Once upon a time, the EU rarely dominated the front pages of British papers. It received a few mentions now and then, naturally, but the obsession with the bloc is a recent phenomenon brought on by Brexit (cue groaning). The issue has snowballed from musings about a possible referendum to one of national significance, yet perhaps not in the way the ideologues of Brexit would have had it do so. Instead of ushering in a new era of British (largely English) superiority, it has devolved our politics into countless soundbites and petty infighting within our two major parties. ‘Counter-productive’ doesn’t begin to describe the damage this issue inflicts on our country. Bearing that in mind, what’s the latest on Brexit?
If you expect to read about certainty or stability here, I’m sorry to disappoint you. After two and a half years of general bickering and posturing, the Brexit soap only became more intolerable upon the day of Parliament’s ‘meaningful vote’ on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Having endured the previous storylines of her disastrous snap election, her doomed Chequers proposal, and the Brexit ultras’ bungled attempt at a coup, you could forgive the Prime Minister for holding out a shred of hope that Parliament might have pitied her and passed her deal as an act of mercy. No such luck. The House of Commons rejected her deal by a margin of 230, granting Brexit a place in the history books as facilitating the heaviest defeat ever suffered by a British PM in Parliament. 118 Tory MPs, as well as the 10 MPs from May’s temperamental allies the DUP, voted against her deal, and the support she hoped to poach from Labour amounted to a mere three votes. Such was the scale of the defeat that May invited the opposition to table a vote of no confidence in her government, an offer which Jeremy Corbyn took up right after the vote. Were May to lose this confidence vote and no alternative leader able to command a majority in the Commons, there’d be yet another general election. The next exhausting storyline has begun and somehow, we’re all still watching. So, is Brexit dead in the water?
The short answer is no. The lid may be on the Brexit coffin, however no nails have been driven in just yet. Parliament may have rejected both May’s deal and the prospect of leaving without a deal, making staying in the EU the only seemingly feasible option, yet the anti-Brexit argument has not converted many MPs so far. More empowered are the calls for a ‘People’s Vote’, a second referendum, however without the backing of Labour such a view is still in the minority. The fact is, as much as we may criticise the government for not having a clue about Brexit, Parliament doesn’t have a much clearer position – there are too many distinct and opposed factions to work anything out. The ‘No’ lobby that voted down May’s deal was comprised of both Brexit ultras and ardent remainers, a fleeting alliance against a mutual foe at best, and certainly not a collective that would agree on any alternative course of action. There is only a clear majority (for now) to see Brexit through; as to how that exit will happen, nobody knows.
Brexit day may be imminent – 29 March, if you want to mark it on your calendar – yet we’re no closer to agreeing anything than we were back in June 2016. You might want to think back and realise how much has happened in your personal life since the day you woke up to find out the result two and a half years ago, and hopefully a sense of calm may descend. If Westminster can be so shambolic and argumentative and still run the country without shutting down, you can overcome your piles of university work and relationship issues. The bar is that far down by this point.