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Brexit negotiation boxing

Brexit's four-way blame game

Bruce Oliver Newsome
March 22, 2019

Theresa May, EU, and Parliament are blaming each other for not honouring the people.

Theresa May is a promiscuous politician. Without her own ideas, she hangs around waiting for offers. She takes what is good for the initiator and calls it good for everybody – such as indefinite transition from the EU, with all obligations, no member rights, and no unilateral right to leave, which she calls her "Withdrawal Agreement" (WA).

Theresa May is irresponsibly promiscuous. When it goes wrong, she claims to be the victim, it wasn't her fault, it's everybody else's fault, she doesn't need to change. Then she seeks a new partner, who feeds her another bad idea, she fails, so back she goes around the cycle of bad partners. Theresa May can't learn from her mistakes.

On Brexit, May has danced four-ways, in the following order of favour: self, EU, House of Commons, and people.

May puts herself first. Brexit is an opportunity to close out a lifelong political career that got her to the top of British politics by sitting on the fence, following the consensus, and being two-faced. She is desperate to get her WA approved, however bad for Britain, as her only political achievement.

The EU (her first lover) always offered what was best for the EU, which eventually in November became the WA, secretly agreed, without Cabinet oversight.

She told Parliament (her second lover) that the WA is the best "deal" the EU could offer. (In fact, her WA is not even a "deal" to leave the EU.) She said the WA can't be changed, it's the only deal possible. But Parliament wasn't persuaded, so she postponed Parliament's vote from November until January, when Parliament rejected it. So she treated Parliament frostily for another two months.

Of course, May doesn't act alone, she has enablers. The Chancellor – Philip Hammond – refused last year to fund preparations for leaving on 29 March under WTO rules. Funding started in the last months, but has been characterized by waste and aimlessness. He now says leaving without a deal would be "physically impossible." Whose fault is that?

Parliament was panicked, but a majority still demanded changes to her WA. So, with two weeks to go before the scheduled departure from the EU, May spent a night with the EU in the hope of change. The EU didn't change. Nevertheless, she pretended that she had negotiated Britain's unilateral right to withdraw from indefinite transition. In fact, the addendum confirms the EU's veto.

Last week her WA was rejected by Parliament a second time. This week she tried to motion it a third time, but on Monday the Speaker of the House (John Bercow) ruled that it could not be re-presented without changes.

May downgraded Parliament from her number 2 lover to her number 3. Of course, the EU remained her number 1. She indicated immediately she would ask the EU to extend the date of nominal separation (but not to change her WA). She wrote on Wednesday; she visited on Thursday, and the EU granted an extension until 22 May if her WA is approved, or only until 12 April if her WA is rejected (the latter date was chosen so that Britain would face the additional cost of lodging its participation in European elections if her WA is rejected).

On Wednesday, when she told the House about her plans, she blamed only the House. That evening, she played the victim to her most neglected partner – the British people, to whom she had not spoken at the podium since December, when she blamed Parliament for disliking her WA. In a live broadcast, she said "MPs have been unable to agree ways to implement" Brexit. "Parliament has done everything possible to avoid making a choice." She told the people that they must be "tired of the infighting", "political games", and "arcane procedural rules". She said she "is on your side." She promised "to work night and day" to honour their referendum choice.

She told the same lies about her WA that she gave four months ago: that it takes control of borders, stops funding the EU, protects jobs, protects national security; that it's the "best deal negotiable", the same false choice between her "deal" and "no Brexit."

Parliament – the jilted and blamed partner – is enraged. Sam Gyimah, who resigned from the Cabinet in November in opposition to her WA, tweeted: "Resorting to the blame game as the PM is doing is a low blow. All part of her strategy to run down the clock and rule out other options. Toxic." 

Labour MP Wes Streeting told the Daily Mail that Theresa May's blame of Parliament would incite public attacks on Parliamentarians. Some conservatives warn that frustrating Brexit would push Britons into political violence typical of the "yellow vests" in France.

Remainers are most blameworthy but perversely blame-making. Tuesday's Channel 4 news interviewed no Brexiteers, but interviewed two Conservative Remainers (Dominic Grieve and Nicky Morgan), side by side, blaming the Brexiteers of 2016 for promising an impossible Brexit. Wednesday's Channel 4 news interviewed Rory Stewart (prisons minister – yes, he who proposed that violent knife offenders shouldn't go to jail), who maintains that the WA is a great deal and Brexiteers are ignorant. Wednesday's Daily Mail front page blamed Brexiteers for "1,000 wasted days" since the referendum. Thursday's Channel 4 news interviewed Luxemburg's premier, who blamed Brexiteers for promising an easy Brexit, then admitted that the EU made it punitive. Separately, the leaders of the Trade Unions Congress and the Confederation of British Industry appeared side by side to blame May for favouring Brexiteers over country.

Remainers are blaming the Brexiteer minority in Parliament for what a Remainer-led government, a Remainer majority in Parliament, and an ever-closer-union in Brussels have wrought. Brexiteers are the ones most manipulated by reducing the options and running down the clock.

Even stalwart Nadine Dorries said on Wednesday that she would vote for the WA on condition that May gives up the leadership, but that effectively puts party before country. The parliamentary party would be trying to localize the blame on Theresa May, but the people would blame both the party and its leader for indefinite purgatory. Peter Bone is more realistic, by consistently warning that delay would betray the public.

Parliamentarians should remember that they promised to represent popular will and party manifestos. If Parliamentarians want to survive this blame game, they should vote next week to get rid of May and her WA, and to confirm current legislation to leave the EU on Friday 29 March.

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of San Diego
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