On the 23rd of June 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether the kingdom should stay in the EU or leave. The vote as most know yielded a very surprising result of 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of leaving. Following this decisive vote, on the 29th of March 2017, the United Kingdom invoked Article 50 to begin the process of Brexit.
Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union states that “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. This article of the treaty enables any member of the bloc to exit, with or without a future economic and political agreement with the EU. If a withdrawal agreement is not settled immediately, the exiting member has a period of 2 years to draft an acceptable agreement. If no agreement is met within this period, then the exiting member, the UK in this case, will leave the bloc without a deal. The period of 2 years, however, can be extended with a unanimous vote by the European Council in agreement with the involved member states.
James Cameron, the previous prime minister of the UK, made the smart decision and stepped down from his position after the referendum. This left the burden of building the hectic withdrawal agreement to his successor, Theresa May. Hectic is quite an understatement considering that Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which demanded almost two years of deliberations and negotiations, has been shut down multiple times by the House of Commons. It has now become a game of Whack-a-Mole in the House.
The biggest issue with Mrs. May’s proposal is concerning the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The biggest issue with Mrs. May’s proposal is concerning the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If this issue is not addressed in the withdrawal agreement, the border will create a substantial problem concerning the unregulated movement of people, goods, and services between the EU and UK. Due to the complexity of the issue, the current agreement does not have a solution to address it. However, in order for this to not hinder the process of Brexit, Mrs. May proposed a backstop.
A backstop is a precaution taken in case future events do not go as planned. So, since a solution couldn’t be conceived within the withdrawal agreement, the EU allowed for the issue to be dealt with during the transition phase which follows the formal acceptance of the withdrawal agreement. The transition phase will span out for approximately one and a half years with allowance for extensions of up to two years. And, if the issue is still unsolved at the end of this period, the backstop will come into play. The proposed backstop in Mrs. May’s agreement dictates that if no solution is agreed upon by the deadline, the whole of the UK will temporarily remain in the EU customs union, while Northern Ireland will also remain in the single market. This would stop the need for a hard border within Ireland.
MPs are very passionate about rejecting Mrs. May’s proposals, yet no one has given any input on how the agreement can be improved.
However, the possibility of having to stay under the thumb of the EU’s foreign policy, as demanded by the customs union in the backstop, has some MPs in the House of Commons hot and bothered. What further agitated them is the fact that Mrs. May’s proposal offers no clear procedure to cease the backstop arrangements. Meaning that the backstop could possibly become indefinite if the two parties (the UK and the EU) cannot agree on when to end it. Many MPs are very passionate about rejecting Mrs. May’s proposals, yet no one has given any input on how the agreement can be improved. This quarrel has eaten up a lot of time and now the UK is merely days from its original deadline.
Fortunately, last Thursday (21/03/2019), Mrs. May was able to buy herself some time after a conference with the European Council. Unfortunately, the extension wouldn’t stretch to the 30th of June as Mrs. May was expecting. But rather the new deadline will be on the 22nd of May, one day before the European elections. The short extension was the result of a dilemma presented to the PM by the council. The European Council demanded that if the UK wants an extension past the date of the European elections, it will have to participate and host the election. Mrs. May’s stubborn stance on not wanting to partake in the elections left her with a short extension. This short extension has the possibility to become an even shorter one if a certain condition is not met, and that is that Mrs. May’s proposal must be accepted by the House of Commons this week. If this condition is not met, then the new deadline will be moved to April 12th.
Now Theresa May finds herself running against time, attempting to get a hostile parliament to accept her Brexit proposal. Due to the short deadline, the possibility of a second referendum or an early general election, to replace the current MPs in the House, is out of the question. In other words, she is trapped between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.