By Stephen Kangal
June 28, 2017
In the post -election scenario, various incarnations of Brexit assumed centre stage at both Westminster and in the unforgiving British media. It even caused a delay in the delivery and contents of the Queen’s Speech that normally heralds the ceremonial opening of a new parliamentary term. Even Her Majesty’s presence at the Royal Ascot race meet was delayed.
A substantially watered down Brexit is also the litmus test for the survival of the precariously poised, delicately balanced and tenuous Theresa May’s Tory Administration in confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP. Cracks have begun to develop in ranks of the Tories with Chancellor Philip Hammond, former Prime Ministers Cameron and John Major as well as MP Clarke calling for a more realistic and softer arrangements with the EU that includes continuing membership of the Customs Union and Single Market that Prime Minister May opposed but which she may be forced to negotiate with the EU.
The results of the elections that saw the Tories losing its comfortable majority now 318 seats and producing a traumatic minority Tory Government with a hung Parliament have also watered down the kind of hard- Brexit agenda that Theresa May pursued and peddled in her previous majority- comfortable political incarnation until June 8. Brexit is a conjuncture in the evolution of British history.
There was increasing doubt whether the scheduled negotiations could have commenced on June 19 in Brussels while the Queen’s Speech was also deferred to a later date of June 21st since the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wanted to insert a statement on the priority to be included for jobs within the context of a more flexible Brexit.
Parliament first sat on Tuesday 13 June to elect a Speaker.
The Prime Minister however, during her official visit to France announced the Brexit talks would commence as planned in Brussels. French President Emmanuel Macron also left the door open for Britain to change her mind anytime to re-join the EU before the end of the negotiations. But the French are hoping to cash in big-time on post- Britain’s Brexit and may be glad to see the back of Britain. The EU is making it unattractive for Britain to consider regaining EU membership with harsher conditions. Britain is now in a Brexit mess causing the EU media to have a field day.
Having lost both her authority and majority the Prime Minister restricted by the numerical constraints of a lame-duck administration would appear to be on the path of adopting a soft Brexit that is jobs and labour availability sensitive but more receptive to the aspirations of the business elites, Tory backbenchers, farming sector and many influential Brexiteers.
During her Lancaster House Speech her hard and inflexible Brexit position was based on leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union and the European Court of Justice unconditionally.
But Chancellor Philip Hammond has come out supporting staying in the Customs Union. He says that the results of the elections suggest that Britain should stay in the EU customs union, Single Market and negotiate interim arrangements post 2019.
The initial issues to be tabled by Secretary Davis are the rights of EU citizens to remain permanently in the UK, Money/borders control and the Ireland question. The latter is of concern to the DUP, the controversial coalition partner that supports a soft-Brexit especially the seamless border traffic with Ireland.
The British team is led by MP David Davis the Brexit Secretary and head of the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU).
During the Conservatives election campaign the pillars supporting the British position were as detailed at the January 17 Lancaster House Speech:
— Leaving the Single Market/ Customs Union/ECJ and seeking a free trade agreement with the EU based on EFTA without freedom of movement of people;
— Control of the borders of the UK on the basis of the restoration of the exercise of British sovereignty;
— Control of Laws and Money matters.
Prime Minister May had triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in March to inaugurate the Brexit process that must be completed by 2019. She threatened to walk away from the Brexit negotiations should Britain be subjected to unreasonable and exorbitant financial demands estimated at £88bn by the EU negotiating team.
It would appear that Prime Minister Theresa May can salvage some of her rapidly dwindling political stocks that she lost in the catastrophic General Elections if she can demonstrate renewed strength and achieve a Brexit that is acceptable to the business elites who seem to be enjoying renewed leverage in configuring the post -elections softening of British Brexit demands. It is quite possible that Prime Minister may be forced to retreat because she may not be able to pass the Brexit Bill unless she can allay the fears of the 1922 Conservative backbenchers.
Britain wants to withdraw from the Single Market and the Customs Union and negotiate a Free Trade Agreement similar to the Norway Option but also to preserve existing functional relations/ co-operation with a number of EU institutions from which it benefits.
It would appear that Britain will face an annual access bill of 5 billion euros if it wants to gain significant access to the single market as well as these institutions. This does not include the cost of the Brexit divorce bill put at £88bn by the EU Commission.
The areas for continuing financial contributions exclusive of the above-mentioned divorce bill are:
— European Commission and Budget- 1.5 bn eu
— Contribution to development of newer member states- 1bn-3bn eu
— European Aviation Safety Agency, European Medicines Agency, Food Safety, Erasmus, Horizon, Security and Citizenship etc- almost 2bn euros.
During its current membership Britain contributes 19 billion euros to EU budgets.
It is safe to conclude that the electorate wanted a soft Brexit as opposed to the hard Brexit that the Prime Minister was broaching consistently when she said that no deal was better than a bad deal. She may be forced to adopt a more cross-party approach including wooing Corbyn’s support for a softer landing in Brussels.
The electorate has indeed re-ordered the priorities of Government. It has given a seat configuration in the Commons that reduces the confrontational approach to one that must be consensual among the parties. Goodwill access across the aisle of the House of Commons is conditional to passing of the legislative agenda on the question of Brexit package of agreements that are made up of nine Bills to be passed in Parliament.
Consequently the Tories have been forced to cancel further austerity measures (social care, winter fuel payments and education/school meal spending decrease) contained in their manifesto including a less dogmatic approach to the Brexit exercise. The fire at the Grenfell Block of flats in Kensington and the loss of so many lives through cut-backs in Local Government allocations will hasten the relaxation of cut-backs and other austerity measures over the last ten years.
As I said before the demands of the British Government are the controlling of EU immigration, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK, and the cessation of contributions to the EU Budget as well as leaving the Customs Union but all of these will be subject to the will of the electorate (if another election is called) and especially in the House of Commons where the final decisions will be finally incorporated into domestic laws.
On the other hand the EU Commission wants to maintain a link between the Single Market and free movement of labour, the preservation of the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK, defend the unity of the EU, preserve trade links with the UK and a fair deal on the EU budget.
Asked if a hard Brexit was off the agenda following the election, Brexit Secretary Davis, said: “I don’t recognise this term hard Brexit. They [the referendum electorate] demanded that we take control of our borders so we have got to do that. That takes us out of the single market, whether we like it or not. So what we are trying to do is get a free trade area, which gives us as close to the single market advantages as we can.”
Now that Brexit has revealed its full frontal nudity in all its details including the exorbitant cost of the exit strategy the British may want to withdraw the Brexit Pandora Box.