The immortal and infamous words spoken by Prime Minister Theresa May back at the start of her tenure as PM. Of course, that phrase was only ever intended as a passing comment. Yet now, those same words – which have become somewhat of a frequently used stick with which to poke Mrs May – must be haunting her nightmares.
We thought we knew what Brexit meant
The hardliners will tell you the only ‘real’ exiting of the EU is a no-deal Brexit. The moderates will argue some form of negotiated terms are in the best interests of both parties. And then there’s the group of people and MPs who want this whole saga to be binned, never spoken of again and for Britain to remain in the EU indefinitely.
Before Christmas, the PM stood at the dispatch box and declared there would be a ‘meaningful vote’ on the terms she’d returned from Brussels with. The initial pre-Christmas voting date was pushed back into the new year. Eventually, in early January, Mrs May’s deal was heavily voted down by parliament, by a margin of 230.
So, where did that leave us?
Well, not to be easily deterred, Mrs May returned to Brussels, to see whether her deal could be renegotiated. This, despite being told by the likes of Michel Barnier that this was not possible. Nevertheless, Theresa proceeded, but the fruits of that trip weren’t juicy enough to swing things in the PM’s favour back in Westminster.
Meaningful vote number two went the way of the first – albeit this time by a slimmer margin of 149. A third meaningful vote is now due to be held, the date of which is yet to be decided – and now parliament’s MPs have far more say over that schedule. And though the EU voted to allow Britain to extend its leave date beyond March 29th (subject to certain conditions), there’s no guarantee parliament will be able to bring this saga to a close any time soon.
Continuously postponing the vote, which she openly admits is because she wouldn’t get enough support to pass her deal, The Prime Minister clearly isn’t willing to chance a gamble: all the signs point to another defeat, with the deal as it is. As for the longer-term position of Britain within/without the EU? Unpredictable. If you’re thinking about putting your money where your mouth is, it’s probably better to take advantage of a free bet and use the bookies’ money instead. Even the experts at Ladbrokes are finding it hard to pin down the most likely outcomes, as the odds featured in their EU Specials market show.
Division! Clear the lobby!
Brexit, whether politico or not, has been both frustrating and fascinating. It’s a struggle to remember a time when politics was as mainstream as it is today, where politicians enjoyed as much air time, or when the subject was on the tip of the public’s tongue. Ironically, though, what has been one of the most fascinating periods in modern UK politics, could end up damaging the public’s faith in democracy.
If Brexit isn’t finalised, the level of distrust in our democratic process could be of a magnitude rarely, if ever, seen before. And the countdown clock chimes louder and louder. Parliament has already confirmed it will not allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal, but if Theresa May cannot force her deal through, where does that leave us? Is revoking Article 50 the most likely or most sensible outcome?
It may seem overly dramatic, but as the constraints of time become even tighter, scrapping A50 may emerge as the most palatable choice left. Palatable to whom, though? It’s fair to say, the majority of the general public simply want the to-ing and fro-ing to be over with. Whether you agreed with the whole or not, May’s address on 20th March contained some very accurate observations: “You the public have had enough. You are tired of the infighting. You are tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows. Tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns.” That we are, Mrs May, that we are.
The process has been complex and confusing. We’re this close to a possible departure and still no one really knows how things will pan out – in fact, we’re possible less certain than we have been at any point in the process. Perhaps the root of this irritation comes from somewhere other than impatience, though. Maybe, just maybe, it comes from the place in which that dull thud of doubt in the back of your head lives. What if Brexit doesn’t happen? What if the past two years, ultimately, lead to nothing of tangible difference? Whether that is the case or not, what irreparable damage has all this uncertainty done to the nation?
The “what ifs” are still outweighing the certainties and that is a status that doesn’t look set to change any time soon – despite our looming deadlines. Britain has many issues to resolve yet with our European neighbours – but, then again, perhaps the biggest reconciliation we face is with that of our national conscience.
So what does Brexit actually mean? We’ll get back to you on that.