Britain facing a political breakdown
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