Though Brexit had been opposed by both houses of parliament, the House of Commons on Feb. 1 voted 498 to 114 to allow May to initiate the negotiations. Yet the bill still faces further scrutiny in the Commons and House of Lords before becoming law, and there could be some challenge in the latter and from amendment proposals (BBC News, Jan. 24 and Feb. 1, 2017).
Many want to remain part of Europe’s single market. And “there are also demands for greater involvement from the devolved parliaments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the latter two voting in June for Britain to remain in the EU” (AFP, Jan. 31, 2017).
Scotland’s first minister was even “implicity . . . restating her threat to hold a second independence referendum if the UK government does not produce a Brexit plan acceptable to Scotland” (“Sturgeon Tells May Time is ‘Running Out’ to Get Brexit Plan Acceptable to Scotland,” TheGuardian.com, Jan. 30, 2017).
May’s government hopes to have parliamentary approval by March 7 to then trigger Article 50 at an EU summit March 9-10 (though she’s set a deadline of March 31). That would start the two-year process, but the European Commission negotiator “has said the talks must be wrapped up by October 2018 to give the EU and national parliaments time to ratify the final agreement” (ibid.).
Yet some have pointed out that negotiating with the EU will be a difficult slog, wherein Britain may be rather unhappy with the terms. Britain’s former Minister of State for Europe Denis MacShane says “a political exit from the EU in 2019 is likely, but it will be many years and at least one if not two general elections before the full separation is achieved” (“Breaking EU Up Will Take Time to Do: Brexit Will Go on for Years,” CityAM.com, Jan. 25, 2017).
Malta’s prime minister Joseph Muscat, “whose country is a traditional British ally and currently chairs EU councils, said London should probably seek a transition deal . . . to phase in over several years its exit from the EU’s single market once Britain leaves the Union, probably in 2019. But, he warned, the EU would only offer that if Britain accepted that the rules in any transitional period continued to be enforced by EU courts—a provision that Prime Minister Theresa May might find hard to square with the demands of many in her Conservative Party to ‘take back control’ from Brussels.
“‘It’s not a transition period where British institutions take over,’ Muscat told a news conference. ‘But it’s a transition period in which, say, the European Court of Justice is still in charge of dishing out judgments’” (“EU Must Control Any UK Transition Deal After Brexit—Malta,” Reuters, Jan. 12, 2017).
While some EU leaders and bureaucrats may want to make the break with Britain as swift as possible, others may want to make it very unpleasant for Britain as both punishment and to dissuade other countries from trying to break with the Union—increasingly seen as a possibility with the rise of populist and nationalist sentiments throughout Europe. (Sources: Agence France-Presse, BBC News, CityAM.com, TheGuardian.com, Reuters.)