Brexit Game Changers?
Brexit is peppered with meaningless soundbites such as “Brexit means Brexit” and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, but perhaps the second of these may yet prove to be true.
The two major parties in the UK are split over the issue of “Europe” and have always been. Rather than the Brexit referendum cauterizing the wounds of Euroscepticism and Europhile, it has just deepened them and caused them to fester. In the Tory party, anger has simmered that the right leaning ERG who are strongly Eurosceptic have been allowed too much influence over the Brexit process whilst more moderate voices are ignored.
In the Labour party, many suspect that the leader of the party has stayed true to his Eurosceptic roots and, despite protestations, is keen for Brexit to happen over the (current) wishes of the vast majority of his party.
The pressures within the two main parties have come to a head sufficiently that eight Labour MPs and three Tory MPs have resigned from their parties to sit as The Independent Group in parliament (with the expectation that they will form a separate party in the coming months). This exodus is too small to cause either party concerns in itself, but many MPs in both parties are thought to be sympathetic to following suit unless the leaderships pay more attention to their views.
The culmination of this process, for Labour, has meant that they have declared themselves willing to press for a further referendum if their own Brexit proposals are rejected by parliament (a racing certainty). For the Tories, May’s threat to leave the EU without securing a deal looks likely to force many in government and the wider party to rebel against the whip and back amendments which would force the PM to extend (or rather ask the EU to agree to extend) A50 notice. The scale of the rebellion is such that rumours are circulating suggesting that May will rule out a “no deal” Brexit herself in a bid to maintain party unity – however, such a move would enrage the ERG members of her party.
News of Labour’s support for a second referendum has pushed Sterling up by a cent or so against the Euro. It remains to be seen if Labour support of a vote (a position endorsed by all the opposition parties) would be enough to obtain a majority for it in parliament. There are probably 25 Labour MPs who would vote against it (even on a 3-line whip) and only a dozen or so Tory MPs publicly aligned with backing it. However, these are volatile times and many MPs in the Tory party may be happier handing responsibility back to the people, particularly when parliament itself remains hopelessly split on the issue of Brexit and all but the most radically Eurosceptic recognise the catastrophe represented by a “no deal” outcome.