Theresa May has departed the heat of London for a small holiday with her husband. It must be doubly calming to her. But with all the heat surrounding BREXIT, it looks more like the calm before the greatest storm of her political life.
For in mid-August, the most difficult negotiations in since Thatcher negotiated for Hong Kong begin.
Britain and the EU will have just 2 and a half months to reach an agreement that softens the effects of Britain’s divorce from the EU.
The October deadline for an agreement would be difficult to shift. This is because there needs to be time for all EU parliaments – including that of Britain – to ratify whatever is agreed upon.
Remember that: willy-nilly, Britain must exit the bloc on March 29 next year. That leaves 5 months for the parliamentary ratifications.
Normally, an agreement between Western allies would be reached smoothly, even if at a very brisk pace in which thorny issues are papered over with compromises and postponements. But Brexit is anything but normal. It is a real nail biter. And no one is sure how it will end.
The reason is partly because to many in continental Europe, Britain’s vote to leave is a betrayal.
So, putting road blocks on Britain’s exit part is cold revenge. To them, as Britain has made it’s bed, so must it lie on it.
To them, Britain, that island! must be thought a rare lesson. This is the sentiment behind the difficult utterances you periodically hear from EU leaders on Brexit. There is a lot of cold anger out there.
What many EU officials would like is a bout of schadenfreude at Britain’s expense. And Brexit talks is the tool for that.
What Has Britain Really Got To Lose?
Britain has gained a lot by belonging to the EU, the second largest trading bloc in the world.
So, if Britain should leave the marriage without an agreement securing some of those goodies, it would disrupt trade, creating chaos in financial markets, blocking manufacturers’ supply chains and potentially causing shortages of food and medical supplies.
It could lead to massive economic dislocation and political upheaval.
It could lead to a steep decline in Britain’s place in the world not unlike what happened just after WorldWar II.
“I have near zero optimism because I think it is going to be very messy,” said a senior minister who spoke anonymously to Business-Standard.
“If we crash out without a deal, it’s going to be a historic catastrophe, ” the minister added.
Civil War In Theresa May’s Party
Another issue is that within her own party, Theresa May has too many audiences to please. Brexit is not an issue that united the Conservative Party at any point. Recall that former Prime Minister David Cameron was against Brexit, while prospective Prime Minister Boris Johnson is passionately pro Brexit.
At stake between pro and anti Brexit Tories is the very soul of the Conservative Party. In retrospect, the party should have decided on one side even before the referendum. That would surely have led to an exodus of the losing side to the LibDems or some other party. But the party would have been spared the agony of sometimes looking like a rudderless ship.
So Ms May has learn to walk a tight rope.
And Then There’s Trump…
The biggest job for Ms May, when she returns from hols is: To negotiate both a divorce and a future trade deal with the EU that keeps pro and anti-Brexit wings of her party happy, while also satisfying the European Commission and 27 other EU governments, who want to protect the integrity of the bloc.
It is difficult enough to try to satisfy the demands of all these interests without adding the additional pressure from US President Donald Trump, widely seen as the figurehead of global nativism.
Trump is widely believed to have made threats not to sign a badly needed trade deal with Britain if its deal with the EU is too cozy in an interview with The Sun.
He reportedly said:
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.
If they do that, then their trade deal with the US will probably not be made.”
The trade deal is badly needed because it would help fill up many new trade holes that would come after Brexit.
Even though Trump later denied making the threat, many in Britain doubt he didn’t. They doubt that he didn’t because of his past statements and actions regarding Brexit.
This will undoubtedly add to pressure on Ms May. Should she go all out to try and get a soft Brexit and risk Donald Trump’s possible wrath?
On The Other Hand…
On the other hand, it has been argued that a hard Brexit will leave Britain with no weapons in trade negotiations. It would be at the mercy of Donald Trump and MAGA when negotiating a deal with the US.
There are fears that Trump, a shrewd businessman, would seize the opportunity of a hard Brexit to force Britain to become an economic dependency of Trump’s US.
An analyst told Sputnik:
“If the UK would try to go for a Hard Brexit, it would face a very difficult situation in international trade.
We are virtually in the middle of a trade war, so to have new trade agreements with dozens of countries in the middle of international trade war would be almost impossible.”
Threats From Varadkar
Also, Irish PM Leo Varadkar threatened to block Brexit talks unless the UK signs a formal agreement not to have a hard border with his country.
He wants to prevent a situation where Ireland’s businesses could be left paying tariffs on imports and exports with Britain, its biggest single trading partner.
He would also face pressure from Irish nationalists still sore at Britain for historical quarrels if he tries to go soft.
One excellent solution would have been to move border checks across the Irish Sea. But that is a solution Unionists and Brexiteers are hellbent on opposing, saying such a move would ‘undermine Britain’s integrity’.
Can The Divorce Be Undone?
With all this pushing and tugging, should Ms May just follow Donald Tusk’s advice and walk back Brexit?
Brexitters like Boris Johnson would most likely not hear of that!
And the EU would likely impose measures to punish Britain and deter others. Would Britain be prepared to stomach such a humiliation?