3 days, 3 key votes – and no end in sight for Brexit

  • On March 12, the British Parliament overwhelmingly rejected – for a second time – a Brexit plan worked out by Prime Minister Theresa May.

  • A day later, the lawmakers voted against a “hard Brexit” – one without any approved plan.

  • Then, on March 14, British lawmakers voted 412 to 202 to delay an exit from the European Union, which had been planned for March 29. They also voted not to call a second referendum to allow the British people to accept or reject Prime Minister May’s Brexit plan.

Three experts on the European Union consider the lasting effects of the delay and uncertainty.

A damaging spectacle

Garret Martin, American University, School of International Service

Another week of drama at the Palace of Westminster, host of the United Kingdom’s two houses of Parliament. The last three days witnessed a flurry of Brexit activities. Parliament scheduled multiple votes, debates, amendments. Factions inside Westminster jockeyed for control and Ministers resigned. And Prime Minister Theresa May literally lost her voice.

With the dust now settled, this much is clear. Members of Parliament (MPs), from across the major parties, still greatly dislike the withdrawal deal from the EU negotiated by Theresa May.

These same MPs also reject the option of crashing out of the EU without a deal. And they overwhelmingly supported requesting a delay for Brexit to happen, beyond the planned exit date of March 29, 2019. Such an extension, and its precise length, would still require the unanimous agreement of the 27 remaining states of the EU, which are scheduled to meet on March 21 and 22.

In other words, no one knows when the Brexit saga will end.

There’s no denying that Brexit, with its intrigue and uncertainty, is compelling viewing. Political junkies may think of it as “Game of Thrones” without the dragons and violence. That day-to-day focus can, however, easily obscure the fact that Brexit has been a complete calamity, one for which the U.K. is already paying high costs, and will continue to do so.

First, the spectacle of Parliament repeatedly failing to agree on a deal has greatly tarnished the reputation of the U.K. as a well-managed country. It is now 994 days and counting since the referendum in June 2016, with no clear end in sight.

Second, the endless bickering in Parliament and inability to compromise is fueling a deep disenchantment with politics. More than two-thirds of the public in the U.K. does not feel represented by current political parties.

And third, the prolonged Brexit negotiations are only further polarizing an already very divided British society.