“The Lords’ pow­ers of re­vi­sion and de­lay will, in turn, em­power the large ma­jor­ity of MPs in the House of Com­mons who op­pose Brexit but now feel obliged to abide by the ref­er­en­dum”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The real news in May’s speech was not the March date, which was widely ex­pected, but her an­nounce­ment of a “Great Re­peal Bill” to be pushed through the 2017-18 ses­sion of par­lia­ment which be­gins next May. This Bill will be de­signed to en­shrine in Bri­tish law the im­pend­ing ter­mi­na­tion of EU mem­ber­ship even be­fore the Ar­ti­cle 50 talks are con­cluded.

By de­vis­ing this largely sym­bolic and con­sti­tu­tion­ally ques­tion­able pro­ce­dure, May won loud ap­plause from hard­core Euroskep­tics in her party and the Bri­tish me­dia. She may also have si­lenced ob­jec­tions from Con­ser­va­tive mod­er­ates to the way she in­tends to con­duct the Brexit process: her in­sis­tence on in­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 with­out a par­lia­men­tary de­bate and her re­fusal to say any­thing in ad­vance about her ne­go­ti­at­ing ob­jec­tives.

But in the process, May has stum­bled into a po­lit­i­cal mine­field. Her ef­forts to en­act the Great Re­peal Bill will give Brexit op­po­nents end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties for par­lia­men­tary ma­noeu­vers and de­lays. The House of Lords, over­whelm­ingly dom­i­nated by the older gen­er­a­tion of staunchly proEuro­pean politi­cians who do not need to worry about an­tag­o­nis­ing pro-Brexit vot­ers, will be able to spend months or even years pick­ing May’s pro­pos­als apart and in­tro­duc­ing amend­ments. The Lords’ pow­ers of re­vi­sion and de­lay will, in turn, em­power the large ma­jor­ity of MPs in the House of Com­mons who op­pose Brexit but now feel obliged to abide by the ref­er­en­dum.

May com­mands a ma­jor­ity in the Com­mons of only 12 to 16, depend­ing on how cer­tain Ir­ish MPs are counted. That is sub­stan­tially lower than the num­ber of am­bi­tious Con­ser­va­tive young politi­cians whose ca­reers May abruptly ended by purg­ing from govern­ment al­most ev­ery­one closely al­lied to David Cameron and Ge­orge Os­borne. Al­ready, Ge­orge Os­borne, whom May sacked as Chan­cel­lor the mo­ment she took of­fice, has thrown down the gaunt­let, chal­leng­ing her demo­cratic man­date: “Brexit won a ma­jor­ity. Hard Brexit did not.” Even the weak­ness of Bri­tain’s op­po­si­tion par­ties works against May, al­low­ing op­po­nents to plot against her, se­cure in the knowl­edge that they can­not lose power.

Worst of all, from a purely po­lit­i­cal stand­point, May’s week­end an­nounce­ments have dis­abled the one sure-fire weapon she pos­sessed against en­e­mies who will op­pose her for rea­sons of Euro­pean ide­ol­ogy or per­sonal re­venge: her abil­ity to win a per­sonal man­date and an over­whelm­ing par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity by call­ing a gen­eral elec­tion while the Labour op­po­si­tion is still in dis­ar­ray and be­fore the costs of Brexit fully ma­te­ri­al­ize.

May has said that call­ing an early elec­tion would be ir­re­spon­si­ble and desta­bi­liz­ing, but the fear that she would eat these words and call an elec­tion any­way, thereby gain­ing com­plete mas­tery of Bri­tish pol­i­tics for the next five years, was the strong­est force de­ter­ring an anti-Brexit move­ment de­vel­op­ing in par­lia­ment or the pro-Euro­pean me­dia. That risk has now been re­moved be­cause the Great Re­peal Bill strat­egy closes off the op­tion of an early elec­tion, at least un­til May loses a vote of con­fi­dence on this bill, which could not hap­pen un­til 2018.

The up­shot is that pol­i­tics in Bri­tain, far from be­ing sta­bilised by May’s ef­fort­less as­cent, is about to be­come even more un­pre­dictable in the years ahead. Mean­while, in­vest­ment and cap­i­tal in­flows will surely de­te­ri­o­rate as the EU takes a hard line against May’s bizarre ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy of re­fus­ing to rec­og­nize the ob­vi­ous trade­offs be­tween the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of EU mem­ber­ship and the po­lit­i­cal obli­ga­tions: “I know some peo­ple ask about the trade-off be­tween con­trol­ling im­mi­gra­tion and trad­ing with Europe; but that is the wrong way of look­ing at things,” May said over the week­end. Is it pos­si­ble that May re­ally be­lieves this? If so, then Bri­tain is in for a se­ri­ous shock when the EU di­vorce talks get down to se­ri­ous busi­ness next year and May is pre­sented with a sim­ple choice.

No won­der ster­ling fell sharply the mo­ment cur­rency mar­kets opened in New Zealand on Mon­day morn­ing. With the pound still trad­ing at the same level against the euro as three years ago, both pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics sug­gest that more sell­ing is to come.

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