The Uncertainty of Brexit; Cake, Chaos and Conferences

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Jude Perry, Contributor

After a demeaning humiliation in Europe and facing deadlock at home, Theresa May seems to be surrounded by those who would wish to see her Brexit Plan, and her political career cast to the dustbin of history.

Last week, at the European Council meeting in Salzburg, The Mrs May’s blueprint for leaving the European Union, known as the Chequers plan, was unequivocally rejected by European leaders. Her peers even went as far as to degrade May’s position on social media, most notably, European Council President Donald Tusk uploaded a photo on Instagram, which subsequently went viral, of him offering the Prime Minister a piece of cake, along with the brazen caption; “a piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.” This comment has sparked furore with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt lambasting Mr Tusk’s impertinent post by labelling it as an insult to the British people.

May’s controversial chequers plan, which forced the resignations of leading pro-Brexit ministers in Boris Johnson and David Davis, would have ensured no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as this would have forced the UK to accept many rules of the customs union. However, the plan caused furore amongst those MPs who view it as a blueprint for Britain leaving the European Union only in name.

As the dust from Salzburg settles it appears the Prime Minister is examining a Canadian style deal with the EU which would not see the UK so closely aligned with the E.U as the Chequers Plan outlined. Sources estimate that half of the Cabinet are advocating for a Canada style free trade agreement, with Jeremy hunt one of the lead proponents. This option reflects the desires of many rebel Tory MPs seek a ‘clean break’ between Britain and the EU. Most concerning for Mrs May’s political future is that this plan is backed by prospective leadership challenger Boris Johnson, who has claimed there are alternate paths to exiting the EU which would ensure Britain does not become a vassal of the European Project, though his failure to bring these ideas to afore during his time as Foreign Secretary must cast doubt on the validity of this claim.

Despite this, Theresa May has been dogged in the defence her proposed plan and is unwilling to concede to EU leaders or her rebellious backbench MPs. The Prime Minister recently met with Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative in Brexit negotiation where which she sent a strong message that she intends to pursue the plan agreed at Chequers. Mr Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister is a strong advocate for the protection of rights for British citizens living on the continent.

Yet his desires for strong protections for both European and British citizens following Brexit is yet to solve outstanding issues surrounding the Irish Border and this remains the largest conundrum in these negotiations. In July, the House of Commons voted through amendments which contradicted proposals by chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier, which provided for Northern Ireland to remain in E.U customs territory. But with the governing Conservatives in a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, any agreement which would see Northern Ireland separated from the UK’s internal market looks impossible to be agreed to. With Conservative Brexiteers vehemently against any “Irish Backstop” that would threaten the Union, a resolution to this impasse is central to any orderly withdrawal.

With the relationship between May and Barnier already frosty within the divorce negotiations, these are likely to be strained further as she attempted to go over Mr Barnier’s negotiating team to strike an accord with European Leaders to secure favourable at Salzburg. This ill-fated move could lead to tensions in negotiations escalating.

With the surge in support of the ‘People’s Vote’ movement advocating for a second referendum on membership of the European Union being led by political heavyweights such as Tony Blair, Chuka Umunna and leading Liberal Democrats, this has become an increasingly greater prospect.

Whilst this has struggled to gain mainstream support, the decision of the Labour Party at its party conference to refuse to rule out supporting a second referendum reflects its grassroots pressuring party leadership to stand in opposition to Brexit altogether. With the claim of Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer at the conference in Liverpool that “nobody is ruling out remain as an option” receiving a standing ovation from the Labour faithful, this clearly illustrates that over 90% of party members support remaining in the EU. Whilst a re-run of the 2016 election on the terms of leaving or remaining within the European Union unlikely, the British people may yet have a final decision on the terms which the UK departs upon. Though what would happen if Labour is successful in rejecting the terms which Theresa May eventually presents as the final agreement on our withdrawal from Europe is a scenario no one can accurately predict.

With Britain due to formally leave the European Union on March 29th, 2019, the only certainty in British politics is another year of political volatility. With the Prime Minister struggling to control her backbench rebels and facing a backlash from European Leaders, progress towards a Brexit agreement is likely to be a challenge on all fronts, increasing the likelihood of a no deal Brexit. In such an event, Britain could be left alone and bleeding in a sea of hostile sharks.

The factor which appears to be validated is the creed of a letter published in the Irish Times: ‘Brexit, the undefined, negotiated by the unprepared to get the unspecified for the uninformed.’

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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