Bri­tain fac­ing a po­lit­i­cal break­down

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Har­vey Morris

Par­lia­ment’s loom­ing Brexit vote on EU exit deal brings lit­tle so­lace and much un­cer­tainty

Out­side ob­servers would be for­given for think­ing the Mother of Par­lia­ments is un­der­go­ing a ner­vous break­down as Bri­tain heads for pos­si­bly its big­gest po­lit­i­cal cri­sis since World War II over the terms of its de­par­ture from the Euro­pean Union.

The only thing cur­rently unit­ing a ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s 650 MPs is their re­jec­tion of the terms Prime Minister Theresa May has ne­go­ti­ated with the EU be­fore the UK for­mally leaves the bloc in March. A makeshift al­liance that in­cludes some of the most ar­dent sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of Brexit is set to vote the deal down when she seeks par­lia­men­tary ap­proval next week. The level of dis­cord was such that there was even talk of the vote be­ing de­layed.

So what then? Can May rene­go­ti­ate? The EU says no. Will the prime minister quit? She says no. Will the UK leave with­out a deal? All but the most zeal­ous “leavers” say that would be a dis­as­ter.

The op­po­si­tion Labour Party has threat­ened that if May’s deal fails to gain par­lia­men­tary sup­port, it would call a vote of no con­fi­dence that could end her premier­ship.

On top of the UK’s un­ex­pected ref­er­en­dum vote, the cur­rent par­lia­men­tary may­hem has come as a shock to the rest of the world, which is used to think­ing of Bri­tish pol­i­tics as of­ten bor­ing, but in­vari­ably sta­ble.

Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal melt­down is not just of aca­demic in­ter­est to the coun­try’s al­lies and partners be­yond the EU. China was among a dozen coun­tries that sought as­sur­ances in the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion that the UK-EU deal would not leave them worse off.

They fear they have been left in the dark about Europe’s fu­ture trade re­la­tion­ship with post-Brexit Bri­tain. But, to be fair, so has ev­ery­one else.

These trad­ing partners would prob­a­bly much prefer if the Bri­tish could just call the whole thing off and re­verse the ref­er­en­dum­backed de­ci­sion to leave the EU.

There is a grow­ing move­ment in the UK for a sec­ond, so-called “peo­ple’s vote” on whether to over­turn the June 2016 ref­er­en­dum, but most MPs re­ject the op­tion. Even pre­vi­ously pro-re­main par­lia­men­tar­i­ans fear it could spark pop­u­lar un­rest among the 52 per­cent of the elec­torate who voted “leave” the first time around. A fur­ther po­ten­tial peril of a sec­ond vote is that the Bri­tish might still de­cide to quit.

That said, a re­run of the ref­er­en­dum is backed by the Scot­tish na­tion­al­ists, the third largest bloc in Par­lia­ment, and is creep­ing up the agenda of the Labour Party.

If, in the end, there is no prospect of turn­ing

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