UK Political Turmoil Threatens Brexit Deal

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The week started on a good note for British Prime Minister Theresa May. She reached an agreement with the European Union on a Brexit withdrawal draft deal, after months of obstacles and uncertainty. Yesterday, her cabinet gave its support to the deal.

Shortly afterward, May’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.

Two cabinet ministers, and two junior ministers resigned from their positions over the terms of the draft agreement. In Parliament, some Conservative members are moving to force a leadership contest. The road ahead will be a challenging one for May. If the British Parliament does not approve the draft May is likely dead politically. It also opens the possibility of the UK leaving the Union without an exit deal in place, a worst-case scenario that economists warn could plunge Britain into a recession.

It certainly seems as if May’s announcement was premature and is acting as a beacon to unite the elements in the government that are opposed to her handling of the Brexit divorce negotiations. The PM is standing firm though. She believes this deal is the best avenue for making Brexit a reality, and has stated her intent to see it through. Despite May’s resolve, the financial markets are growing jittery at the prospect of this deal not making it through Parliament. Sterling fell 1.7% against the dollar and 1.9% against the euro on Wednesday, and shares in UK banks have experienced a sharp fall too.

The political volatility in Britain is causing great unease in Brussels, and across the union. Events in Britain hold the very real chance of disrupting or wrecking the deal before the EU-UK Summit to be held on 25 November. It is at this summit meeting where May and EU officials were expected to make the deal official. The summit might not even occur, given the way things are going.

A lot can happen between now and the summit date to tilt the balance in May’s favor. Unfortunately, if the mutiny in her cabinet grows, it makes a leadership contest in Parliament appear more probable.

 

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