LONDON - British lawmakers are debating new proposals on the European Union Withdrawal Agreement this week, amid a series of stark warnings over the consequences of Britain crashing out with no deal on 29 March.
Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to negotiate changes to the Withdrawal Agreement in meetings with Brussels in the coming days, after a majority of British MPs backed calls to change the deal last week. The European Union has flatly rejected reopening the talks.
There are growing signs that uncertainty over Brexit is starting to hit investment, as Japanese car giant Nissan has announced Sunday it is moving production of the X-trail — one of its most popular SUV models — out of the UK. The decision reverses a pledge made by Nissan in the wake of the 2016 referendum.
It’s emerged that Britain offered Nissan over $100 million in 2016 to persuade it to keep its operations in the UK. The reversal was met with dismay by British lawmakers.
'”It concerns me that they have noted the uncertainty around Brexit and I think that is a serious signal to all of us in Parliament, that now is the time to resolve that uncertainty,” Business Minister Greg Clark told reporters Sunday.
As Britain’s ties stumble, Japan and the European Union are celebrating the entry into force of a trade deal, covering a third of global GDP. Visiting Tokyo Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a Brexit deal was still possible.
“But we need to know from Britain — and this is the critical point — what it envisages,” Merkel said in a press conference.
The threat of a no deal Brexit is growing starker by the day. Government contingency plans leaked to British media purportedly entail evacuating the Royal Family from Buckingham Palace. Worst-case scenarios envisage rioting on the streets amid food and medicine shortages, as waste export restrictions create mountains of garbage.
Alberto Alemanno, a professor of EU Law at HEC Paris, says neither Britain nor Europe can accurately predict the consequences of a no-deal exit.
“Obviously it’s a very complicated scenario, which entails incredible implications for citizens, for businesses on both sides of the Channel. But the other option is to rethink the Withdrawal Agreement. But not entirely — it’s just about arranging the process that might lead the Withdrawal Agreement to finally find a majority in the Houses [of Parliament].”
That might not be enough. Britain is demanding changes to the so-called "Irish backstop" clause, which seeks to keep Britain tied to EU rules until a trade deal is in place — aimed at preventing a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, which will become the EU’s external border.
But the EU is unlikely to budge, says analyst Anand Menon of the UK in a Changing Europe program at Kings College London.
“They won’t give us a time-limited backstop, because as the Irish keep staying, if it’s time-limited it’s not a backstop,” said Menon.
Reopening the Withdrawal Agreement could see other EU member states request their own changes, notably Spain’s demands for talks on the sovereignty of Gibraltar.
“Some member states could have some possible claims, certainly Spain might be one of them. But also the political context in Europe is also moving, and very fast, ahead of the next European elections,” notes Professor Alemmano.
It is a reminder that the current deadlock is just the beginning of Britain’s recasting its relationship with a fast-changing Europe — a process that could take years, if not decades.