Prime Minister Theresa May has Parliament's approval to renegotiate the objectionable clauses of the exit treaty with the European Union. Now that she has been convinced by her own legislature that changes are necessary she has the greater task of convincing the EU that they are warranted.
Brussels has repeatedly said that the talks that produced the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened.
Ms May's 317-301 victory in the Commons on a government backed amendment to replace the Irish backstop with "alternative arrangements" was won with the votes of Eurosceptic Conservatives. They fear the backstop would turn into a permanent trade and customs arrangement with the EU.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, the executive arm of the European Union has said time and again to all who will listen, that the Brexit deal cannot be amended. “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation, said Mr. Tusk’s office.
Ms May’s ability to convince the national leaders behind the EU Council, primarily Angela Merkel in Germany and Emmanuel Macron in France that an altered agreement is better than the alternative may depend on her ability to effectively prepare her nation for something that she and Parliament have said they would not allow, namely a no-deal exit.
Britain can end its association with the EU on March 29th without replacements for the trade, financial and political agreements that have grown up in the 44 years of EU membership. The world will not end. The logic of economic reality will swiftly assert itself. But it will be very tumultuous and every problem and cost will be magnified by Brexit’s opponents many of them in the media. Is this a course Ms May will take?
Without believing that the UK will risk the economic, financial and political turmoil, even if temporary, of a non-negotiated exit, what motive does Paris and Berlin have to accede to British demands?
If the EU refuses substantive changes to the Brexit accord, modifications that will permit passage in Parliament, what next? It appears the EU Council believes and no doubt hopes that Britain will ask for a delay of the departure date. They almost seem to encourage it. From there all futures are open, even the preferred one of a second referendum and an end to Brexit.
From the reaction to the vote in Parliament markets are unconvinced that Ms May has grasped the essential point that her only real leverage on the continent is the threat of a no-deal exit. Sterling fell about a figure, an inconsequential drop if the Commons vote really brought a non-negotiated exit closer.
An unmediated British departure from the EU would cause as much turmoil in the European economies as in UK. European Union countries, notably Germany and France sell far more to England than she sells to them. Were no-deal on the horizon the euro would be under as much pressure as the pound. After today's vote the euro rose.
The Prime Minister may not want to leave the European Union with a curt goodbye. But until she turns her back and starts to walk away no one will believe she intends to go at all.
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