Britain Lost in Three-Year Search for Way Out of Europe

A pro European demonstrator holds a banner near parliament in London on Jan. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

(CN) – On the day before the United Kingdom’s divorce from the European Union was supposed to be final, there is still no clear separation plan from the British government.

Nearly three years ago, Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU. The following March, Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50, the portion of the Treaty of the European Union governing member states’ separation from the EU. From that moment, Britain and the EU had two years to negotiate a withdraw agreement.

As of Thursday, they have not.

With all divorces, the separation has been mired by number of issues. The U.K. is obliged under the treaty to pay a penalty to leave – about $51 million. Arrangements also need to be made for British citizens living in EU member states and EU citizens living in Britain since within the EU, citizens have the right to move freely within member states.

Brexit has been further complicated by the border issue with Northern Ireland. The island is separated into two parts: The Republic of Ireland, which is its own nation and a member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Under the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the ongoing violence in Northern Ireland in 1998, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland must remain open – an issue since theoretically with Britain out of the EU a hard border should go up and there will no longer be free movement of people and goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

May negotiated a deal to leave the EU in November 2018, but it had to be approved by Parliament since it was technically an international agreement. Further complicating matters, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Brexit deal must be approved by both houses of Parliament and both must pass accompanying legislation to implement it.

Parliament voted to reject May’s deal in January by the widest margin in its history, 432 to 202. May managed to reopen negotiations with the EU and was able to make some adjustments to the agreement. However, that deal was also rejected by Parliament in March.

The EU has refused to discuss the deal further.

“There will be no renegotiations, no new negotiations and no additional assurances on top of the additional assurances we have already given,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio last week.

But EU leaders have given May an extension of the divorce date, until April 12 or – if Parliament approves the existing deal before then – May 22.

In the days since May won an extension, the only thing Parliament has agreed on is they don’t like any options to leave. On Wednesday evening, lawmakers voted against eight Brexit options, which included leaving the EU but staying in the customs union, holding another referendum or even canceling Brexit.

The lack of consensus came despite an offer by May to step down if Parliament accepts the withdrawal agreement she has negotiated.

“I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations, and I won’t stand in the way of that,” May said in a statement Wednesday.   

Although she withstood a vote of no confidence in January, there is mounting pressure from pro-Brexit members of her Conservative party to step down.

Parliament will meet Friday to debate Brexit but it’s unclear if they will attempt a third vote on the withdrawal deal.

“If agreed by the House tomorrow there will be a motion relating to the U.K.’s exit from the EU,” Andrea Jacqueline Leadsom a Conservative Party politician and the leader of the House of Commons told lawmakers Thursday.

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