Brexit: a sentence that does not change (excessively) the horizon

(*) Published on 10/11/2016 in The Diplomat in Spain.

Also available the Spanish version: Brexit: una sentencia que no cambia (en exceso) el horizonte

On Thursday, the awaited -and severe- court sentence forcing the Government of Theresa May to listen to the British parliament facing the activation of article 50 of the TEU was made public. The accusation of Gina Miller, a British businesswoman, puts into effect the slogan of the campaign in favour of the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU: “take back control” (which made reference to the complaints about the lack of control by the British Parliament concerning what is decided in Brussels). However, despite the celebrations by many of those against the Brexit, it is very difficult for this judicial decision to mean a withdrawal in the process, although it can mean a delay in the calendar established for May.

The British Government (against giving voice to Parliament as regards this matter) has quickly decided to appeal against the decision made by the Supreme Court. At the beginning of December (hearings are taking place from 5 to 8 December) we will know the result of that appeal, and we will see if the British Parliament will finally be deprived of the possibility of having a real impact on the activation of article 50. It seems that the judicial adventure will end here, since Miller herself has announced her refusal to appeal (despite of the fact that she would have the right to do so if she deemed it appropriate) before the Court of Justice of the EU in the case that the Supreme Court considered to revert what the sentence of Thursday sets out.

In the likely case that the Supreme Court confirms the decision of the British justice, the Parliament, therefore, will then have something to say. The aforementioned Parliament is made up of the House of Lords (not elected) and the House of Commons (elected). Concerning the first ones, the sensible thing is that despite of their higher Europeanism, they do not try to carry out a block, and focus, on the contrary, to ask the Executive for more transparency and balance during negotiations for the exit.

“A rebellion of deputies against the Brexit is not expected”

Concerning the second ones, a rebellion of deputies against the Brexit is not expected. Mainly because those in favour of the exit have been able to generate a certain climate of opinion that considers that deputies (regardless of whether they are in favour or against the Brexit) must not vote against what the citizens of their electoral district have done, because in the case of doing it they would be “betraying them”. The ghost of the elections is watching and nobody wants to lose their seat if there are elections.

If deputies demonstrate against the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU (something much less probable), a strengthening of May’s leadership and her choice of a “harsh” exit from the EU can be expected. In that case, May would be tempted to look for an electoral exit. Polls point to a crushing victory of the Tories, with very weak Labour supporters, a UKIP going through an existential leadership crisis and Liberal Democrats that are not there and are not expected to be. In this moment, Theresa May has no rival overshadowing her.

Therefore, the sentence does not seem to change the situation essentially. Despite the fact that it is a setback for May, a dispassionate reading of the issue suggests that the chances of the Brexit being reverted are certainly slim. There may be delays in the activation of article 50, yes. The British negotiating ability may be lower than that May would wish for, yes. However, on the horizon we can only glimpse the exit from the European Union. It seems very difficult that Brexiters allow this opportunity to go to waste.

Salvador Llaudes
Analyst, Elcano Royal Institute
| @sllaudes