If there’s one thing that business leaders in a host of different industries can agree upon, it’s that economies function best when the outcomes of decisions are predictable. So when looking at a country’s bottom line, finality matters. Perhaps that’s why, when the British people two years ago narrowly voted in a referendum to sever the United Kingdom from the European Union in an uncertain process, the British pound immediately lost more than 10 percent of its value when compared to the U.S. dollar.
But two years later, with British Prime Minister Theresa May facing a March 29 deadline to either leave the bloc in an orderly fashion or divorce from it without a deal spelling out the terms of a new relationship between the two entities, the only thing that appears certain is that May has only the most tenuous of holds on her own government. As for Brexit itself, it seems that no one has any real sense of how the next few weeks and months will play out.
May’s latest troubles spilled into the open last week when the Brexit deal she and her ministers had been working through with their negotiating partners in Brussels suffered a humiliating defeat in the House of Commons. The result — which followed the high-profile resignations of several officials from May’s cabinet late last year — was so surprising that opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the Labour Party whose abhorrent views regarding Hamas and Israel’s right to self-defense earned him a rare unified rebuke from all of the U.K.’s Jewish newspapers, scheduled a no-confidence vote the very next day.
May survived that vote by the slimmest of margins. Already leading a minority government, she was kept in power not by the votes of her own Conservatives, but by Democratic Unionists representing Northern Ireland. That’s significant, because the one thing no one wants is for a hard border to be re-imposed between that British territory and E.U.-member Ireland as a result of Brexit. But among Brexiteers, anything that keeps the U.K. as a de facto member of the European customs union — the so-called Northern Ireland “backstop” that May negotiated with E.U. leaders in the event the U.K. did not approve a larger deal by March 29 — smacks of a Brexit in name only.
Enter Corbyn and his Labourites, who seem more intent on toppling their arch-rival May than in actually helping the U.K. solve the Brexit puzzle. Corbyn may have lost his latest attempt to seize power and occupy 10 Downing Street, but last week showed May to be very much weakened. Indeed, according to some pundits, it was only the fear of Corbyn that kept May in office.
It might still be in the U.K.’s best interest to remain in the European Union. But, barring that, what the British need most of all is stability. Here’s to hoping that there are better times ahead. JN