Seen any good shows lately? Why, yes, yes I have. It's called the British Parliament and it is a nail-biter. Ahh the House of Commons. Come for the politics, stay for the pageantry. I was glued to my screen Tuesday night watching the debate in the lower (practically only) house of the United Kingdom's legislature as members of Parliament took up the "withdrawal agreement" that Prime Minister Theresa May had negotiated with the EU as part of "Brexit." It was, as always, an amazing show. Six-hundred plus MPs in cramped quarters shouting insults at each other while prefacing them using antiquated yet amusing titles such as "my right honorable friend." Ultimately the Prime Minister was handed the single biggest defeat of a ruling government in a century, 202 votes for, 432 against her plan.
In short, May's agreement was an agreement to agree to discuss agreeing specifics of a final agreement. A stop-gap measure aimed at buying more time nearly two years after the initial Brexit vote in 2017, it was light on specifics and heavy on aspirational talk. As I write this column now, I've got one eye on "Prime Minister's Questions" in which Theresa May is being grilled on her plans to "listen to parliamentarians" about how best to proceed from here. Again, no specifics, and only "we'll listen" type talk. Nearly a quarter of those voting against her voted that way because they didn't think the break from the EU was complete enough. The remaining three-quarters voted against the plan in hopes of collapsing her government and calling for new general elections or a second referendum on Brexit.
Of the two possibilities, I believe a general election is far more likely than a second referendum. For the next week or so, May will fight for her political life while a motion of no confidence either squeaks by Parliament or is barely defeated, in either case, it means the end of a May government. So who will take up the mantle? Who will replace May? At present, replacing the Prime Minister is a fools errand for members of her party. For her to lose this vote, members of her own party would have to vote against her. Would they do that and risk being ostracized by their fellow Conservatives? They did vote against her Brexit plan so this is not an impossibility. Conservatives will have to rally behind a new leader in their own party if they vote to depose their own prime minister. Who wants to take on the impossible task of Brexiting while pleasing the majority of the people? No one.
The only way out of this mess for the Conservatives is to appoint a Prime Minister tasked only with completing a Brexit as agreed upon by his or her own party, a short-term technocratic prime minister if you will. If the Conservatives can come to a consensus about what they want, they won't need the opposition parties. The problem is, and you guessed it, the Conservatives can't agree on what Brexit means either and we are back to the drawing board.
May's incredible defeat in the House of Commons is great for investors. Brexit will either be abandoned all together or a new government will be seated that will most likely call for a second referendum. In either event, the dreams of an exit from the Europe Union are all but dashed. The lifting of this uncertainty will be great for Britain and the message to other nations pondering an exit from the union is crystal-clear; "easier said than done."
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