BREXIT IN THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT
By Aleksandar Krzhalovski
Today I have delayed the column, waiting for the voting on the second version of the Withdrawal Agreement (the UK from the European Union, the so-called Withdrawal Agreement…or the popular Brexit Treaty) in the British Parliament.
Like our Prespa Agreement, this Brexit agreement is an inexhaustible source of comments, and for the third time now I am referring to the turbulence surrounding it in Britain and comparing it with our situation. While our agreement on the thorny road through the Assembly finally came into force last month, Brexit enters its photo-finish, ahead of the agreed exit date for Great Britain from the EU on March 29, 2019, or less than three weeks from now.
Today’s debate and the evening vote was, as I mentioned above, for the second version of the Agreement, improved and clarified according to Prime Minister May (or as it was said at one time in our country – upgraded and expanded), with which there will be a regular exit from the EU with clear rules and mechanisms for that transition. To recall, Prime Minister May submitted the first version of the Treaty to Parliament in early December and was due to be voted on 11.12.2018 but after MPs (including her party) reacted fiercely to what was “agreed”, voting moved on January 15, 2019. But even then, the result was catastrophic for the government, which suffered the worst defeat in their history with 230 votes more “against” than “for” (432:200), including over 80 MPs of the ruling Conservative (Tory) party of Prime Minister May.
With this outcome, May returned the Treaty to a negotiating table with the EU, and even though European Commission President Juncker immediately stated that there would be no new negotiations on the treaty, there have been intense attempts since January to address remarks by British lawmakers with a common goal – to have an agreement! So now, in addition to the basic Agreement (over 580 pages) and the Political Declaration, there are three new documents agreed by the UK Government and the European Commission. I am writing this because in our case, after the failed referendum – no attempt was made to improve the agreement through additional negotiations with Greece.
The whole two-month effort of Theresa May was to win over some of those MPs who voted against in January and to get some kind of guarantees (most demanded “legally binding” provisions in the agreement, the key issue for the border with Ireland. Namely, an option for Britain to exit whenever it wants (without EU authorization) from the customs union with the EU, but with no border controls between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK), which is the only physical (land, not sea) border of Great Britain to the EU. That is important in order not to “return” the violence in Northern Ireland, which lasted 30 years, and were resolved by the Belfast Agreement, which removed that physical border between them.
The British parliamentary democracy is fascinating, where there is a struggle for the opinion and the vote of each of the MPs, with arguments and survey of each word, a provision from the documents/laws, to bring closer the final solution to the majority of MPs step by step and it will faithfully reflect the mood of the majority of citizens (as each MP is directly connected to the constituency). And it is out of the party lines, that is, there is a large number of “for” and “against” both in the one and the other big party. I do not want to remind myself of the “fight” for the votes with us…with everything possible, like markets, promises, blackmail, amnesties, pardons, and we see “forgiven” prison sentences…and least with arguments. Of course, I do not want to claim that in the British Parliament everything is pure and honest, and I do not believe that it is so, but the difference with our Assembly in the conduct of the two most important debates in both countries (Brexit and Prespa, respectively) is dramatic.
And while writing this text, the voting took place. Although an uncertain outcome was expected, and there were hopes that perhaps a majority vote “for” would be reached, the majority of the forecasts were that the improvements to the agreement were again not good enough, and the vote ended with another defeat of the prime minister, with almost 150 votes difference. Much better than the first time, 80 lawmakers changed their minds, or as one of them said: we sent May to Brussels to pull out a “rabbit from the hat”, and she returned with a mouse only, but that is good enough for me!
Otherwise, the first, and especially the second vote in the British media was characterized as “historical”, but they were both unsuccessful (at least from the point of view of the Government) and there is no big drama about that.
Even more fascinating is dealing with the newly emerging situation. Not only there is a Plan B but there will be a few more votes in Parliament on what further. This is because the Government asks Parliament about its proposals and asks what to do, and then implements what Parliament has decided on. It is the same here, but only formally, while actually the Government (both this one and the previous and this and probably all the others, except the first maybe in independent Macedonia) imposes what should be passed in the Assembly. And as long as this is so, we are far from European values, and even farther from European democracy.
British MPs will tomorrow debate and vote whether they are for Brexit without an agreement with the EU, and if they are not – they will also vote on whether to ask for a delay in the exit from the EU, after which May will have to ask it from the EU. In two of the three possible outcomes of these votes, Great Britain will leave the EU without an agreement (with all the risks and uncertainties it brings), but if they ask for and receive a delay, although this does not solve the problem, they do not see things in black and white and have at least seven options to continue: a new vote for a third version of the agreement; no agreement in the end; to have a new referendum; to vote for the Government’s trust; to have elections; new negotiations with the EU; Brexit not to happen at all. Or, as my mediation teachers used to say, just from Belfast in Northern Ireland – do not decide on a problem until you develop seven possible options!
*The text is written exclusively for the purposes of Inbox 7. For each republishing, a consent by the editors must be obtained. Inbox 7 does not always agree with the opinions and views of the authors in the debate section.