UK: Customs Union with EU or a longer delay of Brexit

Last Friday the UK Parliament, the Commons voted down for a third time the government’s Brexit proposal. PM Theresa May speaks after the vote. (UK Parliament photo).

Last week, the UK Parliament, the Commons, before rejecting PM Theresa May’s deal with large majority for a third time, had also voted down all eight alternative  exit options, ranging from a wild divorce to no exit at all. So far, the legislative has agreed only on delaying the exit. Now, the Prime Minister says she will table her Brexit deal in the legislative for a fourth time. If the issue was not of enormous importance for Britain, the European Union and the entire world, it could have been a tremendously entertaining unique political anecdote.

Alas, Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, is the oldest Parliamentary democracy and the stakes in this affair include high risks for the well-being of four nations: the English, the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh. By the same token, it threatens the entire European continent with unprecedented disturbances. After May’s deal was turned down last Thursday for a third time, the Brexit date is now set for 12 April, practically too soon for anything.

All alternatives rejected

However, out of the eight alternative options for a Brexit, no Brexit or a second referendum, the one rejected with the smallest majority was Ken Clarke’s – Customs union. In that eventuality, the UK could remain in EU’s most important institution, the Customs Union. This option presents the least of the risks for the business sector of the economy, for workers and employers too. To be noted, for the first time the trade unions of workers’ and employers’, TUC and CBI respectively, jointly addressed a letter to the Prime Minister, calling for a plan ‘B’ to be found and warned about the devastating economic shocks from a possible no-deal.

Workers and employers united

The letter is signed by Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary and Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director General. It notes that the two unions “represent millions of workers and tens of thousands of businesses”.

 Then it continues: “…We ask you to take three steps to protect the jobs, rights and livelihoods of ordinary working people. First, avoiding no deal is paramount. Businesses and employees alike need to see their Government clearly acknowledge the reckless damage no deal would cause and recommit itself to avoiding this outcome…Second, securing an extension has become essential…Third, ‘the current deal or no deal’ must not be the only choice. A Plan B must be found – one that protects workers, the economy and an open Irish border, commands a parliamentary majority, and is negotiable with the EU”.

No-deal Brexit ousted

Workers and employers said it all. They even enter the political labyrinth and note that there is parliamentary majority for a rational plan ‘B’ and ring the alarm over a catastrophic eventuality of a no-deal Brexit. After all, there is a majority in Parliament strongly opposing to a wild Brexit. However, petty politics and personal agendas impede the leaders from elaborating on this fact. The problem is that this majority horizontally crosses the two main political formations, Tories and Labor alike.

Neither May nor Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor leader, want to be seen counting on the opposite benches for a viable solution.  The second referendum possibility was never proposed as such. It was the “Confirmatory public vote” of whatever exit deal was agreed, which was rejected last week in the Commons as indicative vote ‘M’. This was not a straight forward proposal for a new plebiscite, to annul the 48% – 52% in favour of Brexit result at the EU referendum. Currently, all polls give ‘remain’ a clear majority.

Petty politics

All in all, as things stand, the most probable and less harmful for everybody option is a long delay of Brexit. Brussels appear favorable. In this case, though, Britain will be obliged to stage – a humiliating for the UK democracy – European election to send 73 deputies to the European Parliament. Among them will certainly be the political harlequin Nigel Farage, who won’t miss the generous remuneration of a MEP. This is the kind of people who rode the Brexit horse and drove Britain to the rocks.

Today, MPs will vote again on alternative deals, with the Customs Union being the most preferred option. If this possibility is again voted down, the only remaining no high-risk alternative is a long delay of exit and participation in the European Elections.

No-deal Brexit is considered excluded, unless Britain sleepwalks to it.

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