The United Kingdom’s plan to exit the European Union (EU), as a British project held a great fascination for two reasons. It was not obvious why the British would choose to quit the union. It was the first major attempt by a powerful European nation to leave the union. But on January 15, the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and the British Government went down in defeat in the House of Commons by an unprecedented 432 to 202.
Prime Minister Theresa May was now saddled with the task of presenting a fresh Withdrawal Agreement that Parliament can support, if the agreed date for UK’s final withdrawal from the EU on March 29, 2019 is to be realistic. On January 21, after her presentation the House didn’t seem to have found anything new or different from the one it had rejected. But a new clamour arose that whatever the government did, it must foreclose what is called ‘no deal’ exit. No deal means British exports to the EU would be subject to the regular customs checks and taxes which the EU imposes on other countries which are non members of the union. But the hardened Brexiteers, who want Brexit at all costs, seem not to mind at all. Indeed, they think no sacrifice is too great to secure British freedom from the EU.
The new initiatives are Premier May’s consultations with political leaders, seeking to know what they would be ready to support in furtherance of Brexit, to which she seems irrevocably committed. She has ridiculed fresh elections since that seems to play into the hands of the opposition Labour Party. She has rejected a second referendum which she dismissed as not only undemocratic but also as a failure on the government’s part to execute the mandate of the voters.
Each of these options is highly divisive. The British society is clearly divided on Brexit. The issue is turning many hairs grey. New proposals include the extension of Article 50 which buys the government more time with the EU and to forestall the possibility of ‘no deal.’ There is a proposal to give parliament greater control by allowing members to make inputs and ideas on customs union, a second referendum and the Norway model. Norway enjoys free trade with the EU without barriers.
In return, it makes substantial contributions to the EU budget and abides by its rules and laws. The Labour Party intends to table its own motion and put down what the party can support, including a full customs union and a stronger single market and protections for the environment and workers’ rights.
But when all is said and done, the British are beginning to realise that the Brexit adventure is not what it seemed. On the eve of the 2016 referendum, polls found the ‘Remain’ voters in the majority and one poster claimed that “we send the EU 50 million pounds every day. Let’s spend it on our own NHS instead.” It has now been found that many of the claims were inaccurate and some of them were false. It has now dawned on the most optimistic Brexiteer that Brexit is a loser. The analysis of the UK Treasury is that no Brexit scenario is expected to improve the economic conditions of the UK.
A November 2018 publication of the Treasury estimated that within 15 years, the UK economy would be 3.9 per cent worse. Within the last fortnight, it was estimated that at least a trillion pounds had left the United Kingdom already. Indeed, the only consensus among economists is that Brexit will reduce UK’s per capita income and that the Brexit referendum actually damaged the British economy. Its effect includes the reduction of average household income losses of 404 pounds.
One of the lessons of Brexit is the need to be a little more circumspect when making a momentous decision based on very narrow majorities. The number of Britons who voted for ‘Leave’ was 17,410,742 (51.9 per cent) to 16,141,241 (48.1 per cent) ‘Remain.’ This was statistically within the margin of error. It was no surprise that 24 hours after the referendum, a petition for a second referendum attracted more than four million signatures. The government rejected that petition. We think that the most credible thing now is a second referendum to truly ascertain the wish of the British people.