London — Brexit has stalled. Theresa May traveled back to Brussels to try to settle the issue of the backstop. May implored the EU the need to avoid “the risk of an accidental ‘no-deal’ with all the disruption that would bring.” But, as expected, the EU has refused to budge on the issue of the Irish backstop.
The Brexiteer argument has been consistent: If the EU won’t budge, call its bluff. And so at this point, Britain should proceed to no deal, making preparations for World Trade Organization rules and holding fast to £39 billion divorce bill that the EU desires from the U.K. Yes, there are unknowns with such last-minute preparations for no-deal (which could have been avoided if the prime minister and her government had only started this earlier). But there’s no reason to panic.
Even the head of the WTO has said that a no-deal Brexit is entirely manageable. Which makes sense given that most of British trade is already out with the EU and under World Trade Organization rules anyway. Indeed, a real cause for alarm is May’s deal which, in addition to a nationwide backstop which would keep the U.K. in the customs union without permission to exit, “surrenders British national security by subordinating British defence forces to military EU control” according to the former head of MI6.
Yet, although no-deal would be a faithful delivery of the 2016 vote to leave the EU, political obstruction and anti-Brexit media bias (undermining public morale) make it increasingly unlikely.
When May’s delayed “meaningful vote” takes place in January 2019, she will have just two months before Brexit day happens on March 29 in accordance with Article 50. Of course, if there’s panic now — it will be far worse then.
Though it will be difficult to pass, it is also unlikely that Parliament will be sitting tight in brace position for a no-deal Brexit. So, if and when May’s deal is rejected in January she will have to make an alternative proposal — one that MPs are able to amend either with an even softer Brexit (such as a Norway-style arrangement), the suggestion for a second referendum or extending Article 50 with the EU’s permission (which could ultimately end in revocation).
Under the rules of the Conservative party, May’s victory in the latest confidence vote means she cannot be challenged for another twelve months. However, the Labour party could trigger a confidence vote in the government which — if backed by enough disillusioned Tory MPs — would lead to a general election which would enable the Conservative party to elect a new leader but might also result in Prime Minister Corbyn.
It’s Brexit crunch time. Truly anything could happen, but Brexit’s best hope at this point is no-deal.