Britain's bid to exit the European Union took a dramatic turn in recent days ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on Tuesday to determine the form of the deal that would enable the U.K. to leave.
Last Wednesday, the U.K. government was found in contempt of court over its failure to publish the legal advice it was offered during the formation of the Brexit plan. Nonetheless, on Dec. 11, Prime Minister Theresa May will ask MPs whether they wish to reach a compromise in a deal to allow limited trade to continue within the current E.U. Customs Union. Either that, or potentially embrace no deal at all.
The European Union has advised the U.K. that Article 50 – the law that triggered Brexit – can still be revoked.
“The government being found in contempt of court is not the sort of thing that happens very often and ultimately what’s most surprising is that there was really nothing of substance in the legal advice that we didn’t already know,” Anand Menon, director of The U.K. in a Changing Europe, told Occupy.com in an interview.
“Governments that are left or right of centre don’t like publishing legal advice. And what they argue, rightly or wrongly, is that it will act as a restraint on the freedom of government lawyers to express their opinions forthrightly if they’re worried that that opinion will then find its way into the public eye. I’m led to believe that it really was a matter of principal. This makes me surprised that they hung on until the bitter end.”
Menon said he doesn’t believe the judgement will greatly affect the government. "There’s so much going on at the moment that in normal times a government being held in contempt of court would be a big deal,” he added. But, "right now, it’s just another bit of news in a busy day. It’s really going to be dwarfed by the vote – and I don’t think there’s any question at all that May will lose the first vote. The question then is what happens afterwards. That depends on whether she can survive losing the first vote, and the scale of the defeat relative to what people expect it to be."
Paul Butters, the communications director of the anti-Brexit campaign group Best For Britain, agreed that May would be defeated on Tuesday, and said, “I think the legal case is pretty strong and the government have done everything possible to avoid answering questions regarding whether or not Article 50 can be revoked."
In an interview with Occupy.com, Butters said the handling of Brexit signals the U.K. government’s failings. “This is all pretty symptomatic about the malaise at the heart of government. This mishandled Brexit process shows how incompetent the government is. I think that the government defeat next week will show that Theresa May's whole agenda has run off a cliff,” he said.
“This historic defeat [will] show that this government is now deadlocked. We now need to throw this back to the people and give them a final say. In addition, I think there is a 30 percent chance of a snap election occurring in the aftermath of this.”
Mike Galsworthy, a spokesperson for Scientists for E.U., said he was "surprised that parliament rejected the effort to delay the legal advice and then found the government to be in contempt of parliament. Politics in no longer about party politics alone. There are strong passions pulling its directions now.”
Galsworthy said he believes the government has ironically become so obsessed with Brexit that the nuts and bolts of its implementation – or revocation – have essentially fallen by the wayside. “I think the government is so over-stretched with Brexit and the complexities around it that they are taking their eye off the ball when it comes to parliamentary dealmaking. It's all moving too fast and in too many directions to hold together.”
Galsworthy expressed confidence that pulling out of Article 50 remained a possibility – and said the power of the public is key to the decision. “I think everyone now knows it's on the table,” he said in an interview. “Although some are tempted by the idea of parliament doing it alone, I believe most of those MPs who are alarmed by Brexit still want the blessing of the public on such a move first.”
A snap election might not be in the cards, he warned. But, “I can see Theresa May doing this as a crazed last-ditch effort to force her party and the country around her deal, [particularly] under the threat of a Corbyn government. The Conservatives continuing in power without the Democratic Unionist Party loyalty is untenable for anyone. It’s hard to predict what Labour would be offering under those circumstances.”
Even the most seasoned political pundits at this point are calling Brexit a “hall of mirrors”. The fact that a television debate scheduled for Dec. 9 between the prime minister and Corbyn was cancelled didn't even seem to surprise anyone.