• 18 Nov - 24 Nov, 2017
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her government are in a soup, the quality of which is getting thicker by the minute. Having lost her Defence Secretary and one of her main supporters in the cabinet on allegations of improper conduct last week, she lost another one within days. Priti Patel, the Secretary of State for International Development had to leave within days of the departure of the Defence Secretary because while on personal holiday in Israel, she is said to have met a number of senior leaders of the Israeli government, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without, we are told, the knowledge of the Prime Minister. Why she was persuaded to do such a thing is anyone’s guess, but before the guessing game got out of hand, Mrs May thought it prudent to show Ms Patel the door. In fact, the matter had acquired such political urgency that Ms Patel, who was on a tour of Kenya, was recalled immediately and within hours of landing in London, news broke that she had resigned from the cabinet and that her resignation had been accepted.

Two resignations coming in such quick succession of each other would be problematic at the best of times and these are not the best of times by any stretch of the imagination. The political issue here is that every resignation from the cabinet requires the PM to fill that post without looking to side either with the Brexiters or the Remainers and that is much easier said than done, mainly because the bridge between the two is so vast and, for all practical purposes, unbridgeable.

As if this is not enough, Mrs May could be facing a devastating defeat in the House of Commons, perhaps even before the year is out, if she continues to deny parliament a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final deal with the EU. That word ‘meaningful’ can lend itself to various meanings but here it means that if her government comes back from the EU with a bad deal, or worse still with no deal at all, then a ‘meaningful’ vote would mean that in effect, Parliament would have the right to veto such a move. That would put Brexit up in the air and make the British government look like something out of the Laurel and Hardy archives. Some have calculated that if about a dozen Tories were to jump ship on such a vote and vote with Labour, the deed may be done, although the maths does not seem to suggest so. There are also reports that Tories elected from Scotland are under severe pressure not to validate a bad Brexit deal or no deal at all since Scotland as a whole is overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.

To make matters even more complex for Mrs May, two senior Tories including the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson are said to have written a strong letter to her asking her to stiffen her resolve over Brexit, even if this means no deal with the EU. And here lies the fundamental factor that makes this such an almost insoluble political issue. There is simply no common ground between the extreme Brexit position and those who feel that a violent rendering of ties with the EU could hurt the UK badly; every single financial institution of note has said that a violent break, a break without a deal of any sort, would be calamitous for the UK but those on the other side are undeterred in their recklessness. Mrs May’s own convictions are perhaps just short of reckless and that creates the classic political imbroglio.

Nor is this all. The Irish from across the border have also pitched in with their resolve not to let Britain dictate the future of the issue of the Irish border with Northern Ireland, the only land border that the UK will have with Europe after leaving the EU. There is a huge volume of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and people cross the border between the two with as much ease as a Karachiite would travel from PECHS to Defence. The Republic of Ireland government believes that the only way the current situation could continue is if Northern Ireland were allowed to remain in the Single Market and the customs union after Britain’s withdrawal, which brings up the absurd question of a part of the UK virtually remaining in the EU while the rest left. The EU would probably not allow it and again, the extreme Brexiters would not be happy with it as it would allow people from Europe to sneak into the UK through the porous Irish border thus negating the main purpose of Brexit. The Government insists that this problem can be solved but nobody has mentioned how. Certainly, nobody outside the government has been able to come up with a solution and this is not a government that gives anyone the impression that it has the most intelligent people in the land in it.

And as if all this was not enough on Mrs May’s plate, the Europeans have said that unless Britain significantly ups its offer on the divorce bill, and does that in the next couple of weeks, they would be preparing for a Brexit with no deal as they are determined that no talks on the UK’s trade relations with the EU after Brexit can be held before that and the tricky issue of the Northern Irish border as well as the question of the future of EU expats in the UK is settled. They have said this since day one – and we are as far from getting any of the three issues sorted out as we were on day one.