U.K. Cabinet Backs May’s Brexit Plan

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain faced down hard-line critics and won the support of a divided cabinet for a plan to quit the European Union, preserving her push to avert an economically damaging rupture with the bloc in March 2019.

Background

On June 23rd, 2016, Britain narrowly voted to leave the European Union, stunning Europe and the world in general. The EU employs a set of policies for its 28-member states that aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods and trade among other services. Britain is deeply intertwined with the workings of the EU especially with regard to trade.

Over the past year, leaders of member nations have expressed their dismay over Britain leaving the body. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are among those who have been vocal about their apprehension regarding the events that are unfolding.

In December 2017, UK Prime Minister Theresa May struck a last-minute deal with the EU regarding key issues. According to this deal, there will be no "hard border" in Ireland. The rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU would also be protected in accordance with the deal.

The UK is officially set to leave in March 2019.

Analysis

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain faced down hard-line critics Wednesday and won the support of a jittery and divided cabinet for a plan to quit the European Union, preserving her push to avert an economically damaging rupture with the bloc in March.

For Mrs May, frequently criticized as wooden and lacking in strategic thinking, the victory represented a rare validation of her leadership. It also provided a glimmer of light at the end of the Brexit tunnel.

“The choices before us were difficult,” Mrs May said in a brief statement in front of her offices at 10 Downing Street. “But the collective decision of the cabinet was that the government should agree to the draft withdrawal agreement and the outline political declaration.”

Despite fears that cabinet ministers might resign in protest, possibly threatening her government, none did so immediately. Nevertheless, Mrs May acknowledged publicly that around five hours of talks had produced “impassioned” debate. That description seemed to corroborate media reports that as many as 10 cabinet ministers had expressed reservations before the plan was agreed upon without a vote.

The cabinet vote was a culmination of months of often tedious and difficult negotiations with the European Union, which always held the upper hand and was determined that Britain should not gain any advantage in leaving the bloc. Mrs May was also handcuffed by her devastating failure to win a parliamentary majority in an election she called needlessly last year.

Defying many predictions of her demise, she nevertheless pressed ahead, determined as she said many times to deliver the Brexit the British people voted for. Whether she accomplished that will be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks.

The 400-plus pages of the draft agreement create a standstill transition period. During that time very, little would change until the end of 2020, but negotiators would aim to draw up a trade deal.

The withdrawal pact covers three main areas: the financial settlement for the divorce; the rights of British citizens on the Continent and of European Union citizens in Britain; and a mechanism to assure there is no hard border between Ireland, in the bloc, and Northern Ireland, in the United Kingdom.

Counterpoint

There also was growing speculation that hard-line pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers, angry at what they viewed as a flawed deal, could force a vote of no confidence in Mrs May. Such a process would require 48 Conservatives to submit letters of request.

Assessment

Our assessment is that as Britain was able to secure a deal regarding key issues in December 2017, the possibility of a no-deal Brexit seems unlikely in the status quo. However, despite the difficult negotiations between the government and the cabinet, a draft agreement has been achieved and accepted by the UK cabinet. We believe the outcome is in part a validation of both her leadership and her tenacity to press on with the negotiations.  

 

Read More:

1. Brexit’s “Key issues”

2. Britain, Norway agree on right to remain