Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Could Parliament Repeal Brexit?

With Trump's inauguration approaching, Congress back at work, and the mainstream media preoccupied with fear-mongering about stolen elections and Russian hackers, there has been precious little news of Europe; in particular, Brexit.

To be fair, there was a story last week, the odious Stephen Castle's "Complicating ‘Brexit’ Plans, Britain’s Top Envoy to E.U. Resigns," about the resignation of longtime Brussels diplomat Ivan Rogers. The pith of Rogers' parting shot was of "the emperor May has no clothes" sort. Rogers says that once Article 50 is invoked, which prime minister Theresa May is supposed to do this March, there is no alternative to a decade-long negotiation to establish a new trade relationship with the continent.

Yesterday Steven Erlanger had an enlightening piece, "Theresa May Prepares to Walk ‘Brexit’ Tightrope With Speech," which fleshed out this thinking:
Therein lies Mrs. May’s dilemma. Diplomats and officials who have had some discussions with her advisers and would not be named because of the confidential nature of those talks say she has two priorities that will limit her negotiating options.
First, vital to Conservatives who consider sovereignty most important is getting Britain out from under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Second, control over immigration is important to most Brexit voters.
The logic of these two priorities would mean that Britain could no longer be a part of the European Union’s single market for trade in goods and services and freedom of travel and labor. Nor could it be a part of the customs union for goods alone, because that also would mean both paying Brussels and having no ability to strike separate trade deals with China, say, or Washington.
So the only logical future relationship would seem to be a new trade deal in goods and services that Britain would have to negotiate with the rest of the European Union — a negotiation that Mr. Rogers suggested, to Mrs. May’s unhappiness, could take a decade.
In the meantime, he had suggested, Britain should negotiate a transitional agreement that would preserve free trade and would probably look a lot like Britain’s current membership — with the obligations, but without the right to participate in decision-making.
Without such a transition, Britain risks a “hard Brexit,” with considerable damage to its trade and especially to its dominant financial services sector.
But those conclusions are politically unpopular as well, especially with Brexiters like Mr. Davis who believe that the European Union needs Britain more than it needs the European Union, and like Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who likes to say that Britain can have its cake and eat it, too, and that Britain can both control immigration and still remain in the single market.
The loss of access to the single market could also have serious implications for Britain’s integrity, since Scotland’s nationalist leaders threaten a new independence referendum if it can no longer trade freely with the European Union.
But logic and politics do not always fit together nicely. So Mrs. May holds her fire, remains silent about her priorities and their costs and simply promises that she will somehow produce a British exit that satisfies everyone.
This is basically what Yves Smith has been saying when she writes about Brexit for Naked Capitalism. There is no soft landing here. Once Article 50 is invoked the Brits will have three years to negotiate a deal with Brussels, something many, not just Ivan Rogers, think impossible. So the City of London financial empire will bleed out, with major banks setting up shop on the continent.

London Review of Books has sung much the same song.

Given the paradigm shift augured by the hard Brexit in the offing, why don't the politicians fall on their swords and gut Brexit in Parliament? As Erlanger says,
The Supreme Court, the United Kingdom’s highest court of appeal in civil cases, is expected to rule against the government and require that Parliament have a say. A short bill has already been prepared, however, and no one expects lawmakers of either house to oppose the result of the June “Brexit” referendum at this stage.
But stranger things have happened. The question, like the one being asked in the U.S., is the extent to which the Deep State will brook a rejiggering of its "neoliberalism + militarism" formula.

I think May, who opposed Brexit, has been stalling since her installation as PM. There is no alternative to a hard Brexit. She knows this. She has been waiting for the political winds to shift. But the Trump election proved that the winds rather than changing direction just gained in force.

Politicians are not courageous. I think a parliamentary repeal is highly unlikely.

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