 29 March this year.

Chaos in London

But let’s return to the Commons, the UK Parliament. On Wednesday, 16 January, the Brexiteer Tory MPs didn’t join the major opposition party in its attempt to bring down the government. It was a Parliamentary motion of no-confidence against the PM, tabled the previous evening by the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. May’s administration was saved by 325 deputies rejecting Corby’s motion, with 306 supporting it. The winning majority included, of course, the 120 Tories, who one month earlier wanted to oust May from the Conservative Presidency and the Prime-ministership.

The Tory party, though, contains another important but much smaller group of deputies, who diametrically oppose their sworn Brexiteer colleagues. They are around ten and they support a friendly and soft Brexit in the least, if not altogether a revocation of Brexit. Ten days ago, together with all the opposition parties they passed an important amendment in Parliament.

A new Brexit deal

The aim of all those representatives was to avoid a catastrophic no-deal Brexit at all costs. To this end, 303 deputies from all parties, including the above mentioned small ‘remain’ Tory group, voted a new legislative amendment in Commons, against 296 Tories denying it. According to this new law, the government is obliged to table a new Brexit proposal in the very likely event that it be rejected, as actually happened last Tuesday. This amendment also foresees that this must be done within three working days. It’s is a clear endeavor to avoid no-deal Brexit, that most of the Tory MPs long for. Only one or two Labour MPs appear to be supporting a hard Brexit.

In short, the British party political system is not any more divided along the traditional left – right lines, but rather upon supporting a soft or hard Brexit option. Understandably, there is escalation of approach for and against no-deal Brexit on both sides. The hard Brexiteers, though, are to be found in the Tory ranks. This is a political group made up by extreme right-wing and nationalist conservatives. Many of them are advertising a new strong British global role, not necessarily as a supplement to the American hegemony.

Reviving the British Empire?

They advertise future bilateral trade agreements with all the major economic powers of the world. They refuse to see the negative signs shown by both the US and China. India has already rejected an exclusive trade deal with Britain. Regarding Japan, in the latest incident, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, told Theresa May in London last week that a no-deal Brexit has to be avoided at all costs. The most he could promise for after Brexit trade relations between UK and Japan was a possible British participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc. Last year, the Japanese ambassador to Britain said “the Japanese companies would have to leave Britain if trade barriers made them unprofitable”.

Yet, the Tory Brexiteers vie for a hostile divorce with the EU, despite the undeniable reality that the Union offers Britain the best possible trade options. There is no doubt that the hard Brexiteers’ narrative is a mixture of lies and some hard to swallow ridiculous revitalization of British world imperium ambitions.

Their hidden aims, though, are made of hopes to drastically degrade social protection, labour rights and environmental issues at home. A solitary Britain, having to compete in the open international markets, will be forced to compromise on all those fronts.

Back to the Commons

Coming back to what is now to follow, today, 21 January, May has to table a new Brexit proposal in Parliament. After a full debate in the legislative, the new proposal will be put to vote on 29 January. Major opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, says he may participate in the deliberations to form the new Brexit proposal, only if the Prime Minister rules out a no-deal divorce.

In case the Labour-Tory cooperation materializes, the next difficult part will be to secure the Brussels agreement. It is a herculean task to be accomplished in eight days. It’s about amending the 585 pages text of the Withdrawal Agreement, in a manner acceptable by the majority of the British MPs, the other 27 European countries plus the EU Parliament.

What next?

Given the insurmountable difficulties to conclude a solid new agreement in eight days, the only positive result from the present chaos could be that May accepts Corbyn’s condition and works towards a binding law in Parliament, ruling out no-deal Brexit. In such an event, the revocation, or at least, the deferral of the Brexit date well beyond the 29 March would be the only option.

Only some tens of unruly hard Brexiteers are likely to oppose this outlook, vying only for a hard, wild, no-deal exit. And the question remains, if this group of around 120 people will be able to impose their option on the entire UK. They will fail only if May and Corbyn decide just once to overcome their divide and save their country from catastrophe. Understandably, if this is the case, a softer and friendlier Brexit may finally come to pass. Only Corbyn and May together can make the needed compromises to secure a viable Brexit deal with Brussels.

 

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