LOK SABHA ELECTIONS 2019: INDIA DECIDES

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Cabbages & Kings: Brexit vote has left the UK in utter confusion

Published Mar 16, 2019, 7:57 am IST
Updated Mar 16, 2019, 7:57 am IST
Theresa May put her withdrawal deal from the European Union to a vote for the second time and last Tuesday, lost overwhelmingly.
British Prime Minister Theresa May
 British Prime Minister Theresa May

“The Critic says there are seven plots
The Reaper says there is one
The Dawn says here’s another day
The Twilight says it’s done.”

From Don’t You Humsay Aagey Jao by Bachchoo

If the earth were flat, we could still draw longitudes and latitudes across it, but there would be no time difference between, say, Greenwich and Andheri West in Mumbai. So, IST would be the same as GMT.

 

But the earth being round, I stayed awake way past my bedtime in Mumbai on several crucial nights this week, watching the BBC for news of the votes on Brexit in the Westminster Parliament.

Theresa May put her withdrawal deal from the European Union to a vote for the second time and last Tuesday, lost overwhelmingly. The next day she proposed keeping a “no-deal” on leaving the EU option on the table. This, her government argued, is a bargaining tool. It means that the UK leaves the European Union on March 29, negating all the mutual trade arrangements, obligations, etc that membership entails.

There are several opinions in Parliament concerning “no-deal”. The hard Brexiteers are in favour of ditching the obligations to pay the EU the membership fee and abandon its rules protecting standards of goods, the environment, human rights and labour laws. They argue that the loss of more than 40 per cent of the UK’s trade — the share of the total which it does with the EU today — would be more than compensated for by fresh trade agreements with the rest of the world.

It’s whistling in the approaching dark. Liam Fox, the minister entrusted with the task of forging these trade links with countries outside the EU, has for the last two years been struggling to get even one significant deal signed. The tarot card predictions on which these Brexiteers seem to rely may bring them comfort. Economists are unequivocally nervous.

Ms May’s attempt to retain it as a possibility is based on the assumption that a no-deal withdrawal would hurt the economies of EU countries and hence the threat makes it a bargaining chip. Parliament didn’t buy the argument and voted against the government with several Cabinet ministers defying the party whip and abstaining.

The vote to take “no-deal” off the table was indicative but not binding. What it did demonstrate is that Ms May has lost all authority as a Prime Minister. Even lame ducks can swim, but her party has drained the pond and left her high and dry. The two votes on Tuesday and Wednesday leave the Brexit process in utter confusion. Some in Parliament are in favour of extending the date for withdrawal, moving it forward by a few months or even a year in the hope that further negotiations may result in a deal which the Parliament will pass. This is also a bit of wishful thinking as the EU negotiators have made it plain that the deal they agreed with Ms May is the final drink in the last chance saloon.

There then remains the prospect of a vote in Parliament, which several MPs — though not by any means a majority yet — to hold a second referendum. The choices that such a referendum would offer the voters are being debated. They may be asked to choose between leaving with no-deal, leaving with the deal that the EU says is its final offer — the one that Parliament has twice rejected — or remaining a member of the European Union.  Public opinion polls indicate that a majority would now vote to remain, though public polls preceding the last two elections have produced the wrong result.

This poses a dilemma for the leadership of Labour, the main Opposition party. Its annual conference, where members vote on policy issues that the party must adopt, voted to keep both a demand for a general election and a second referendum as party policy.

The leadership doesn’t want such a referendum as it could and probably would result in a vote to remain in the EU.

This is not what Jeremy Corbyn or those close to him want. They are Brexiteers who want to quit the regulations of the EU but remain in the customs union and some aspects of the single market.

They argue that this would safeguard the jobs of workers while allowing a future Labour government to re-nationalise the railways and energy companies. This argument ignores the fact that many railways of countries in the EU are nationalised. Even within the Labour leadership and among its supporters, there are factional differences. Tom Watson, the elected deputy leader of the party, has recently gathered MPs who are in favour of “Social-Democratic” rather than “Marxist” policies around himself. In the Corbyn-supporting faction there is the Mickey Marxist phalanx which is desperately in favour of leaving the European Union arguing that it will leave the UK free to join with other countries in an anti-capitalist or at least an anti-American alliance.  Asked to name the countries which would join such an alliance, the answer comes to none — no, hang on, one: Venezuela. Russia and China may be anti-American but calling them socialist would cause a grave in Highgate cemetery to suffer a small earthquake.

Perhaps a revived ISIS would join the UK in such an alliance — that is if the country didn’t vote again for a Tory government which wouldn’t be subject to persuasion from Trotskyist fantasy outfits.  We live, as Confucius or someone said, in interesting times. If there is a second referendum, I shall certainly vote “remain”.  I don’t think the threatened rise in food prices and the cost of Ibuprofen will affect me deeply. Unlike millions of workers in the UK I shan’t lose my job and a fall in house prices won’t affect me as I don’t own a house.

However, if the UK leaves the continent, the colour of my passport will change from red to blue which would be tragic. I prefer red.

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