An­gry ex­changes as Bri­tain braces for Brexit vote

Shanghai Daily - - OPINION - (Xin­hua)

NINE days that could de­ter­mine the fu­ture of Bri­tain’s re­la­tion­ship with the Euro­pean Union (EU) kicked off Mon­day with an­gry ex­changes in the House of Com­mons.

Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (MPs) grilled the gov­ern­ment’s top le­gal of­fi­cer, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ge­of­frey Cox, over le­gal ad­vice he has given to min­is­ters on the Brexit agree­ment Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has agreed with the EU.

At the heart of the wran­gle is the re­fusal of the gov­ern­ment to pub­lish the full le­gal ad­vice which de­tails the risk that the bor­der is­sue be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land could per­ma­nently tie Bri­tain to an ar­range­ment with Brussels.

In a dra­matic speech Cox con­firmed that Bri­tain will not be able to can­cel a so-called back­stop clause on the Ir­ish bor­der ques­tion with­out ap­proval from Brussels.

Cox told MPs: “There is no uni­lat­eral right to ter­mi­nate this ar­range­ment,” with the Daily Tele­graph re­port­ing that one MP lis­ten­ing to the de­bate shouted out: “It’s a trap.” It emerged Sun­day night that op­po­si­tion party politi­cians have called on Par­lia­ment to con­sider con­tempt pro­ceed­ings against May’s gov­ern­ment over its re­fusal to pub­lish all of the ad­vice given by Cox. Un­der the deal backed by the Euro­pean Coun­cil, Bri­tain will leave the bloc next March, with an im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod start­ing the next day and con­tin­u­ing un­til the end of De­cem­ber 2020. Dur­ing that pe­riod noth­ing will change and the aim is to agree on a new per­ma­nent trade deal with Bri­tain as a non-mem­ber of the EU.

But to avoid the re­turn of a bor­der be­tween North­ern Ire­land and Dublin the EU has in­sisted on a back­stop ar­range­ment to pre­vent a re­turn to a vis­i­ble bor­der on the is­land of Ire­land.

The UK, EU and the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment have each said they don’t want to see the re­turn of a bor­der, but if no deal is reached by the end of 2020, a back­stop could be in­tro­duced that would keep Bri­tain locked into a cus­toms ar­range­ment with the EU, with no uni­lat­eral power to with­draw from it.

The House of Com­mons Speaker John Ber­cow said he will is­sue a speedy rul­ing on the call for a con­tempt de­bate.

It was the lat­est twist in what is des­tined to be a roller coaster nine-day in Bri­tish pol­i­tics with no­body cer­tain of the out­come. MPs re­turned yes­ter­day for the start of what will be a five-day de­bate on May’s Brexit deal, with a cru­cial vote tak­ing place on De­cem­ber 11.

May is al­ready on tar­get for a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat in a week’s time, with politi­cians from all par­ties, in­clud­ing her own Con­ser­va­tives, threat­en­ing to vote against it.

The big ques­tion in West­min­ster Mon­day night was whether the state­ment de­liv­ered by Cox to MPs will make things bet­ter or worse for May, who has in­sisted the deal she has bro­kered with Brussels is the best for Bri­tain.

In his state­ment, Cox ad­mit­ted that May’s deal was a cal­cu­lated risk, but he be­lieved that if the House of Com­mons votes down May’s pro­pos­als next week there will be what he de­scribed as great and chaotic dis­or­der.

Cox said he would have pre­ferred to have seen a uni­lat­eral right of ter­mi­na­tion in the North­ern Ire­land back­stop ar­range­ment, but added he sup­ported May’s deal be­cause he did not be­lieve Bri­tain would be will­ingly trapped in it per­ma­nently.

“It rep­re­sents a sen­si­ble com­pro­mise, it has unattrac­tive el­e­ments but these must be weighed up against the re­al­i­ties of the al­ter­na­tives,” he told MPs.

Geraint Johnes, Pro­fes­sor of Eco­nom­ics of Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity, told Xin­hua on Mon­day that it is very likely that the Brexit deal will be ve­toed by the par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 11, adding: “It is hard to pre­dict what would fol­low.”

Johnes said if the deal is re­jected he be­lieved Bri­tain could ei­ther leave EU with­out a deal or seek a Nor­way plus model which he be­lieved stood a bet­ter chance of sup­port in the Bri­tish par­lia­ment.

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