Implications of failure of Brexit repeal bill 

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn labelled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill a ministerial ‘power grab’ and ordered his MPs to vote against the Government. The Brexit repeal bill failed to pass. Prime Minister Theresa May managed to avoid defeat in the Commons clash and hailed results as a historic Parliamentary victory that would allow exit negotiations to continue. Parliament’s post-midnight vote resulted in the Prime Minister facing no rebellion from within her party, as the government secured a victory of 326 to 290. The result handed May an effective “Brexit majority” of 36 after seven Labour MPs – Ronnie Campbell, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, John Mann, Dennis Skinner and Graham Stringer – defied their own party whip to support the government, arguing that the referendum demanded the legislation be passed. The prime minister called it a “historic decision to back the will of the British people” and said the vote would give clarity and certainty through the Brexit process. This enabled it to move on to the next stage in Parliament. The Bill will transpose relevant EU law on to the UK statute book to ensure there are no gaps in legislation when Brexit is finalised. However, Conservative MPs have warned Theresa May that their support for her government’s Brexit legislation is not unconditional, as they demanded significant changes to the EU withdrawal bill within minutes of backing it.

The PM Theresa May had a temporary sigh of relief and she said that parliament took a historic decision to back the will of the British people and vote for a Bill which gives certainty and clarity ahead of our withdrawal from the European Union. ‘Although there is more to do, this decision means we can move on with negotiations with solid foundations and we continue to encourage MPs from all parts of the UK to work together in support of this vital piece of legislation.’

Labour described the results were ‘deeply disappointing’ and the Liberal Democrats said it was ‘a dark day for the mother of parliaments’. The vote was passed (12 September) by a comfortable majority of 36 – which included all 10 of the DUP MPs that are propping up the minority government. Seven Labour MPs backed, giving the Bill a second reading, 13 abstained in the vote and at least one missed the debate as a result of hospital treatment.

While Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the Bill was a ‘naked power grab’ by the Government. He said: ‘This is a deeply disappointing result. This Bill is an affront to parliamentary democracy and a naked power grab by Government ministers. It leaves rights unprotected, it silences Parliament on key decisions and undermines the devolution settlement. It will make the Brexit process more uncertain, and lead to division and chaos when we need unity and clarity.’

But Labour former minister Caroline Flint accused opponents of the repeal Bill of trying to ‘thwart the result of the EU referendum and prevent or delay the UK leaving the EU’ and defied the three-line whip to abstain. No Conservatives opposed the move but five, as well as two Tories (conservative part members) acting as tellers, did not walk through the voting lobbies.

Plaid Cymru said divisions in the Labour Party ‘risk letting the Tories off the hook’ while the SNP claimed the Scottish Tories had abandoned Scotland’s ‘economic and social interests and instead followed Westminster orders’. Some Conservative MPs called for extra time to allow MPs to assess flagship Brexit legislation line by line. However, MPs approved the timetable guaranteeing 64 hours of debate by a majority of 17 after Justice Secretary David Lidington said the Government is ‘willing to consider’ giving more time to the next stages of the Bill if there is ‘good reason’. An earlier bid by Labour to block the Bill was defeated by 318 votes to 296.

What is Brexit?

Brexit refers to referendum in Britain that voted for the prospective withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a possible Greek exit from the euro was dubbed Grexit in the past.  In a referendum on 23 June 2016, 51.9% of the participating UK electorate voted to leave the EU. On 29 March 2017, the British government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union; although revoking this might be legally possible, the UK is thus on course to leave the EU by March 2019. Soon after, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the UK would not seek permanent membership of the single market or the customs union after leaving the EU and promised to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972 and incorporate existing European Union law into UK domestic law. Negotiations with the EU officially started in June 2017.

UK’s journey with the EU

 The UK joined the European Communities on 1 January 1973, with membership confirmed by a referendum in 1975. In 2017 it is the Tory or Conservative party of UK, which is spearheading Brexit. But in the 1970s and 1980s, withdrawal from the EC was advocated mainly by Labour Party and trade union figures. From the 1990s, the main advocates of withdrawal were the newly founded UK Independence Party (UKIP) and an increasing number of Eurosceptic Conservatives.

Referendum for Brexit

In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron rejected calls for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, but suggested the possibility of a future referendum to gauge public support. At that time the prime minister acknowledged the need to ensure the UK’s position within the European Union expressed ‘the full-hearted support of the British people’,  but said that they needed to show ‘tactical and strategic patience’.” Under pressure from many of his MPs and from the rise of UKIP, in January 2013, Cameron announced that a Conservative government would hold an in–out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017, on a renegotiated package, if elected in 2015. The Conservative Party unexpectedly won the 2015 general election with a majority. Soon afterwards the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced into Parliament to enable the referendum. Cameron favoured remaining in a reformed European Union, and sought to renegotiate on four key points: protection of the single market for non-eurozone countries, reduction of “red tape”, exempting Britain from “ever-closer union”, and restricting EU immigration.

In December 2015, opinion polls showed a clear majority in favour of remaining in the EU, although support would drop if David Cameron did not negotiate adequate safeguards for non-Eurozone member states and restriction on benefits for EU citizens. The outcome of the renegotiations was announced in February 2016. Some limits to in-work benefits for new EU immigrants were agreed, but before they could be applied, a country such as the UK would have to get permission from the European Commission and then from the European Council.  In a speech to the House of Commons on 22 February 2016, Cameron announced a referendum date of 23 June 2016, and commented on the renegotiation settlement. He spoke of an intention to trigger the Article 50 process immediately following a leave vote, and of the “two-year time period to negotiate the arrangements for exit.”

Campaigns pro and against Brexit

The official campaign group for leaving the EU was “Vote Leave” after a contest for the designation with “Leave.EU”. The official campaign to stay in the EU, chaired by Stuart Rose, was known as Britain Stronger in Europe, or informally as Remain. Other campaigns supporting remaining in the EU included Conservatives In, Labour in for Britain, #INtogether (Liberal Democrats), Greens for a Better Europe, Scientists for EU, Environmentalists For Europe, Universities for Europe and Another Europe is Possible.

The unexpected result of the Brexit

A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on 23 June, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. The result was announced on the morning of 24 June: 51.9% voted in favour of leaving the European Union, and 48.1% voted in favour of remaining a member of the European Union. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. But still many people who wanted UK to remain with the EU did not lose hope.   A petition calling for a second referendum attracted more than four million signatures, but was rejected by the government on 9 July, 2016.

Pros and cons of Brexit

Such a question cannot be addressed in black and white because it all depends on the assumptions of the analysts and also whether they chose short or long term for their analysis and factor in the effect on fate of globalisation and competitive economic nationalism along with effect of Brexit on counter measures of other countries against British moves and trade blocs responses.

Accordingly there are differences of opinion in these regards among the analysts. According to an OECD analysis of Britain’s economic prospects outside the EU, even the best-case scenario will see every home losing £2,200 by 2020 after Brexit. That verdict is backed up by the CBI, which has warned that leaving the EU would cost £100 billion to GDP by 2020 and lead to the loss of 950,000 jobs. The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, meanwhile, claims that Brexit is likely to lead to a weak pound– good for UK exporters, bad for UK tourists and the price of imported goods.

Contrary to that the Leave campaign has countered that pulling out the EU will allow Britain to retain the money it currently pays in (although Leave’s favoured figure has been thoroughly discredited). Leave also claims that it would be possible to renegotiate trade deals quickly after Brexit, although it doesn’t specify how snubbed EU partners could be induced into favourable terms.

There are issues pertaining to security. The Remain campaign highlights the benefits of international cooperation in implementing sanctions, sharing intelligence and enforcing arrest warrants. Leave has a very different account of the pros and cons of Brexit. According to Leave, the EU “stops us controlling who comes into our country, on what terms, and who can be removed.”The Leave campaign has chosen “Let’s take back control” as its slogan, arguing that Britain will be freer to assert its will when not working through the EU. Remain counters that, by engaging with the EU, Britain has more influence than it would outside.

The way forward

The times in which we are living are confusing and the crisis of faith in globalization and economic integration is clearly visible in the US, UK and in other parts of Europe. Other countries like France have also seen rise in demand for economic nationalism. The process of evolving global village and trade in goods and services along with migration of skilled and unskilled labour from developing countries to developed countries has already been seriously interrupted. It was the western capitalist economies that were the main advocates of globalization, free trade and laissez faire in the last 200 years. There was some interruption during the great depression in the 1930s, but the process picked up during the post War years. The decade of 1980s and 1990s saw immense progress in the progress of globalization, free trade and adoption of pro market economic policies. But the process came under doubt with rising imbalances such as inequality, jobless growth, asymmetric benefit of globalization between countries, sectors and economic classes and states losing power to adopt their own set of policies to address their economic woes. Eventually after the first decade of the new millennium the fascination of free trade, economic integration, globalization and liberal democratic economic policies gave way to rise of far right political ideologies and a disbelief in free trade and pro-market policies. It was partly because of the lopsided growth led by free trade, pro market policies and globalization and despite many studies pointing out to this, the liberal democratic governments did not pay heed to criticisms.

The withdrawal of the US   from the Trans- Pacific Partnership and sluggish development with regard to proposals for Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership indicate that multilateralism has come under pressure. The proposal for RCEP (ASEAN + 6), nevertheless an integrative effort, which might fill the vacant space at the initiative of India and China, who still believe in free trade and multilateralism. It seems, that for the present, even though free trade would not be completed rejected, but instead of multilateralism, developed countries would have preference for bilateral economic FTAs and Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements. The US and UK have already indicated a policy drift in the same direction. However, the world is changing and so its economic matrices also would change. The future of multilateralism would depend on how the BRICS and G-20, especially two rising economic powerhouses, i.e., India and China perform and take a united front to salvage the WTO’s Doha Round and UN’s climatic convention. The reforms in the IMF and the World Bank would also be an important determinant, especially in the wake of rise of the China led AIIB and BRI initiative and BRICS led New Development Bank.

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