Between a hard and a rock place

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Md. Sharif Hasan
Published : 22:27, Dec 25, 2018 | Updated : 22:32, Dec 25, 2018

Md. Sharif HasanUK Prime Minister Theresa May has just survived a vote of no confidence in her own party. The Brexit deal isn’t in any better position than it was. Possibly, the situation is worse now. The EU has already said many times that they can’t alter the Northern Ireland backstop. They can’t re-open the withdrawal agreement legally. So, all they can do is tinker with some language but that’s not good enough for MPs who want to see the whole issue renegotiated. Theresa May is going to ask people to support renegotiation but she won’t get what she wants.
May has now seen her authority vastly diminished in the vote the other day. So, if she was able to do something before she’s less able to do it now because the EU won’t take her seriously. And, there’re 117 Tory MPs who will probably vote against the deal no matter what she brings back because they can’t support her as a leader.
Is May simply rearranging deck chair on a sinking Titanic? She is playing for time. She delayed the vote because she wanted to save her own skin which enraged her party. That is why they moved the vote of no-confidence against her. And, now so she’s going to the EU and asking for something she knows can’t be delivered. They’ve been telling her their stand for months and months. Somewhat amazingly, she’s setting herself up for failure. There’s never going to be a squaring this impossible circle — like so much else in Brexit it is undeliverable. The reason for that is that the UK parliament, where so many conservatives are against the backstop is: it can’t be unilaterally terminated by the UK. But, that is what makes it acceptable to the EU and in particular the Irish government. So, if you were to change that and make it acceptable through the UK parliament it wouldn’t necessarily become unacceptable to the Irish government and the EU. And, if you were to fudge it then it would satisfy no one. Because you would lose trust so really there’s no middle-ground.
Theresa May has been caught in the middle of a maelstrom from all sides and is being buffeted both within her party and also from opposition Labor party which has gained ground electorally. Her major problem has been as a politician, Prime Minister May has not been able to develop a core group of followers within her own party. And, her style of communication is a drawback; people say she’s very wooden and very aloof.
Last year, she called for snap elections. It was a big blunder as the Conservatives almost lost, barely scraping through in a coalition to form another government. She’s been seen as ineffective as a politician. But, what is going for her is that nobody else is willing to accept the poisoned chalice to pass it on. Until 2020-21 there’re no general elections due. So, if a new prime minister emerges after May's defeat, he or she will inherit much of the mess.
The Union Flag and a European Union flag fly near the Elizabeth Tower, housing the Big Ben bell, during the anti-Brexit `People`s March for Europe`, in Parliament Square in central London, Britain September 9, 2017. REUTERSHistorically, it started with David Cameron because he made the first big blunder of calling for a referendum on so sensitive an issue as the UK's membership in the EU. It was not even required. He thought that he could outflank his opponents within the Conservative Party and he put the nation’s fate on the chopping block. And, now they’re paying the price.
One feels sympathetic to May because she’s a principled woman. She’s not power-hungry. She’s not desperate to cling on anyhow. But, she feels like she’s been given the mandate to fulfil and that she’s playing a historical role at a very critical juncture. But she’s been not able to convince a lot of people within her party.
Opinion polls suggest that she does not enjoy the confidence of the Parliament. So, she’s hanging in by a thin wire of support from the unionist party of Northern Ireland which doesn’t want agree with parts of the agreement she’s concluded with the Europeans. Likewise, Europeans are they’re fed up because they have painstakingly come to this kind of a deal with her after months and months of negotiations. Now, all of this could be thrown out of the window. So, the UK’s credibility is at an all-time low and May is simply a symbol of this decline and failure.
Let’s look at another scenario: if May actually wins this war but it leaves her weakened, it leaves her in a state where she can’t do much.
When the botched up snap election happened last year she was already quite weakened but she’s still there by default. She’s the fall guy or the fall girl because nobody else wants to shoulder the blame for the severe descent that the UK will experience after exiting the EU. If one looks at the economic situation, British growth has stalled. The unpredictability about investments is an issue. Many multinationals have pulled out of the UK for the fear of losing access to the bigger European market.
Anxiety has grown at the grassroots due to austerity policies that the Conservatives have been implementing for the last several years. Now there is also a housing crunch coupled that with, there’s debt.
Even now, they say if there’s a fresh referendum, opinion polls say it’s going to be 51 or 49. It is going to be touch and go one way or the other. Maybe a few more may want to remain that was the case last time. But, whatever it is: it shows an even split in the society between the haves and the have-nots.
To end, the austerity which Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party is highlighting and benefiting from is going to be the wave of the future. They will say that whether there’s Brexit or not, the poor remain in a highly disadvantaged position in the current dispensation. And as long as that’s there that groundswell of anger from a lot of people who feel they have been left out of globalization, they will drive the present process forward possibly to a new general election in 2021 or 2022, maybe sooner. Corbyn is sitting out this whole storm. He has not taken a clear position and maybe the likely beneficiary.
So, we may see the end of an era of the right-wing rule as a result of this Brexit mess.
Md. Sharif Hasan teaches International Relations at the University of Rajshahi.

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