Chaos and anger as British Prime Minister cancels critical Brexit vote

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The message from all MPs, media and people in authority is that it is vital to our future stability and democratic credentials that everyone stays calm, quiet and responsible.”

Last week, in African Leadership magazine, I wrote that December 11th 2018 would be an especially historic moment in Britain’s long story. On that day the UK’s House of Commons was to decide whether vote in favour or reject the EU exit deal that prime minister, Theresa May, had reached with the European Union. In the event, Mrs May got cold feet and stopped the vote happening, for the simple reasons that her government was heading for a massive defeat. 11th December 2018 will not now be an especially historic day. Instead, it will be another day when Mrs May travels to EU capitals to try and get them to give her a deal she can persuade parliament to support.

The mood music from Europe’s leaders is that they might manage to make the language of the deal a bit more accommodating but changing the previously agreed legal fundamentals is not going to happen. Well, that’s what they say. It’s anyone’s guess what the final outcome will be.

There are now only 14 weeks before the UK formally leaves to European Union. What happens now?

  1. Mrs May has announced no new date for when parliament will get to vote on an amended deal. Some fear she will try to leave it so late that parliament is left with no option but to approve what she offers. The alternative is that the UK leaves the EU with no deal, a position that only the small, hard economic right wing wants. Most fear it would bring disaster to the UK economy, badly damage the EU’s prospects and may be a big enough shock to trigger a global recession.
  2. Parliament rejects Mrs May’s final deal and finds a mechanism to stop a no deal Brexit. Doing that would mean asking the EU for an extension to the UK’s membership. The EU might agree to this, though probably only on the basis that another referendum is called to see if the British people still want to leave or have changed their mind and would rather just stay in the EU.
  3. Mrs May losses in parliament and resigns. Depending on the closeness of the EU departure day, the Conservative party would have to organise a very quick leadership contest or agree on an interim leader and prime minister. All that could finally tear the Conservatives apart to form two new parties. Opposition parties would be daily demanding a general election. The Conservatives depend on the votes of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Of all parties, it feels most betrayed by Mrs May. If the opposition parties table a vote of no confidence in the government the DUP might just vote Mrs May’s government out of office. I’m beginning to think a general election is likely.
  4. For the Labour party, a general election is a huge gamble. It has been consistently behind the Conservatives in poll after poll. If it offers a second referendum on EU membership it can probably safely keep its seats in London and other metropolitan areas and in Scotland. In its many northern seats that voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, voters might see the offer of another vote on the EU as a betrayal and ditch Labour. In the big cities and Scotland, a solidly remain part of the UK, Labour would be punished if it failed to have a second EU referendum in its manifesto.

Make of this confusion what you will. The Conservatives are as likely to defeat Labour as Labour is to defeat the Conservatives. At the same time a hung parliament is entirely possible. If Labour, LiberalDemocrats and the Scottish National Party can put together a collation government calm may be, at least for a short time,  restored. The LiberalDemocart and SNP price would be a second referendum. With the Conservatives as the biggest party in a hung parliament we could see the DUP once again propping up the Tories. Remember too that a general election will bring new people to parliament and a new parliament is not bound by any of the legislation of old parliaments. A new parliament can repeal or enact anything it wishes.

Dear Reader, Brexit will run and run. Some of us not in the first flush of youth will go to our graves not knowing how the whole business turned out. God might know, though he’ll surely be as staggered as anyone else that the UK has allowed itself to reach this state of chaos it is in today.

Among some of the less smart and ideologically obsessed MPs it has become fashionable to warn of civil unrest and violence on the streets if Brexit is further delayed or a second referendum is approved by parliament. These are highly irresponsible voices. Suggesting violence is tantamount to inviting it. There are always hot heads in all societies who can be motivated to act irrationally and violently. The message from all MPs, media and people in authority is that it is vital to our future stability and democratic credentials that everyone stays calm, quite and responsible.  The world has watched the UK in recent times and seen its politicians lose the country its reputation as a steady, pragmatic, sober nation. What those very same politicians must now do is ensure that peace reigns supreme. That the law is observed. That the streets stay peaceful and safe. Brexit or no Brexit, nothing is worth exchanging a peaceful land for a broken land. That’s no bargain.

Martin Roche is a graduate of the great and ancient University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he read politics and international relations. He began his working life on a daily newspaper in Scotland and has since written for many newspapers, magazines and radio stations in the UK and internationally. As a communications consultant, he has advised political and business leaders in over 20 countries.


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