Common sense would dictate that the UK remain in the customs union and call elections immediately – as the Labour party wants
Uncertainty persists regarding how and when the United Kingdom (UK) will leave the European Union (EU) after Theresa May suffered a third consecutive defeat in the House of Commons over the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the European Commission.
The never-ending story of Brexit started on June 23, 2016, when 26.3 million Britons voted on whether to remain in or to leave the EU. Some 48.1% voted to stay, 51.9% to leave. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, remain had a majority, with 62.0% and 55.8% of the votes, respectively. The same is true of the city of London. However, the leave vote won elsewhere. Shortly afterwards, on July 13, David Cameron, the prime minister who had called the referendum, resigned and was replaced by May, who had previously been home minister. Following its adoption by parliament, the United Kingdom notified the EU of its decision to leave the bloc as established in Article 50 of the EU treaty.
On November 14, 2018, the EU and the UK signed the withdrawal agreement, which consists of six parts, with a total of 185 articles and additional protocols on Ireland/Northern Ireland (a commitment not to establish a hard border between the two Irelands, to respect the rights derived from the Stormont and Good Friday peace agreements from April 10, 1998, and to retain the single electricity market for the island as a whole), London’s control over its sovereign zones in Cyprus (the British military bases of Akrotiri, in the south of the island, and Dekelia, in the southeast, where more than 3,500 members of the British air and naval forces live alongside Cypriot citizens) and Gibraltar, which was also the subject of negotiation with the Spanish state. The agreement establishes the conditions for the UK’s exit from the EU and offers legal security once the treaties and rights of the Union cease to apply to the UK.
Thus, a period of transition was provided for until December 31, 2020, extendable by two more years, which guaranteed the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK and the one million UK citizens resident in EU countries, so that they will be able to continue to live in the same conditions and acquire permanent residence after five years’ prior legal permanent residence. Equally, their rights to work, medical care and social benefits were also recognised.
During the transition period, the EU agreed to treat the UK as if it were a member state, except for its participation in community institutions and governance structures, and the UK agreed to contribute to the EU budgets for the years 2019 and 2020 (and the following two years in the event of an extension). This period was to allow administrations, businesses and citizens to adapt to the post-Brexit situation through a neat separation. This was to ensure that London and Brussels fulfilled their contractual obligations while the former was a member of the Union and also that the current agreements between public administrations (judicial, police, security, data protection...) and companies (commercial exchanges, free circulation, investments,...) could be concluded during the transitional period under the same conditions (tax, legal, legislative...) that had been agreed upon at the time they were entered into. Yet, the House of Commons rejected the deal on three occasions: by a margin of 230 votes on January 15, by 149 on March 12, and by 58 on March 29, leading to the departure date being postponed on April 12 unless London decided to negotiate a new postponement, which would mean that the UK would participate in May’s European elections.
As the situation stands now, the House of Commons’ blockade has more to do with the partisan political struggle in the UK and the fear of what post-Brexit may hold – it not being certain that Britons would vote leave again today – than the EU, and a medium-term solution does not seem likely. Thus, on the March 27, eight alternative proposals to the withdrawal agreement were voted on by all MPs. All were rejected, including those that proposed staying within the customs union, holding a second referendum or revoking Article 50 and continuing in the EU. Common sense would dictate that the UK remain in the customs union and call elections immediately – as the Labour party wants – because Theresa May’s days are numbered politically. May’s offer to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to help decide on Brexit only led to further stalemate and resentment within her own party. As things stand now, despite the EU agreeing a new October deadline for Brexit in April, May has told civil servants no-deal preparations must continue, a clear sign of the prevailing confusion.