Posted on February 7, 2017
Parliament gives the green light for Brexit to be triggered. What next?
As expected, the Government comfortably won its Article 50 vote in the House of Commons. In the end, a number of Labour MPs defied the whip and voted with the Scottish Nationalists and Liberal Democrats against the government. Only 1 Tory MP, Europhile Ken Clarke voted with the opposition. The PM now has a Parliamentary mandate to start the negotiation process to leave the EU and is almost certain to stick to her timetable and trigger Article 50 by the end of March. From there the negotiations will start with the EU and the clock will start on a 2 year deadline to reach an agreement.
Getting Parliament to agree to triggering Article 50 was the easy part. It will no doubt become tougher for the Government dealing with Parliament through the negotiating period itself. Whilst protecting the mandate of the people — i.e. ensuring the UK will be leaving the EU — many MPs, including some on the Tory side, will want to scrutinise and help shape the actual terms of Brexit. There is the possibility that some 20 plus Europhile Tory MPs could side with the Labour opposition with amendments to the Brexit bill. While initially, the suggestion is that they would want immediate agreement by the Government to protect EU nationals resident in the UK, it is the longer term question of whether Parliament will push to avoid a hard Brexit, which would see the UK leave both the single market and the customs union, that will be of greatest importance. This will have a twofold impact. Firstly Parliamentary time will be taken up by Brexit allowing the opposition influence, and secondly, with a slim 16 seat majority, the Government could find it hard to push through all it wants to achieve as part of the negotiating process. This gives the PM an extra front to manage while, of course, navigating the negotiating process with EU/Member states.
This is all against the backdrop of the Trump Administration. Although Theresa May has met President Trump and came away from her meeting with a potential UK-US trade deal post-Brexit, and a Trump state visit to the UK later this year, she has failed to ignite her EU colleagues whom she has just met in Malta. They don’t necessarily see her as a bridge builder with the US as the UK cuts ties with the EU. But she will have felt very positive about the visit to the US having reinforced the ‘Special Relationship’ particularly on NATO. This despite the UK and the US administration not being aligned on other foreign policy issues such as the future of the EU, the one China policy and Russia. Overall, the UK’s main post-war foreign policy pillars of the Special Relationship with the US and the relationship with Europe are both at best in unchartered waters.
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