The Brexit Saga
No one could have foreseen the future the way it actually unfolded. When David Cameron proposed the referendum which would determine the future of the UK in the European Union, it was seen as a tactical move for the prime minister to insure his reelection. However, the unexpected became reality, and on the 23rd of June 2016, the British people decided to leave the Union, with results of 52% of citizens backing up the leave campaign, against the other 48%, who instead wished to maintain their economic and cultural partnership with the rest of Europe. Following this result, David Cameron resigned, and unexpectedly key players of the Leave campaign such as Nigel Farage, followed suit. MP Boris Johnson, who was believed to be backing the leave campaign to fulfill his political leadership aspirations, left everyone speechless when he announced he did not have the intention to present himself as the PM candidate to lead Britain out of the European Union.
It was instead decided to entrust Theresa May towards the accomplishment of this delicate task.
Soft or Hard Brexit?
Much of the discussion revolved around whether this political divorce would have to be led adopting a ‘Hard or Soft Brexit’ approach. From the Referendum result, it seemed quite clear that the fear over increased levels of immigration were the main motive behind Brexit’s success. Another delicate topic laid in the future of the NHS. It was promised by leaving the EU, the increase in spending towards the NHS would have been directly proportional to the termination of payments to the EU budget. This meant 350 million would have fueled the NHS on a weekly basis, as this corresponded to the weekly payments to the EU budget. It was also felt, immigration led to a continuous deterioration of its services. A cut in immigration quotas and free movement of EU nationals however -quite unsurprisingly- would not have been accepted without Britain having to renounce to a great deal of benefits, such as membership to the European Free Market. This is where different views on Brexit started to surface on the political scenario. The two distinguished themselves as Hard and Soft Brexit. Individuals who supported the view that Britain would immensely suffer from the denied access to the single market, naturally backed a soft brexit. The loss of the economic rights which made free trade possible within the Community’s borders leading the country towards an economic flourishing, with corporations opening their european headquarters in financial and commercial districts such as London, was suddenly under threat. Indeed, its economic openness, and membership to the EU made it appealing to foreign and european investors. Considering how the Brexit campaign was fuelled by a degree of populist sentiment, the exit from the European Union was also seen as an anti-establishment manovre, i.e. the people against the ruling business elite, which were seen by the public as the unofficial driver of modern British politics.
Conflicting views on the future of the country corresponded to a disputed conversation on whether the UK had to be led out of the European Union keeping the interests and needs of the business side, or whether to fully back up the people who supported Brexit, who were absolutely uncompromising on regaining national power to control borders and immigration. In spite of PM Theresa May being part of the remain campaign, with her motto ‘Brexit means Brexit, and we will make a success out of it’ she fully dedicated her efforts to represent the voices of the individuals behind the referendum result. As time unfolded it became more and more clear how she intended to pursue a hard line against the negotiations in Brussels. She would undermine her economic partnership with the European Union, thereby ceding the UK’s free trade rights as a member of the EU. On the 17th January, which corresponded to the negotiations start off date, she gave the public a taste of what would become a wide topic of discussion, when declaring the UK may no longer remain within the European single market, as this would only correspond to a fictitious exit from the EU. Indeed, in case of a Soft Brexit, the UK government would still have to contribute to the EU Budget, would have to maintain free movement of the European people within UK territory, in exchange for the access to the single market.
An unexpected Election
As May started promoting her plan, she faced fierce criticism from the opposition regarding the procedures leading towards what she called ‘an orderly Brexit’. The Conservatives saw this as an opportunity to gain a clear and strong majority in the government, which would have made tasks and Brexit procedures less time consuming and debatable. Induced by her cabinet member David Davies, the Conservatives led by Theresa May decided to announce a snap election, two years before the consolidated election date. Victory appeared very likely, considering the weakness of both opposition parties, but especially the Labor Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, which had been defined by some members of his own party as -Unelectable-. An energetic campaign led to an unpredictable result, which saw the victory of the conservatives who nevertheless lost 13 seats and saw the Labor Party gaining 30 instead. The result was indeed atrocious for the Conservatives, who had in this way lost their majority in the government, and were forced into a deal with the Northern Irish Party in order to keep the majority and proceed with Brexit as planned. This move, in spite of maintaining the Tories in power, has been widely criticized by the public and has contributed to the continuous disliking in May’s figure. In fact, the deal corresponded to £1 billion payment from taxpayers’ money to the Northern Irish party (DUP). The move seemed to spark even more criticism when the government decided to maintain a 1% pay increase cap for public workers. May’s authority also seems to be undermined by the unexpected election result of Jeremy Corbyn. The latter was able to engage the young generation in the political discussion, and in the end saw many of these young voters support his party with the promise of ending austerity and promoting social services. It goes without saying his views completely oppose May’s agenda both on national affairs and-naturally- on Brexit.
May’s Plan: Critics and Opponents
After the election and reestablishment of powers within the government, it was finally possible to bring the Brexit debate forward. With the election results, a clear message emerged for Theresa May from the British public. The ‘smooth and orderly Brexit’ she promised now looked more unlikely than ever, and her hard line approach seemed to lead to the opposite effects rather than what she hoped for. As a matter of fact since her plans’ disclosure the criticism was fierce. Out of the 12 points she proposed to lead her country out of the EU, some gained a central role in the political discussion.
The most debated point in May’s agenda can be identified in the new trading relations she intends to pursue, both with the EU member States and Internationally. Since the first disclosure of her plans in January, it was made clear that in order to keep immigration levels low, it was also necessary to abandon UK’s membership to the single market. This naturally created opposition from the Labor party. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn believes in the importance of EU nationals living in the UK to be guaranteed their permanence in the UK, as a failure to do so, would put the future of the many British expats living in Europe at risk. Lib Dems also openly criticized the decision, as the lack of immigration or residence rights, would create a damaging breach in the British economy, not to mention the shortage in staff, especially in public services such as the NHS. May was also criticized by the public and the Government of lacking of a firm position with respect to the United States. Indeed, May was seen hands in hands with the President of the United States, and has been extremely amenable in matters such as Trump’s Muslim travel ban, which has caused international outrage, with international leaders urging Trump to call it off. Her position is indeed very frail, as she finds herself on a thin line, between having to secure International trade deals, and representing and defending western values and rights, when the latter seem to be in danger. Furthermore, her leadership is not only questioned by her opponents but also by her own cabinet. Hammond, in spite of not being aggressive in his criticism – yet- showing a collaborative approach, is trying to push for a lighter Brexit, in which a transition period would be introduced for the country to adjust to the new reality. This would mean, for at least to two and up to four years, the UK would still be bound to a degree of EU institutions and regulations. One of the latest debates linked to this discussion also revolves around May’s intention to regain legal autonomy by ending the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK. As her plans have been widely criticized for being extremely vague, of providing people with goals, promises – yet- without a clear plan of action, this intention was felt as a surprise, as the directives in this case where extremely clear. She was especially questioned for being unprepared in matters relating to European law. Indeed May’s claim backing the idea that ‘laws will be made and interpreted by judges in the UK not in Luxembourg’ is not only imprecise, it’s simply wrong’.The Luxembourg based European Court of Justice has two main roles: the first one is to serve as the interpreting and enforcement institution of EU Law, when this is requested by national courts; and as a second role it also serves as a forum to resolve disputes between different EU parties, with the inclusion of its member states and institutions. This means, the ECJ neither has the power to dominate the rulings of British Courts, nor it is entitled to promulgate laws to be enforced in Britain exclusively. A complete removal from the ECJ however seems quite unlikely, as the latter would still have to supervise the UK and its interaction with EU member States in the case of a Free Trade agreement.
From the result of the referendum, May’s plan for a hard Brexit, has continuously been reinforced as time unfolded. The role of the tough lady she attempted to impersonate since the start of debates, seemed to hold for the first months of Brexit discussions. However, the disastrous election results have done nothing but deteriorating May’s image and authority. Her striking clumsiness in key moments of the British and International Brexit discussion have made her lose the support and the trust of many conservative voters.The election results have been loud and clear. Her unpopular moves during and right after the election, have resulted in a majority believing Jeremy Corbyn to now be a better leader more capable of striking a good Brexit deal, according to new Government polls. Nevertheless, this could be interpreted as a chance for the country and for May’s mandate, to really understand what the people demand from the government, and considering a degree of cross-party approach which takes into account and truly represents the interests of the totality of the british population in this delicate divorce.