Ditching May Won’t Improve Her Brexit Plan
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Surely never in the history of British politics has so much effort been expended to so little effect. Another week of frantic Brexit drama yielded no change in the choices facing the U.K., and brought the country no closer to deciding. It’s still either leave the European Union with no deal, accept the withdrawal agreement Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated, or seek a long delay for a fundamental rethink.
The right choice hasn’t changed either: Pause, give people time to digest what’s happened since the Brexit referendum of 2016, then put the issue to another vote.
With support for her leadership all but gone, May said this week she’d resign (at some point) if Parliament finally comes around to her exit deal. This peculiar inducement tells you all you need to know about the state of Britain’s government — but it was a tempting offer, nonetheless, for some of her would-be successors. Boris Johnson, a leader of the Tories’ hard-Brexit faction, accepted it (even though he was “very, very sorry” to do so).
This and other defections might not be enough. The Labour Party is still opposed to the deal, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose support May is also likely to need, hasn’t yet budged. There’s also a bizarre procedural problem: The speaker of the House of Commons is insisting that he won’t allow another vote on May’s withdrawal agreement, even if the Commons seemed likely to support it, unless the motion is substantially different than before. May was apparently thinking of calling a new vote tomorrow. The speaker’s ruling could make that impossible.
Adding to the week’s tragicomedy, the Commons briefly took control of the parliamentary timetable for a series of “indicative votes” on eight Brexit alternatives. The idea was to give a flailing administration a new sense of direction. It didn’t work: None of the options was able to command a majority. The headline in the Guardian summed it up pretty well: “Parliament finally has its say: No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.” The MPs behind the maneuver say they’ll try again next week.
Amid this comprehensive political breakdown, it can be hard to focus on the essentials — even though they aren’t that complicated. May’s deal would make Britain worse off on every measure than simply staying in the EU. The economy would suffer, and the country would, if anything, have less freedom from the EU's policy directives — which it would still have to adhere to but no longer have a say in devising. This is not the Brexit that a narrow majority of the country voted for in 2016. In fact, the Brexit they voted for was never more than a figment of the Leave campaign’s imagination.
It’s been clear for months that May’s Brexit project is beyond repair. Even now, she might succeed in getting it through Parliament — but if she does, the country will quickly unite in deeming it a disaster. The EU is willing, it seems, to grant the U.K. an extended pause for second thoughts. With or without May as prime minister, no other course makes sense.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.
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