Brexit: What are the Options now?
Last week, Parliament rejected Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement for a third time, seemingly killing it off for good.
Yet the situation has been further complicated by every proposed alternative being rejected by MPs in a series of indicative votes, plunging the country into further political chaos and uncertainty. And with the UK now set to withdraw from the European Union on the 12th of April, in just eleven days, an agreement is desperately needed. Theresa May is being held hostage within Parliament and also within her own party as internal factions look set to replace her with somebody else very soon. The opposition remains relatively divided over where to go, and the electorate at large remains at a crossroads in terms of how to move forward.
In short, Britain is in a state of paralysis right now because of Brexit, and we need to find some sort of solution. But what solutions have been proposed? With another round of indicative votes set to take place momentarily, let’s take a look at several options being put forward.
‘Common Market 2.0’
One option that has surfaced most recently is a deal similar to the arrangement the EU has with Norway, in that they are members of the European Free Trade Association and also the European Economic Area. This allows them to be part of the single market and also have freedom of movement, which would provide clarity on the futures of EU citizens living in the UK and British expats living and working in the EU. It appears to be the most popular option right now, given that whilst it was rejected last week, it was only rejected by a margin of 95, which in some people’s views is something to work with. Critics argue, however, that it means the UK must continue to pay into the EU budget and must subscribe to EU laws and legislation that they would have no control over anymore. If there is any deal to be struck, it could very well be this one, especially since today, the Labour Party announced it would whip its MPs into supporting it, giving it a massive boost as the vote looms.
Pros – Flexible, provides clarity, maintains close economic ties with the EU which is good for business.
Cons – Paying a sum of money to the EU budget, must subscribe to four freedoms, very limited influence over EU law-making and decision-making.
The other most popular proposal was a confirmatory public vote, which would ensure that any deal agreed in Parliament must go to a referendum so that the electorate may give its blessing, or maybe not. Again, the marginal difference on this option was rather small compared to other proposals, with 268 MPs voting for it and 295 MPs voting against it. The positives of this include giving the ‘people’ another say on the direction of the UK as it seeks to leave the EU, and it will serve as a check and balance on the activities of Parliament, which have thus far failed to generate an option with a majority. The elephant in the room with respect to a negative, is that if this deal is rejected, then where do we go from there? It will just create more uncertainty, especially considering the mood is more emotional than ever before and so facts will possibly be distributed more poorly than in 2016. Only time will tell.
Pros – Gives the electorate a say, clarifies the mood of the country three years on.
Cons – If rejected, uncertainty worsens, how complex will the vote be? Emotions over facts.
One of the more ‘extreme’ options is to simply leave after the 12th of April if there is no deal agreed upon. In this scenario, the UK would default onto WTO terms, meaning high tariffs and additional checks at the borders for goods. Considering that the average EU tariff is fairly low, at 2.8% for non-agricultural products, this would be a significant step up, for example in cars where they would be taxed at 10%. A positive of this is that Brexit is in most regards concluded and that part of the history book can be closed. Additionally, it would allow free reign for the UK to trade with other countries in the world outside the EU, which was previously restricted as part of the customs union. However, the biggest negative is the impact it would have on the economy. In 2017, 44% of UK exports went to the EU without checks or tariffs, and the EU remains the largest trade partner. And with business uncertainty already high, this would be a disaster for British businesses and foreign investment. This option will probably fade out of existence rather quickly, seeing as it was rejected by 400 MPs last week.
Pros – Brexit is done, the UK trades with other non-EU countries freely.
Cons – Worsens business situation, leaves the UK without sufficient trading arrangements with the EU.
What about a General Election?
Outside of these options is a General Election. This option can appeal to both sides of the Brexit debate, as it has become apparent that the government can no longer govern. Its confidence and supply partner in the DUP oppose its efforts on the current Brexit approach, while it has been plagued with a series of no-confidence votes in recent weeks. Theresa May lacks the necessary popularity across the country, let alone her own party. And with the country at a standstill on this issue at the moment, perhaps it is the right time for an election to be held so we can have greater clarity and a fresh mandate not just on Brexit, but the governing of the country as a whole. Labour want a General Election, and other opposition parties will want one too as you would expect. The Conservatives will be more reluctant no doubt, but for them, it is important to take advantage of the situation, install a fresh leader and re-establish the Conservatives as the party of government, however tenuous a chance that may be given the polls. An argument against this, however, is that with the absence of an official second referendum, the General Election might just be one in effect and so other prominent issues, such as rising knife crime or increasing child poverty, issues which need discussing but might be overshadowed by the Brexit debate.
Pros – Clarity on government, fresh mandate, exposure of other issues.
Cons – Other issues might be ignored/overlooked, the second referendum in effect.
The situation is bleak, let’s get that right. We’ve had nearly three years to strike an agreement within Parliament and with the EU, and the government’s efforts have failed. Theresa May is a leader whose bags are already packed, and it appears that her last wish is to push her deal into another vote for the fourth time if reports are correct. The rest of Parliament seems to favour a softer Brexit, but they cannot agree in majority terms on what to do. March 29th was meant to be the day that Britain left the EU, and that has not happened.
We are now meant to leave on the 12th of April, and that appears to be in jeopardy too.