Brexhausted! Four Years of Brexit Blunders, Part Two: Night of the Living Deal

police
TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

Britain left the European Union in name in January 2020, but remained subject to the EU, its judges, and its migration regime through a so-called “transition” period. It left in a real sense at 11 pm on December 31st — according to supporters of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s exit deal, at least. But how did the country get here?

This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one here.

Bedlam Follows Betrayal

Theresa May did not win a crushing victory when she called a snap election for June 2017. Indeed, with the one-year anniversary of the Brexit vote weeks away and Britain’s withdrawal nowhere near being delivered despite her tough talk, many Leavers had grown tired of her. Large numbers of working-class voters reverted to Labour, believing — wrongly, as it turned out — that the leftist party would “respect the result” of the 2016 vote, as they promised.

The Tories were still the biggest party in the House of Commons, but they had lost their overall majority. Mrs May found herself leading a minority administration, propped up by Northern Ireland’s Brexit-supporting Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in a so-called ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement.

But the government faced defeat if at any time the DUP failed to vote with her, or if a significant number of Tory Remainers or Tory Leavers rebelled against the government with the backing of the other opposition parties.

The Brexit process had, finally, been kicked off in March 2017, at least, but with May opting not to simply repeal the 1970s legislation which had taken Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC), as the EU then was.

Instead, the UK was to depart on the bloc’s terms by embarking on the exit process it laid down in Article 50 of its Lisbon Treaty — meaning a two-year period of negotiations before Brexit could actually take place, during which the country would still be wholly subject to Brussels.

Even this was delayed. May had hoped to activate Article 50 in January 2017 — still many months after the Brexit vote — but Remain activists successfully persuaded the courts to force her to request Parliament’s permission to do so in the first of many “lawfare” battles against the Brexit process.

(Remain diehards within and without Parliament doing their level best to throw legal roadblocks before Brexit — and very often succeeding — was to become a regular feature of the British political landscape in the coming years.)

With this, no reliable majority for May’s administration in the House of Commons, and both the Commons and the Lords dominated by politicians who never wanted to leave the EU in the first place, the country soon became quite literally ungovernable.

The Tory leader, who reportedly called her advisers “in tears” on the night of the 2016 Leave vote, still appeared to have no faith in Brexit as a project. May was viewed by many as negotiating as though Britain needed the EU more than the EU needed Britain.

She submitted to the bloc’s demands that there be no question of negotiating a trade deal until after its demand for a multi-billion “divorce” settlement was dealth with — despite Britain paying billions more into the EU budget than it took out for decades.

She then agreed to hand over a princely sum of over 40 billion euros the country had no real liability for.

The PM then set about putting together a draft withdrawal agreement which would see Britain break with the EU’s laws and judges in name only, still submitting to a “common rulebook” identical to EU law, upheld by local judges in line with EU judges’ interpretations of it, among other massive concessions.

Brexiteers brought into the Cabinet as a sop to Britain’s pro-freedom voters, including Boris Johnson, were appalled. David Davis, the Secretary of State for Brexit and notionally the man in charge of the EU negotiations, resigned, along with junior minister Steve Baker, who alleged that May’s inner circle had stitched up the deal behind their backs and sprung it on ministers in an act of constitutional “abuse”.

It was also said that May and the Civil Service were following in Cameron’s footsteps by failing to do any adequate planning for a no-deal Brexit — in order to make it impossible to execute, many suspected.

Johnson, as in 2016, dithered, but eventually walked out of government after Davis, branding May’s proposed deal “a turd” in private and lambasting it as “vassalage, satrapy, colony status for the UK” in public.

May found herself in a truly impossible position. Leaver MPs would not back her deal, including her DUP allies — shocked by elements of the proposed withdrawal agreement which would see Northern Ireland effectively cut off from the rest of the United Kingdom and annexed to the EU and its Single Market for the purposes of customs and regulations.

Remainer opposition MPs, who could have combined with government loyalists to overcome the Tory Leavers and the DUP,  would also not back her, however, as while her vision of Brexit looked rather like Brexit in name only — “BRINO” — their dominance in Parliament had made them greedy. They believed they could defeat Brexit entirely, or at least delay it until a second referendum could be called, with the public forced to vote again and give the “right” answer on their second try.

Night of the Living Deal

May’s deal suffered a remarkable three crushing defeats in “meaningful votes” in the House of Commons, which would have finished any previous premiership. Each time, commentators and MPs alike believed she must have had some sort of plan up her sleeve to beat the parliamentary arithmetic at the last minute — but she never produced it.

Brexiteer Tory MPs did attempt to force her out with an internal confidence vote as she stumbled from farce to fiasco — but Boris, hesitant as ever, declined to throw his weight behind the effort, and she survived at the head of a rudderless and ultimately doomed government.

The twists and turns of those anarchic days in 2017, 2018, and indeed 2019 are too labyrinthine to recount in full. The arcane minutiae of Northern Ireland “backstops” and the heady days when former Tory attorney-general Dominic Grieve dreamed of Remainers combining to form a “government of national unity” to overturn or rerun Brexit, and some Remain MPs even attempted to combine to form a new, anti-Brexit party named Change UK (CUK) to sweep the country, already seem obscure, though they dominated British headlines for months in recent memory.

Suffice to say, when the Article 50 negotiating period was up, MPs were nowhere near agreeing to a deal — and they absolutely would not countenance a clean, no-deal break with their beloved bloc.

And so the Article 50 period was extended. The EU, keen to retain Britain — and British taxpayers’ money — in their orbit for as long as possible, were happy to oblige requests for delays, and made no efforts to compromise on their outrageous demands, given it was abundantly clear that British politicians had no intention of ever walking away without a deal.

The process dragged for so long that Britain found itself legally obliged to participate in the 2019 elections to the European Parliament, years after the British people had voted to Leave the EU — and it fell to Nigel Farage to come out of retirement and help Theresa May’s premiership to finally shuffle off its mortal coil.

His new Brexit Party — founded just weeks before the elections — stormed to victory. The Tories collapsed to fifth place, behind the far-left Greens. Polls for a potential general election should the Brexit Party in first place, and the Tories facing destruction.

Facing reality, May at last set a date for a promised resignation before Farage’s axe fell. By early June, she was gone — and Boris Johnson was back.

Breitbart London will publish an account of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Odyssey — Brexhausted! Four Years of Brexit Blunders, Part Three — tomorrow.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.