British Prime Minister Theresa May might have to exit No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence and office of the United Kingdom prime minister, before the UK officially exits the European Union. That’s the message May received this week from some of her conservative party members, who are plotting a no-confidence vote against her due to their displeasure with the drafted Brexit deal.
Not so long ago, May seemed to be in control, after she obtained her cabinet’s approval of the drafted Brexit deal she had sealed with the EU a day earlier (she still needs the UK Parliament’s approval). Apparently her cabinet members might have taken the Nancy Pelosi approach: pass it first to find out what’s in it.
After the British government finally published the 538-page Brexit deal Wednesday night, six cabinet members, including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, were so disappointed and disgusted by what they saw that they announced their resignations from May’s government Thursday morning. The news caused the British pound to drop sharply and sent stock prices of Brexit-sensitive sectors such as banks tumbling.
May is facing harsh criticism from unhappy Parliament members on both left and right. Mark Francois, a member of the conservative Tory party, told May the draft deal “was dead on arrival.” Jeremy Corbyn, the likely next UK prime minister and the socialist leader of the Labor Party, which makes up the largest opposition, deemed the draft deal “a leap in the dark — an ill-defined deal by a never-defined date,” and declared the UK government “must withdraw this half-baked deal.”
Why have politicians from across the ideological spectrum united against the drafted Brexit deal? First, let’s understand a basic timeline. Brexit is to take place on March 29, 2019. The draft agreement sets a transition period from the end of March 2019 to the end of 2020. It largely focuses on what happens during the transition agreement, while leaving for future negotiation what will happen when the agreement ends. It only says that if no new long-term agreement is reached between the EU and the UK during the transition period, that period will be extended once more.
Second, what May agreed to represents a betrayal to those who voted for Brexit. UK sovereignty was a big selling point by those who advocated for it during the 2016 referendum. People who voted for Brexit resent ludicrous EU laws set by an unaccountable EU bureaucracy that limits people’s freedom to choose and dictates everyday life, such as which toaster they can use, what shape of banana they are allowed to buy, and how to recycle their tea bags.
But the way the draft agreement is written shows the British people won’t regain their independence and sovereignty, as they had hoped. Instead, the UK will continue to follow EU laws and regulations for the foreseeable future, while losing influence on EU policies because of the eventual exit. Here are a few highlights of the agreement to demonstrate this point:
- On trade issues: The current EU single market agreement will continue to apply to the UK during the transition period, which means “no tariffs on UK-EU trade, but also no freedom to set lower tariffs on trade with other countries outside the EU.”
- Another price the UK has to pay to remain in the EU single market is to abide by the EU’s environmental and labor laws. If the UK doesn’t have freedom to enter into trade agreements with other countries, it will continue rely on the EU economically, which makes any real economic and political divorce from the EU’s burdensome bureaucracy impossible.
- On judicial independence: The deal proposes that during the transition period, the UK judicial system will continue to be bound by the interpretation of EU laws by the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ). Such a judicial arrangement means the UK is still subject to EU judicial oversight. Since no long-term solution is laid out in the current agreement, such an arrangement may have to continue after the transition period is over.
This is why so many British politicians from both sides loudly voiced their disapproval of this deal. In the conservatives’ eyes, after two years of negotiation, May handed them the worst of both worlds — the UK continues to answer to EU bureaucracy with a diminished influence, and its ability to chart its own destiny is still constrained. For those who want the UK to remain in the EU, they must wonder why the government is bothering to exit the EU at all, if the EU-UK relationship largely remains the same, but with a great deal of uncertainty in the long term.
This draft represents a collective failure of the UK Conservative party’s leadership. The leaders of “Brexit,” such as Boris Johnson, failed to rise up to the challenge after they won the Brexit referendum. They acted like dogs chasing a truck. Once they caught the truck, they didn’t know what to do with it, as if they never really believed they would win with the vision they sold to the public.
Now none was up to the task to actually deliver it. They left such a leadership vacuum that May, who has been against Brexit all along, ended up becoming the prime minister with the mandate to deal with the EU.
May is clearly the wrong person to deliver the mandate of Brexit and drive a hard bargain with the EU. She is a tough politician, but she is no Margaret Thatcher. May was never a Brexit supporter, and she has never demonstrated any strong conviction of conservative principles like Thatcher once did. The leader who can deliver the Brexit mandate needs to be a champion of individual liberty. Free people should have the freedom to make their own choices and be responsible for their own actions.
Instead, May always presents herself as a progressive conservative (an oxymoron, of course). Rather than speaking passionately about individual liberty, she often speaks about fairness, a progressive way of demanding equal outcomes. Rather than unequivocally supporting the free market, she speaks about a fairer economy, “where enterprise creates wealth to fund great public services.”
She matched her words with actions in October by declaring an end to “austerity ” and claiming she would boost public spending. The way she talks about fairness sounds less like a conservative party leader, and more like the socialist Corbyn.
Under her leadership, the UK is not only shrinking in economic influence, but also losing moral leadership. Remember Alfie Evans, the terminally ill British boy who died after his parents lost court battles to take him out of country to seek medical treatment? May remained silent for a long time, and eventually sided with the hospital, because she believes “experts” rather than Alfie’s parents should decide Alfie’s fate.
May’s government also won’t offer Asia Bibi political asylum, for fear it would prompt “unrest” in the UK and attacks on embassies. Bibi is a Pakistan Christian woman who was just freed by the Pakistan Supreme Court from spending eight years on death row due to a blasphemy charge after she stated her Christian beliefs. Her husband openly begged May to grant Bibi asylum in the UK because remaining in Pakistan means death by assassination for Bibi. Rather than demonstrate moral courage, May showed she will allow foreign mobs to dictate the UK’s policy.
Despite mountains of criticism, May vows that she will remain in office and see Brexit through. The EU certainly has no intention of helping her out, because it wants to make this divorce as painful as possible so other countries who contemplate an exit will be discouraged from trying. May’s only saving grace is that no other UK politician has offered any clear vision or a better plan. Britons may have no choice but to get stuck with a bad deal.