Brexit shambles continues apace

The British parliament was due to vote tomorrow (Tuesday) on the deal that prime minister Theresa May arrived at with the EU negotiators but today she canceled the vote. She said that she was doing so because she realized that it would lose badly. It is not unusual for the party in power to cancel a vote on a bill but it is rare that it does so after the debate on it is well underway, as it was the case here where three days of debate had passed and 164 MPs had spoken. It shows a bad miscalculation on the part of May and her chief whip and constitutes a serious loss of credibility.

Her speech in parliament announcing the decision was met with scornful laughter.

So what’s next? May says that she will negotiate a better deal with the EU that would be more palatable to parliament but since she had been heavily selling the current deal as the best one that the UK could possibly get, that promise seems exceedingly unlikely to be fulfilled unless the EU takes pity on her misery and throws her a bone. They have little incentive to do so given that they want to avoid any country exiting the EU at all, so why make it easier for the UK?

The main sticking point has been the status of Northern Ireland, and how to create a customs and tariffs barrier between the UK and the EU without a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

This problem would go away if Northern Ireland decided to separate itself from the UK and join up with Ireland, thus ending a relic of British imperialism that created that separation. Given the bitter history between the two, this seems highly unlikely in the near future. The Protestants of NI may want to retain the majority status that they would lose if they joined up with majority Catholic Ireland and may also feel that there are economic and political benefits to remaining within the UK, as well as thinking of themselves as more British than Irish.

But I wonder if a realignment may become more appealing as time goes by. As both regions become less religious the way Europe in general is becoming, the religious division may become less salient. Also, if some Brexit deal is arrived at that keeps NI in the UK and out of the EU, there may come a time when the benefits of being in the EU outweigh the benefits of being part of the UK, thus causing the people of NI to change their views.

But that is not going to happen anytime soon, and definitely not in the short time frame that May has to arrive at some kind of deal. She is in a real bind.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I take it you’ve never been to Ireland, especially the North.

    “the religious division may become less salient”

    If I’m optimistic I’d say yes, in about three hundred years. You’d need the grandchildren of everyone currently alive to be dead. And it’s by no means certain even then.

  2. says

    The Irish will get over their troubles and want to peacefully reunify before May’s got a deal that will get approval.

    Hey, I know a deal-maker who we could send over there for the next 8-10 years.

  3. Dunc says

    “Shambles” is inadequate at this point. Even “omnishambles” doesn’t really go far enough.

    Also, I have to second sonofrojblake @ #1. For one thing, the religious division is only one aspect of an extremely complex and deep-seated conflict which wouldn’t go away even if every single person in the whole of Ireland woke up atheist tomorrow. It’s like imagining that the formal abolition of slavery could be enough to end racism in the US -- only with the proviso that there is absolutely no sign of even that actually happening any time soon.

  4. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “The Protestants of NI may want to retain the majority status that they would lose…”
    They have probably lost it already. In the census of 2011, there were 41.6% non-Catholic Christians vs. 40.8% Catholics, and the latter were increasing.
    But as already mentioned by others, the religious labels are only a smoke screen that hides the real politics.

  5. EigenSprocketUK says


    She [Theresa May] is in a real bind

    And it is one almost entirely of her own making. It was she alone who stood for leadership of her party to campaign for Brexit despite having been set against it. She chose to notify withdrawal under Article 50 in March 2017, thereby setting the clock on a countdown to 29th March 2019. In the subsequent two years, she has repeatedly lied and misled. This is all her own doing.

    She had been heavily selling the current deal as the best one that the UK could possibly get, that promise seems exceedingly unlikely to be fulfilled unless the EU takes pity on her misery and throws her a bone

    Yes, it is the best deal that gets the UK out of the EU. And no, there are no more bones to be thrown. As the EU is a primarily rules-based organisation (the rules being set by the members) this is straightforward. The last two years of confusion have been caused by the UK asking the EU for contradictory things. There is no more to be had.
    Wait — we could have far more than we’ve currently been offered; we could have voting rights, vetoes, benefit from programmes, be a driving force in the EU. We could stay as members — it would be hugely beneficial, quite cost-effective, and have very little downside.
    I’m more optimistic than sonofrojblake (#1): I’d give it about a hundred years or less. The current young people in Ireland (20 yrs and under) have known almost nothing but peace, and they make their own world really fast. So I reckon that their grandchildren will be the ones who will struggle to understand why sectarian conflict was ever a thing.

  6. mnb0 says

    “will negotiate a better deal”
    Forget it. The EU is done; it’s swallow or choke, as we Dutch say.
    In addition: the Scotch (who voted to remain with a convincing majority) are getting fed up as well.

  7. file thirteen says

    The UK never had any show of keeping their Irish cake and eating it too. If they’re going to go back to closed borders, there’s no alternative to a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Of course people living on or near the border will be completely stuffed by this, but although some of the “leavers” overlooked that, I think most just didn’t care.

    Does anyone seriously think that if any of the mainland European countries left the EU that they’d be able to sort out doing so without requiring hard borders to neighbouring countries? Of course not.

    As others have commented above, there will never be a reunified Ireland in our lifetime without something massively changing (apart from anything else, leaving the UK would be anathema to many Northern Ireland residents who depend on it for their livelihood). But this may be turn out to be that massive change. I think the way to go is to put a Berlin-style (ex) wall, complete with guards, searchlights and razor wire, and after thirty years of that perhaps even the hardliners may get a change of heart.

    Not that it will happen. To put in a hard border would provoke an outcry; not just from those who now regret voting to leave, but don’t forget the 48% who voted the other way! Enough to bring down the current government anyway. Rock, meet hard place.

  8. says

    A possibility I haven’t heard anyone mention is whether Northern Ireland could declare independence without joining the Republic of Ireland. I presume the chances of this are pretty minimal, but if NI joins the EU without the rest of the UK the border would remain soft.

    Just a thought.

  9. file thirteen says

    That would solve the land border problem between NI and Ireland. It wouldn’t solve the problem of NI wanting to remain part of the UK, or of the UK wanting NI to remain part of it. The hard border would be a sea border, like the border with France would be.

  10. file thirteen says

    And really, if you’re even going to consider that, you might as well go the whole hog and reunify Ireland.

  11. fentex says

    Reunite Ireland.

    The only rational solution, and with the catholic church falling out of power as it has, probably not as impossible an ambition as it has long been -- Northen Ireland joining the Republic is no longer tacit submission to papists.

    I suspect it’s doable, I’ve no idea if it would happen but what’s coming (regarding the border) will be a likely forceful catalyst.

  12. file thirteen says

    Results of the no confidence motion: 200 in support of the PM, 117 against. So she stays PM and can’t face another vote for at least a year. Still not a great result for her though, to have so much dissent in her own party.

  13. Dunc says

    fentex, @ #15: The problem (well, one of the problems) right now is that the current government can only command a (slim) majority with the support of the DUP, who are absolutely and inimically opposed to any hint of greater rapprochement with the RoI.

    In the wider context, there are still a lot of Ulster Unionists who would return to terrorism to oppose re-unification -- and we’re not talking the sort of penny-ante amateur-hour shit we’ve grown accustomed to calling terrorism in the last couple of decades.

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