British Prime Minister Theresa May spent months negotiating an agreement with the European Union on the terms of Brexit, the UK's exit from the EU.
Tuesday, the British Parliament decided to reject the agreement by a clear margin of 432-202 – the biggest legislative defeat every prime minister has suffered in modern British history.
May's defeat should dispel any illusion as to the happy ending of the Brexit story. The truth is that the project that defined May's mandate – to negotiate a Brexit deal acceptable to the European legislators and pro-Brexit of his conservative party – was structurally impossible. The conditions that the conservative Brexiteers wanted to leave the EU were not acceptable to the EU negotiators, and the compromises needed to bring the EU negotiators aboard. were not acceptable to conservative Brexiteers. No amount of negotiation could solve this dilemma.
May's mandate – which appears likely to continue for a whiledespite the devastating defeat of the Brexit deal – was based on the lie that it could craft an agreement acceptable to the whole world.
Now, in the light of the failure of this vote, it is time to be honest. Unless dramatic and unexpected change, the Brexit drama has two plausible consequences. Either the UK leaves the EU without an agreement before March 29, when virtually every expert agrees that this would cause an economic disaster, or the country pulls out of the crisis and decides to stay in the EU.
These options are not what the Brexiteers promise, but it is difficult to consider others after the failure of the May agreement. To quote another famous Conservative Prime Minister: There is no alternative.
Theresa May has been asked to turn a lies campaign into a political reality
Theresa May was not prime minister when the initial referendum on the departure of the UK took place in June 2016. His predecessor, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, had supported the continuation of the European Union. His bet was that British voters would vote to stay and that the pressure of supporters of conservative conservatives and the UK's far-right party for independence (UKIP) would disappear.
This is obviously not what happened. The permission campaign gained mainly by manipulating British xenophobia, but also by making a series of grandiose promises: Britain would not be penalized economically by leaving the EU common market; in fact, he would be likely to recover hundreds of millions of dollars a week to spend on his health system. Britain would have no problem getting out of the EU's common regulation; Brexit "would regain control" of the legal system.
Some of these promises, such as health spending, were misleading the day after the Brexit vote. But the British people had just voted to let the EU usher in utopia, and Theresa May was invited to make it a reality.
To do this, it should put on a needle: somehow minimize the impact on the UK economy by retaining the greatest possible access to EU markets while simultaneously withdrawing from the UK the as many as possible of EU rules and regulations in order 'control' promised.
The problem was that there was a direct compromise between these two goals. EU negotiators were unwilling to allow Britain unhindered access to EU markets, but it set its own rules in all areas, from immigration to product standards; this would give them a better price than the EU members. So there must have been some kind of compromise.
The agreement that Parliament voted on Tuesday was full of such compromises. He addressed many central issues, including immigration, but allowed the UK to leave while maintaining a sufficient number of EU rules to avoid an immediate disaster.
But even that was too much for pro-Brexit conservatives, who believed that May was selling to the Eurocrats. Their strongest objections focused on the so-called "Irish backstop", a complex provision intended to maintain the border between the Republic of Ireland (EU member) and Northern Ireland controlled by the British opened indefinitely.
The Brexiteers thought that this security system would force the UK to comply with a number of European regulations on trade and migration for years. The problem was that the safety net was not negotiable for Ireland and the wider EU, which refused to give Britain the power to unilaterally spoil a tense border arrangement in the EU. a part of the world torn apart by conflict as recently as 1998.
It is the specific problem, more than any other, that has led more than 100 conservative lawmakers to betray their prime minister and vote with the left opposition Labor Party to defeat the May Brexit deal. But focusing too much on the Irish situation would be a mistake. Do not forget that this agreement has not even settled the final status of the UK on thorny issues such as migration from EU Member States; he left that decision to the future negotiators. There has been a whole series of specific technical problems that May would not have been able to satisfy the EU without betraying the Brexiteers, and vice versa.
The fundamental and insurmountable problem is that Brexit was based on a fantasy – a painless withdrawal from the European Union – that no prime minister could have delivered. Theresa May does not have the idea of a big negotiator, but her basic project – a negotiated settlement of the Brexit situation – was condemned for structural reasons beyond her control.
The honest choice: no agreement or second referendum
Placards Calling for a Popular Vote on the Final Terms of Brexit.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
The overwhelming defeat of the May agreement clarifies things.
The margin of defeat, the biggest one we can remember, means that no DIY at the limit with EU negotiators can remedy the situation. Unless there is shocking development, the May deal is dead.
With this fantasy set aside for the moment, it's easier to see the plausible alternatives. One of the options is an uncompromising Brexit, in which the trade and immigration rules governing relations between Britain and Europe cease to apply. The consequences could be quite devastating. In British magazine Prospect, the deputy director of the British influence think tank, Jonathan Lis, compiled 36 of them:
The food will rot. We import about half of our food and feed, and 70% of it comes from the EU. The bosses of Calais and Dover warned against 30-mile traffic jams and a possible collapse of infrastructure. Experts have already warned that supermarkets will soon run out of supplies. (Where storage.)
In addition, Lis remarks, commercial aviation would be paralyzed. "Aviation is currently governed by the Single European Sky, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the single aviation market," he explains. "You crash, and pilots and planes lose their certification overnight."
If that does not sound so bad, think about it: The Bank of England's projections suggest that the impact of a Brexit without agreement on the UK economy could be worse than the damage it suffered in the Great Recession of 2008. A Brexit without agreement would be a historic catastrophe: a useless and fully self-inflicted economic crisis.
If this sounds horrible and a negotiated settlement appears politically impossible, there is a third option: Britain remains in the European Union.
Some members of Parliament, members of the opposition Labor Party, have called for a popular vote, a referendum on the final terms of Brexit, which is actually a reversal of the first vote. The British left and political center are very supportive of this. survey suggests that 54 percent of Britons would vote to stay this time.
Another less plausible option would be for May to simply announce that she was in favor of staying in the European Union and to ask Parliament to vote to end the Brexit process (the initial referendum was not legally binding).
In reality, no agreement or second referendum is the most likely alternative. Of course, Britain and the EU could agree to postpone the Brexit deadline of March 29, but it is unclear what future negotiations could accomplish. It has been two and a half years since the vote on Brexit took place, and no one has managed to find a way to resolve the fundamental tension between British demand in Brexite and that with which the EU can live. Their best attempt has just ignited.
Curiously, British politicians seem to deny this.
May – assuming she remains in office – did not indicate that she had a plausible plan to overcome the parliamentary opposition to her market. The Labor Party of Corbyn is committed to working on "to get an agreement on Brexit that would work for you " if given the first job. It does not matter that there is no agreement on Brexit that "works" for Brexit and EU promoters; Corbyn, who, unlike a large part of his party, seems to sympathize with the Brexit project, categorically refuses to start the idea of a second referendum.
The whole of the British ruling class seems obsessed with getting something impossible. If today's vote is successful, it is because some British people might be aware of the reality.