No-Deal Brexit: A Crisis of Democracy
It’s no secret that Theresa May’s deal has not received a positive reception. She is now trying to build a network of support amongst Union bosses, as well as some members of the opposition as reported by the BBC. And with her deal facing a Commons vote on Tuesday, she will need all the support she can muster. The Labour Party will oppose the deal, alongside other opposition parties including the DUP, who previously supported the Conservative government until recent weeks. What’s more damaging is that over one hundred Conservative MPs are set to vote against the deal too, indicating the deep divisions that still exist within the party. With the deal almost certainly going to be rejected in Parliament, one question is at the forefront of the discussions.
What happens next?
General Election vs Second Referendum
Jeremy Corbyn recently called for a General Election to be held, should Theresa May fail to pass her deal through the Commons. In a speech delivered on Thursday, the Labour leader said that May should call an election and “let the people decide.” If the government refuses, then Labour will table a motion of no confidence to bring about a change.
However, Corbyn faces a problem – what stance do he and his party officially take on Brexit in the event of a General Election? A recent poll by YouGov, as reported by Sky News, suggested that around 72% of Labour members want a second referendum. The leadership continues to support Brexit but a renegotiated deal that includes a customs union arrangement with the European Union.
The Labour Party may have a strong manifesto to offer to the people, but its Brexit stance will make or break its electoral success. It continues to travel down the middle of the road, with the leadership supporting Brexit but a Labour Brexit, rather than considering a second referendum. Considering Corbyn’s insistence on a General Election being the priority over a referendum, it suggests he doesn’t want to support it. It would certainly gain him a lot of support, from within the membership and across the country. Opposition parties like the SNP would gladly fall behind him for that. But on the other hand, many members of his party would view this as a betrayal of democracy because he would be ignoring the result of the referendum in 2016.
Extension of Article 50
Perhaps the most reasonable response to a failed Commons vote would be to extend Article 50, a protocol triggered by the government in March of 2017 that began the process of withdrawal from the EU. Officially, the UK is set to withdraw on the 29th of March 2019. But with growing division and uncertainty over what sort of Brexit the nation wants, should it be extended? It certainly seems like the best option to consider, given that May’s deal will most likely fail to pass, and no other option is the clear-cut alternative. It’s better to extend the withdrawal phase and decide between a new deal, a no deal, or no Brexit at all.
The problem here is that the government have already ruled out extending Article 50. According to Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, the UK is not seeking to extend Article 50, saying that “I can be very clear that the government’s policy is to leave [the EU] on the 29th of March. Labour has stated previously that Article 50 must be extended if May’s deal is voted down, so the government will likely face increased pressure to extend withdrawal arrangements in the event of the agreement being rejected.
A Crisis of Democracy
Here is my opinion. Brexit has caused immense chaos over the past few years within Parliament and within the government. Divisions have never disappeared, they have in fact widened. Polarisation across the country has caused a deadlock in terms of what the UK will do next. It’s incredible that after nearly three years, nobody really knows for sure what Brexit means. That’s not a pretentious or snobby thing to say, because all you need to do is look at the state of the country right now. Many Conservatives are now entertaining the prospect of a no-deal, which would be catastrophic for the country. Labour continues to be divided over what path it should take. Other opposition parties tend to be more united, but their support is too minimal to have an impact. The government is in chaos, and their leader is a hostage within her own Cabinet.
The sensible thing to do is, if May’s deal fails, negotiations come to a halt. Article 50 is immediately extended; there is no humiliation or shame in that, it’s logical. I would further argue that a General Election is necessary because the government clearly cannot carry out its functions, it is a minority government with the DUP effectively stopping its support of the Conservatives. Government defeats are more common, and Theresa May is about to be made redundant with no clear successor in sight within the party.
Being a Labour supporter, my bias is as clear as day. I support the prospect of a Labour government, and I would gladly vote for them. They don’t always offer the clearest solutions to problems, including Brexit. I would like to see the leadership put their foot down and decide on a path moving forwards soon. Supporting a Labour deal that doesn’t really offer anything specific and looks like a Christmas wish list won’t inspire confidence, it generates frustration. Taking a stance will win supporters and lose some too, but it’s necessary if the rest of the manifesto is to be listened to. Labour seeks to repair the damage done by the Conservatives after nearly nine years of terrible governance; now it’s time to sort out the mess. Don’t let ambiguities over Brexit get in the way.