The United Kingdom’s continuing confusion over its plans to implement an exit from the European Union is now tiring the world. It remains unclear if the EU’s extension of the exit deadline from April 12 to October 31 will help clear the fog in the minds of British politicians about what they want — soft Brexit or hard Brexit; “Irish backstop” or hard border between British Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; another referendum or not. This is the second time the EU has given an extension — the first was from March 29 to April 12. While the new deadline has given some breathing space to the Conservative government of Theresa May, there is the humiliation of having to participate in the May 23 European Union elections, a condition on which the extension was granted. This means that British politicians on all sides of the debate, from the right and the left, will need to contest an election to a parliament in which, going by the Brexit referendum, more than half of British voters have no belief. Moreover, the results could end up complicating the options even more.
Prime Minister May has already suffered three ignominious defeats in Parliament over the exit plan negotiated by her government with the EU. The latest was on March 29, but she and what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described as her “zombie government” are still in office, even surviving a no-confidence motion earlier this year. Barring the most hardline Brexiteers, everyone in the British Parliament seems to agree that leaving without a negotiated exit could create chaos. Therefore, failure to arrive at a political consensus on what that deal should be can only be a sign of a failure of leadership. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.
Since June 2016 when Britain voted 52-48 to leave the European Union, it has been clear that the terms of the exit would always be the difficult part. For the other 26 members of the EU, the messy spectacle that the UK has made of itself over Brexit, should be discouragement enough from harbouring Brexit-like thoughts. Indeed, this is why the EU has imposed such strict conditions on the UK. The rest of the world wants the British to get on with it, so that they know what steps they have to take to bring their policies in line with the change. India, however, need not hold its breath. UK Foreign Office Minister Mark Fields told a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs of the British House of Commons that India was not in the first tier of countries with which a post-Brexit UK would conclude trade treaties, and that it would be far easier to finalise agreements with Australia and New Zealand.