Brexit zealots push to leave E.U. with no deal

Ahead of vote on May’s re­viled plan, hard-lin­ers dis­miss threats of chaos

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY WIL­LIAM BOOTH AND KARLA ADAM

bos­ton, eng­land — Here in the fens of Lin­colnshire, the shock troops in the 2016 cam­paign for Bri­tain to leave the Euro­pean Union won their great­est vic­tory.

The hard­core pam­phle­teers and zeal­ous door-knock­ers, who urged their wards to “take back con­trol” of their bor­ders, their money and their fu­tures, tri­umphed by the largest mar­gin of any dis­trict in Bri­tain, with 75.6 per­cent vot­ing to with­draw from the con­ti­nen­tal trad­ing bloc.

And now? They’re se­ri­ously miffed.

“I say, let’s get on with it, please!” said Yvonne Stevens, a re­tired pro­pri­etor of a tea shop and mem­ber of the lo­cal coun­cil. “Let’s get out. Knock us on our back­sides. Go on! We’ll be on the floor look­ing up. We’ll sort it out. Just get us out of Europe.”

Stevens and her fel­low Brex­i­teers are push­ing for the on­ce­u­nimag­in­able — to leave the Euro­pean Union with no deal at all.

Par­lia­ment is sched­uled for a his­toric vote Tues­day evening on Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s unloved, half-in, half-out com­pro­mise exit plan. Mem­bers of her own Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment ac­knowl­edge that May’s deal — ne­go­ti­ated over the past two years in Brus­sels — might fail to win sup­port. Many in the po­lit­i­cal press are pre­dict­ing a dev­as­tat­ing, ca­reer-defin­ing de-

feat.

If May’s deal sur­vives, then Brexit lurches ahead, and Bri­tain leaves the Euro­pean Union — kind of, sort of — on March 29 as planned. If May’s deal dies? Chaos. The news­pa­pers and air­waves on Sun­day were filled with re­ports of coups and plots, with some mem­bers of Par­lia­ment al­legedly schem­ing to wrest con­trol of Brexit from a bat­tered May and her re­volv­ing-door cab­i­net.

Mean­while, op­po­si­tion Labour Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn is threat­en­ing (again) to call for a no-con­fi­dence vote in the House of Com­mons “soon.” Cor­byn prob­a­bly has enough sup­port to stage the vote — but not enough votes to ac­tu­ally top­ple May. And then? More de­lay. Some, in­clud­ing for­mer Tory Prime Min­is­ter John Ma­jor, ar­gue that the “only sen­si­ble course” to pre­vent the dooms­day “no-deal” sce­nario is for Bri­tain to de­lay Brexit by re­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 50, the E.U. pro­vi­sion that sets the timetable for de­par­ture in March.

The idea is that with some breath­ing room — and a de­fin­i­tive re­jec­tion of her deal in Par­lia­ment — a prop­erly chas­tened but newly rein­vig­o­rated May could go back to Brus­sels and de­mand more fa­vor­able terms.

The prob­lem? Euro­pean lead­ers have re­peat­edly said there is no bet­ter deal.

Oth­ers, led by those who op­pose Brexit, say there should be a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, a do-over, to de­cide again whether to re­ally, re­ally leave or re­main. The elec­toral com­mis­sion has ad­vised that stag­ing this sec­ond “Peo­ple’s Vote” would take at min­i­mum 21 weeks.

There is, of course, an­other op­tion — one that was viewed as reck­less, al­most un­think­able just a few months ago, but has been gath­er­ing grow­ing sup­port among hard- line Brex­i­teers, and that is for Bri­tain to leave the Euro­pean Union with no deal.

With­out May’s two, maybe three years of ne­go­ti­ated tran­si­tion, Bri­tain would im­me­di­ately be treated by the E.U. as a “third coun­try,” sub­ject to po­ten­tially oner­ous im­mi­gra­tion con­trols, trade tar­iffs and bor­der in­spec­tions.

Out: to­day’s fric­tion­less trade, where an or­der placed in the morn­ing crosses the English Chan­nel in the af­ter­noon.

In: grid­lock at the ports. Also pos­si­ble: air­planes grounded, hol­i­days can­celed, store shelves emp­tied. And worse, ac­cord­ing to a string of think-tank analy­ses, eco­nomic fore­casts and gov­ern­ment re­ports.

“Make no mis­take, no-deal can­not be ‘man­aged.’ And it’s cer­tainly not de­sir­able,” Car­olyn Fair­bairn, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of British In­dus­try, the U.K.’s largest busi­ness lobby group, warned in a speech Fri­day.

In the placid farm­ing and mar­ket town of Bos­ton, which holds the prize as the most Brexit-lov­ing city in Bri­tain, the cam­paign­ers to leave say they are ready to roll the dice with no deal.

“I think all the doom and gloom is ex­ag­ger­ated,” said Stevens, the pen­sioner. “It’s scare­mon­ger­ing is what it is.”

An­ton Dani, a lo­cal Brexit cam­paigner, cafe owner and coun­cilor, agreed. “I think it’s time to say no deal. Let’s close the bor­ders. Let’s keep our money.”

Michael Cooper, an­other town coun­cilor who cam­paigned hard for Brexit, says he is no fan of May’s agree­ment but prefers it to crash­ing out of Europe.

“If Theresa May’s deal gets binned, we’re left with noth­ing,” he said.

What he can­not abide is the idea of a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum. (“We would win again,” he said.) Or Brexit be­ing snatched away.

As he strolled down the com­mer­cial streets of Bos­ton, he pointed out all the restau­rants and shops — Taste of Lithua­nia and Baltic Foods — ca­ter­ing to the tens of thou­sands of East­ern Euro­pean im­mi­grants who poured into Bos­ton over the past 15 years to work in the fields and food pro­cess­ing and pack­ing plants — to do the low-wage, man­ual la­bor that na­tive-born Brits won’t do in the veg­etable gar­den of Eng­land.

“The rea­sons for Brexit haven’t changed,” said Cooper, who said he was not against the new­com­ers but that “too many came too quickly.”

A re­cent poll found that “no deal” was pop­u­lar among Con­ser­va­tive Party vot­ers, many of whom think that the gov­ern­ment’s warn­ings are in­tended to stoke un­founded fear.

The sur­vey, by Queen Mary Univer­sity of Lon­don and Sus­sex Univer­sity, asked what would be vot­ers’ first pref­er­ence in a three­way ref­er­en­dum where the op­tions were leav­ing with­out a deal, leav­ing with May’s deal or re­main­ing in the Euro­pean Union. Con­ser­va­tive Party vot­ers pre­ferred leav­ing with­out a deal (43 per­cent) to May’s deal (27 per­cent) or re­main­ing (23 per­cent).

Among dues-pay­ing Tory ac­tivists, sup­port for no deal soared to 57 per­cent.

Tim Bale, a pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at Queen Mary Univer­sity who led the re­search, said warn­ings of a dooms­day no-deal Brexit didn’t seem to faze May’s fel­low To­ries.

“The prob­lem for Theresa May is, the threat of a no-deal is what she is us­ing to whip her own MPs into line,” Bale said. “But it doesn’t look as if for many of them it’s as fright­en­ing of a prospect as one might imag­ine.”

A sur­vey of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, con­ducted for the group UK in a Chang­ing Europe, found that Leavers in the House of Com­mons were “highly skep­ti­cal” about the like­li­hood of dis­rup­tion in the event of no deal, with two ex­cep­tions. They as­sumed the pound ster­ling would prob­a­bly drop in value and there would be de­lays at the ports.

Anand Menon, a pro­fes­sor at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, said: “The House of Com­mons is clearly very di­vided. It is hard to see, given the num­bers, how the prime min­is­ter can get her deal through. That be­ing said, it is hard to see how any out­come can com­mand a ma­jor­ity.”

Boris John­son, the arch-Brex­i­teer and for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary who re­signed in protest over May’s com­pro­mise deal, ar­gues that the British pub­lic has been “bom­barded with warn­ings” but re­mains un­per­turbed.

Writ­ing in the Daily Tele­graph, John­son said “the more sys­tem­atic the ef­forts to make their flesh creep,” the “greater has been their in­dif­fer­ence and their re­solve.”

Ros­alind Wat­son was protest­ing out­side of West­min­ster on Fri­day with a group of Brex­i­teers, whose num­bers have been grow­ing over the past month as Brexit heads into the home stretch.

Wat­son came to Lon­don from Birm­ing­ham, where she works as a care­giver. “I voted to leave, and we ex­pect it to hap­pen, and as the months have gone on, we re­al­ized it might not hap­pen. It might be taken away from us,” she said. Wat­son car­ried a plac­ard that read: “Leave means leave.”

But she wasn’t a fan of May’s deal, which she said would make Bri­tain an E.U. “rule-taker.” She would pre­fer to leave with­out a deal.

“I think we should give it a try; we can al­ways go back in,” Wat­son said. When asked about the pre­dic­tions of eco­nomic ruin, she wasn’t con­vinced.

“We don’t know un­til we try,” she said.

“I think we should give it a try; we can al­ways go back in.”

Ros­alind Wat­son, urg­ing no deal

JACK TAY­LOR/GETTY IMAGES

Cus­tomers en­ter a butcher shop in Bos­ton, Eng­land, a town in Lin­colnshire that voted in 2016 with a 75.6 per­cent ma­jor­ity to leave the Euro­pean Union, giv­ing it the high­est pro­por­tion of Brexit vot­ers in the United King­dom.

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