A No-deal Brexit is tantamount to Britain’s unilateral repudiation of the Good Friday Agreement

The maneuvering over the UK’s exit from the European Union continues unabated. The latest news inside the UK is that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is considering tabling a no-confidence vote against the minority government of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May. The situation remains very fluid though.

The hard border issue

What is clear, however, is that an exit from the EU will create an untenable situation for the Island of Ireland by putting the Republic of Ireland in a different trading relationship to the rest of the EU than Northern Ireland. And since the end of a police-patrolled border was a main feature of the Good Friday Agreement which ended sectarian violence in Northern Ireland twenty years ago, you have the makings of a political disaster.

I would go so far as to say that a No-deal Brexit is tantamount to the UK’s unilateral repudiation of the Good Friday Agreement. So, forget about all the other issues and focus in on this for now. What this effectively means is that a No-deal Brexit forces Northern Ireland to ‘choose sides’. Do they want continued free movement across the island or do they want to remain a part of a United Kingdom that is no longer a part of the EU’s single market?

If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on this issue, then, it would be the height of recklessness, sparking any number of negative political and economic scenarios. So, a No-deal Brexit really is a fanciful idea given the issues around Ireland. Theresa May has tried to finesse this by creating a side agreement which keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU until the Irish border question is solved. But, the legal advice the UK government received on this issue warns that this temporary arrangement could last indefinitely, putting the UK in a worse position with respect to sovereignty on trade than they were as members of the EU.

Where is this headed then?

It’s hard to say where this is going to go, though. Prime Minister Theresa May is now shielded from removal due to the failed no-confidence vote held by her party last week. She is safe for another year. And that means she can govern through the 29 Mar deadline, unless Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime eurosceptic, tables a motion of no-confidence in the government for the House of Commons to vote upon. And May has said she is only open to two options, the deal she negotiated with the EU or a Hard No-deal Brexit.

Since the Theresa May deal is dead on arrival as many of her backbenchers and her “confidence and supply” partners in the DUP won’t go for it, this is not a legitimate option. What May is effectively saying is that she will steer the UK to a No-deal Brexit.

Moreover, just today, she confirmed she plans to run down the clock until the last possible moment on voting on her deal in Parliament. The deadline is 21 Jan 2019. And she has set a vote for just the week prior, leaving the UK just nine weeks to come up with something else when her deal gets voted down. So, not only is May steering the UK toward crashing out without a deal, she is running down the clock as she does so.

Fixed-Term Parliament Act

To me, this makes it more probable that we will see a vote of no-confidence. But will it be a no-confidence vote in the PM or in her government? If it’s a government no-confidence vote, maybe some of May’s own backbenchers will vote against her, since polls suggest Labour will not win a general election at this point in time. That would certainly run down the clock and make a No-deal Brexit more likely.

As a reminder, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, parliamentary general elections were designated to be held every five years, starting in 2015. But, a vote of no confidence in the government, or a vote of two-thirds of the House of Commons, could trigger a general election at any time.

We saw Theresa May use this clause to call elections in 2017 to shore up her majority government after she invoked Article 50. But the manoeuvre backfired due to her woeful, robotic campaigning style. One particular issue – the Dementia Tax – sapped her of a huge amount of support from seniors.

Would this go round be any different? The fear in the Conservative Party is that it could be worse and that elections would effectively mean electing Jeremy Corbyn as the next British Prime Minister.

The politics

While Corbyn was a noted Eurosceptic in the past, and, therefore, ostensibly wants the same outcome as many Brexiteers in the Conservative Party, the reason he wants to leave the EU is totally different. What Corbyn’s allies want is a progressive agenda that would enhance the social safety net in the UK, reverse privatizations, and generally reverse so-called neo-liberal policies. These initiatives are unworkable under existing EU rules, but would be doable under an independent UK. The New Labour wing of Corbyn’s party is opposed to all of this. They want a second EU referendum so that the UK can remain in the EU.

So, we have a completely divided Britain in both parties, with the clock ticking on Brexit. The government is standing firmly behind an unworkable deal with the EU that cannot pass Parliament. And the only other option on the table right now is of the UK crashing out of the EU without any agreement at all.

As always, the option of delaying or revoking the implementation of the Article 50 withdrawl process remains open. For me, given the timetable, this seems like the sensible choice. But it’s not clear the UK will take it.

In short: to quote a famous, 1970s British poet, politically, right now, we’re seeing anarchy in the UK.

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