The Strategist

British Parliament launches the Brexit process

02/02/2017 - 14:53

Yesterday, British MPs finished two-day debate on a bill, which opens a way for negotiations between London and Brussels on Brexit conditions. The majority voted in favor of a "civilized divorce", which can officially start on March 9th. British Prime Minister Theresa May is charged with a difficult task to defend the government’s positions on two fronts. Not only has she to persuade European officials into the most favorable conditions for London, but also to overcome antagonism of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The bill consists of only 137 words, but means much to the UK. The document entitles the Prime Minister Theresa May to exercise Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which launches two-year long procedure of leaving the European Union.

During the debate, MPs divided into three groups, not along their parties’ lines. The first group includes supporters of violent Brexit headed by conservative David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. "This is a simple realization of already adopted decision, the point of no return has been passed long ago. We asked Britons whether they want to leave the EU. They decided that they want" - he appealed to his political rivals. 

Typically, Shadow Minister takes the opposite position. However, Matthew Pennycook was absolutely agreeing with his colleague. "Parliament’s attempts to nullify results of the referendum create even greater social isolation, feed ultra-rights, reinforce alienation of a significant part of the electorate and may even provoke unrest in some parts of the country," - he warned.

The second group consisted of those who decided to vote for commencement of Brexit procedure, but only out of respect to popular will, manifested in the referendum on June 23 last year. For example, conservative and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said that he often wanted to criticize the EU and did it as a government representative, but never thought about leaving the Union. Stating that the country makes a "serious mistake", he, however, added that disregard of voters’ will may increase instability in the country. Labourist Yvette Cooper, who takes a similar position, referred to the need to maintain 'faith in democracy."

Finally, Brexit opponents, led by ex-Minister of Justice Kenneth Clarke, made up the third group. The politician called on MPs to vote against the "very, very bad decision", noting at the same time that he had never been a Brexit supporter and therefore its conscience is clear. Among other things, Clarke questioned the government's argument that the UK economy will benefit from "hard" Brexit  (including leaving the customs union and the EU's single market). "Such nice people as President Trump and President Erdogan are eagerly waiting for a moment when they can abandon their habitual protectionism and give us access to markets of their countries." 

The vast majority of conservatives decided to stick to their party’s line, unlike many of Labour. The latter did not obey their leader Jeremy Corbin and provoked a wide split in Britain’s main opposition party. Mr. Corbin has previously called to support the bill, even though he demanded making a number of amendments. However, many Labour MPs stated their rejection of Brexit, and said that vote for the law would be a betrayal of residents of their districts, who in 2016 spoke for preservation of the status quo.

The bill will be discussed in the House of Commons, and then will go to the Lords. According to The Times, the government hopes to adopt the document and obtain signature of Queen Elizabeth II by March 9, when the two-day EU summit will be held in Brussels. There, Theresa May can launch the formal procedure of exit from the European Union, after which London will have two years to negotiate with the European Union’s leaders.

There are many questions to be addressed. Until now, the government did not specify its position for the most part of them. So, Labour Rosalie Winterton demanded assurances that Britain will retain membership in the Council of Europe and will not leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Her fellow party member John Woodcock encouraged to maintain links with the European Atomic Energy Community - otherwise 21 thousand employees of the nuclear complex in Cumbria County may lose their jobs.

Scotland and Northern Ireland – regions that opposed Brexit in 2016 - have also expressed their concerns. Head of the Scottish government Nicola Sturgeon has accused London in unwillingness to seek a good-for-all solutions, and does not rule out a possibility of holding a new referendum on the region’s independence. Northern Ireland will determine its position on March 2, when the region will hold early elections. 

As for European officials, so far they have displayed their intention to firmly defend their position. "We will not allow (London) to adhere to a selective approach on choosing European programs", - said Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliament's Chief Brexit Negotiator. European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici assured: "One cannot have all club member benefits without being in the club."