A Hard Brexit After All?

Last November, after 18 months of grinding negotiations, the European Union approved a deal detailing Britain’s departure from the European Union. The agreement outlines a gradual departure in which the UK is still subject to most EU regulations and mandates, but it would have no power to shape those regulations. The UK would remain in the European common market until 2020, allowing the EU and the UK to continue negotiations over trade and other economic policies. The UK would also be able to independently pursue trade deals with other countries, like the United States.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May was supposed to present the deal to Parliament for its ratification in December. The deal would almost certainly have been voted down, however, by a combination of Conservatives, who thought the deal either doesn’t achieve a total and complete Brexit, or it only achieves it under terrible terms. A large majority of Labour members, moreover, many of whom are vying to reverse the Brexit decision altogether, would have voted against it as well. Besides destroying May’s goal of a Brexit with minimum damage to the British economy, a “no” from Parliament would gravely endanger her premiership. So, despite suffering abject humiliation, she delayed the vote to January 15, 2019.

In the intervening weeks there’s been no sign that anything has changed; the deal is likely to go down in defeat. But March 29, 2019 is when the UK is due to leave the European Union, deal or no deal. No matter what, we’re going to see a wild couple months where any of the following is possible:

  1. A hard Brexit on March 29 that would cause economic chaos across the continent, but would almost certainly damage the UK more than the EU.
  2. The toppling of Theresa May’s government and thus elections that could put Labour in power to reverse Brexit entirely.
  3. A second nationwide referendum on Brexit.

Buckle up!

Joshua Alvarez

Joshua Alvarez is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal. He edits syndicated opinion columns at the Washington Post, and can be reached at joshuaalvarezmail@gmail.com.