During the second decade of the 21st century, the Conservative Party won five landslide victories in a row. After the 2008 crisis, they returned to 10 Downing Street in 2010, on the heels of a coalition with Liberal Democrats. In 2014, “Remain” prevailed by a wide margin at the Scottish referendum. In 2015, the Tories obtained a simple majority, their first since Margaret Thatcher. In 2016, “Brexit” inflicted a surprising, painful defeat on Labour hopes of bouncing back. Finally, in the next year, Conservatives won another general election – to the additional dismay of “Remain” pundits.
For all its alleged goods, the fruits of victory were often mixed with bitter pills. Each triumph at the ballots brought back home further disruption. Ironically so, as Labour got stuck in Jeremy Corbyn’s polemics, the Tories experience the side effects of programmatic contradictions. Relations with the LibDem become increasingly strained after 2015 before “Brexit” broke the camel’s back. Unionism prevailed in 2014/2015, but in 2016, it took its toll on David Cameron’s pragmatic hopes of a slow devolution within the European Union. The Tories raised the Austerity flag so high, it seemed even inexorable. However, amidst uncertainty, the “Brexit” day after brought the shed to shambles. After losing the LibDem and alienating large portions of the Conservative constituency, the fate of Theresa May fell on the hands of unionists and hard Brexiters. In large measure, as well, on Brussels.
The Prime Minister is a now a hostage imbued with a nearly impossible task.
The “hard Brexit” her remaining constituencies demand is anathema for the estranged EU partners. A “soft” version would bring her House down (not to mention tear the Irish island further apart).
Six months in advance, “Brexit” is a no-deal waiting for something to happen.
As China and the US duel at the world stage, the British economy slowly recedes from 2008. GDP increased by modest rates during the first ten years after – an average of 1.16%. One by one, the prophecies made at the crisis’ aftermath were dismantled. The much-lauded rise of BRICS came to naught. Similarly, hopes of an affluent win-win divorce with the EU seem increasingly grim. The Community has just brought two members to courts, on grounds of explicit breaches of Acquis Communautaire fuelled by preening nationalism. Why would the 27 states be thankful for the Tory government’s lofty promises to the electorate – and be ready to deliver a surprising farewell gift for the UK?
In a first scenario, the UK would remain close to EU trade agreements with additional strings attached. The Prime Minister would be spared the humiliation of an Irish “hard” border. However, “Brexit” slogans of unfettered autonomy from Brussels would prove to be blatant lies – a point driven home by French President Emmanuel Macron at Salzburg, to May’s chagrin.
An alternative scenario sets the UK apart with fewer preconditions. Access to markets would be granted in the case of a lengthy convergence with each EU member. In this puzzle, Ireland would be a divide. Tory audiences repudiate those terms. Once adopted, they would ensue the end of May days.
The Chequers plan falls somewhere in between, in a vain attempt to preserving her mandate. British taxpayers would still spend nearly 40 billion euros to get away with “Brexit”, but they would avoid both the ordeal of EU regulations and any shameful Irish border. The UK would remain a special partner of the Union, with a soft landing of divorce papers some years in advance.
For the EU, those terms proved to be nothing short of outrageous. At Salzburg, May’s very presence becomes a matter of ridicule. Dignitaries such as Donald Tusk lost no time in shredding the paper to pieces beforehand. Macron promised to walk away from negotiations if the Chequers plan remains.
As the costs of a no-deal “Brexit” loom larger in the horizon, the Tory administration is at peril. Their sequence of triumphs could arguably end in a defeat of epic proportions before Christmas time.
This said, the Labour Party hesitates. Firstly, by insisting on setting the clock back with new popular consults. Secondly, by putting fewer bets on Corbyn’s unlikely plea for the premiership. They further believe there is still time to exit Brexit – and get away with an increasingly hostile EU. This fateful indecision, since Gordon Brown and Ed Milliband, was a capital feature in their decade of defeats.
The United Kingdom is on the march to another general election any time soon. The picture, unclear. 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall and in a partially globalized world, any future seems less than it used to be, with or without the European Union.
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Carlos Frederico Pereira da Silva Gama is a Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Tocantins, Brazil.
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