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Brexit, Brexit, Brexit – there’s no end to it. The UK citizens voted to leave the Union back in 2016, and Prime Minister Theresa May started the negotiations in 2017, reached a deal in 2018, but ended up being defeated in the UK Parliament in 2019. When does it all end? Or, will it ever end? These are the questions which many citizens, researchers, and public officials are asking themselves, over and over. Recognising that almost no one may know with certainty how and when this process will end, the author of this blog post aims to briefly lay out the possible scenarios which may take place in the following period.
Even though PM May managed to survive the ‘no-confidence’ vote, she will not manage to table plan B any time soon. In that context, there are only two realistic routes that she can take if she wants to put an end to this unfortunate story known as Brexit. The first option is to extend the deadline and continue the negotiations with Brussels, and the other one is to call for a second referendum.
Extending the deadline for negotiations is something that has always been an available option. Yet, the UK government shot itself in the foot by prematurely activating Article 50, and taking the possible extension off the table. Now, if PM May were to ask for the extension, it would inevitably cost her votes from the domestic constituencies and risk further losing support from some MPs. Nevertheless, if she wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit, an extension is something she ought to consider. Furthermore, the EU itself is losing patience, as it has repeatedly called the UK to clearly state its intentions, whilst stressing that there cannot be ‘cherry picking’ (something which the UK was not able to resist throughout the negotiations). Even if the negotiations were to continue, the EU has already stated that it will not let any further red lines to be introduced, whilst welcoming only changes which might facilitate a deeper relationship between the two (something that the UK has been trying to avoid). Therefore, extending the deadline and keeping the same course would only lead Brexit to a dead-end street, and thus create further uncertainties and political turmoil.
Bravery, honesty, and bravery – that is something PM May now desperately needs. Losing votes should not be of her primary concern, as she is not likely to stay in power after Brexit becomes history. As a politician who had initially opposed Brexit, she still has the chance to call for a second referendum. In that case, an extension would probably be needed, as organising a referendum and properly informing the citizens would not be feasible prior to the intended date of departure (29 March 2019). In fact, a second referendum is the only option that could end the deadlock, and spare both the UK and the EU from any further trouble.
Most importantly, the UK citizens want it. Namely, the public opinion polls register, time and again, that UK citizens prefer staying in the EU to leaving it. Furthermore, holding a referendum for the second time would be a democratic step, contrary to the hard-line Brexiteers claims to the opposite, as it gives the opportunity for citizens to reaffirm their choice or change their mind, depending on the new information acquired in the meantime. As Remainers often point out, the citizens could not have possibly known how complicated the whole process was going be when they originally voted to leave. Referenda will always represent the voice of the people, no matter whether they vote on an issue once or twice – especially when it comes to an issue as complex and important as Brexit.
As put by Frans Timmermans, the First Vice-president of the European Commission and the European Socialists’ (PES) Spitzenkandidat, quoting a phrase often attributed to the novelist C.S. Lewis: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”