Ambika Sinha: How confusion on Brexit is Parliament's fault

Thursday, April 18, 2019 - 10:38am

As the curtain falls on an era of unity and diplomacy, I am sure members of the British Parliament are asking themselves, “To be or not to be?” That is, should they be holding British society hostage to nationalistic policies that could send the global economy into a recession? Well, that is the question. Just as Shakespeare meant this phrase to refer to death, it is more than appropriate to use this expression to refer to the death of international stability at the hands of the British Parliament.

With the third failure of the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement paired with the European Union’s strong position against changing the terms of the agreement, the chances of Britain exiting the European Union without a deal seems probable. Since British Prime Minister Theresa May has already begged the Parliament to reconsider their decision on the agreement ratification and even promised to step down from her position to do so we are left to wonder what else can members of Parliament do? And oh, do we wonder. The actions of the British Parliament have caused nothing but anger and confusion.

When I think of all the things that are going to be lost from this deal, I am continually dumbfounded by the effects that the agreement ratification decision Parliament has made will have on the world economy, or on the integrity of European politics as a whole. Under a soft exit, the EU is predicted to lose 22 billion Euros ($24.7 billion) in income, and under a hard exit close to $40 billion, which will predominantly fall on Germany, Europe’s largest economy and largest exporter. Britain is set to experience a 5 percent contraction in their GDP, suffer a loss of 57 billion Euros ($64 billion) in income and probably suffer a major financial crisis that would impact the global economy as well.

Though the British Parliament forced May to to extend the deadline to October, it became clear that the EU would not budge in making any significant changes to the more than 550 page document that was negotiated and approved by the rest of the 27 countries in the bloc. Why would they? Brexit is like an ugly breakup. Of course, the EU is going to be unyielding in the terms of the separation. Think about the integrity of Europe and the European Union without the inclusion of one of its superpowers. The UK leaving the EU negatively affects the entire image of unity between Europe and the EU. They have no control in the UK’s decision, and still must bear the consequences.

I, for one, am happy that the EU isn’t budging. There is nothing stronger than the EU flexing its power rather than enduring the cost that a No Deal Brexit will bring. How can the world just bend to the preferences of the members of Parliament that are already represented rather generously in the existing Withdrawal Agreement? Britain wanted to leave. Now they are, and if the world economy spirals, it is on them. The EU should not be bending to the interests of the UK so that the UK can cherry pick what relations of the EU they want to keep and which they don’t. The UK should be the one making larger concessions in this deal as it was their decision to leave. What continues to perplex me is how taking the deal is only temporary — yet Parliament still continues to take on the risk of taking the temporary Withdrawal Agreement that expires at the end of 2020. Let’s highlight that — the members of Parliament would be to blame. Prime Minister Theresa May has done everything she possibly could to arbitrate this deal, so if No Deal Brexit ensues, it will be because Parliament has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement despite incentives to do so. When the economy and stability of the rest of the world are at stake, MPs should be ratifying the deal.

I can, however, see where some of the strong dissatisfaction behind the plan comes from. The Irish backstop would essentially keep EU control over trade in Northern Ireland, and would keep it bound to the customs union that the UK so desperately wants to leave. All of this is to prevent the border from forming. Yes, this is an issue as it would keep extend EU influence longer than intended. But consider the alternative. If there is no deal, then a hard border would will increase the likelihood of something akin to the Troubles conflict, which ended with the Good Friday Agreement, exponentially. If the UK is cutting off relations this quickly, of course this issue will continue to persist and would probably require heavier customs and immigration control in Northern Ireland. It would just put the UK in a worse position. I am not sure why the UK is trying to force a different option when more harm would likely occur at the Northern Irish border with a No Deal option. Failing the resolution for the third time is almost as if Parliament wanted to expedite the damages that are set to come from the No Deal policies.

And of course, we have witnessed the political death of Theresa May in this process. In an era where our trust in national leaders doing the right thing is at an all-time low, May, who has put her career on the line for the sake of her country, has sadly become collateral in this messy divorce. As May desperately tried to get Parliament to vote on the only agreement available, she sacrificed her entire career as an incentive for her country to unite over a decision to safely and securely leave the European Union. I guess my astonishment of May’s sacrifice is the fact that she was willing to unite her country around anything — even the satisfaction of her as their leader — as an effort to push the UK to do the right thing. Maybe the only good thing that came out of Parliament failing the deal is that we got to see just how dedicated May is to her country.

The hardest part of this is that we simply will not know what will happen. And though I am deeply disappointed and worried about the state of international politics because of the British Parliament, all I can do is wait. Though most of our attention is on President Donald Trump these days, be sure to pay attention to Brexit, which is proving to be one of the most important events in recent history Times like these force us to call back upon our famous British friend Shakespeare, and hope he was right when advised that “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

Ambika Sinha can be reached at ambikavs@umich.edu.