The fragile Brexit negotiations may have faced a crack that can’t be repaired. Brexit supporters have long said that no deal is better than staying in the EU, but now not getting a deal is becoming a more likely possibility as reports emerge that some UK leaders are preparing for a no deal scenario.
Divorce Bill Resistance
As Brexit talks grow increasingly frustrating and hostile, international trade secretary Liam Fox has reportedly told friends that his department is taking the offensive and preparing the benefits of walking away without a deal. The main reason for the claim is the EU’s demand that the UK pay a divorce bill of £78 billion, which the UK is currently refusing to do. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has threatened to skip or delay talks on a potential trade scheduled for October if the UK won’t accept the bill. According to many politicians, the UK has no responsibility to pay the divorce bill and will continue to refuse to do so. Many senior Brexiteers believe that if the trade talks truly are postponed, the value of the negotiations are lost and the UK should just walk away.
“Article 50 is clear,” said Conservative MP John Redwood. “Once a state leaves it has no further rights and benefits and no further duties or obligations. It is true the treaty does not prevent the EU accepting a payment volunteered by a departing state if it wished to pay one. However, the UK could not make such a payment legally under our own law and system for controlling public spending,” going on to say that ministers don’t have the authority to make payments to the EU. Other MPs have pointed out the legal and ethical reasons to avoid paying the divorce bill.
While the divorce bill could be the tipping point, it is far from the only issue causing contention between the two sides. Over the summer, a senior government minister said that the UK was considering walking away from Brexit negotiations because the EU insists that the UK accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
“No Deal” Backlash
However, not everyone is on board for abandoning Brexit talks. Fox’s reported plan isn’t being received well by many MPs, especially those who were in support of staying in the EU.
Hilary Benn, chairman of the Commons Brexit select committee, is leading a charge to ensure that a deal goes through. “No deal is the worst possible deal one can imagine,” he said. “I can’t see this parliament, with this makeup, saying: ‘Oh that’s fine’.”
Benn and other members of the Labour Party have been calling on the UK to remain in the single market and the customs union while exit details and plans for a future UK/EU relationship are solidified. If talks are abandoned, that is very unlikely to occur.
Parliament recently approved the European Union Withdrawal Bill, although it was opposed by many Labour leaders. One controversial clause of the bill allows ministers to push changes through without approval by Parliament. Those in favour of the clause and the bill claim it will lead to a smoother exit, but those opposed say it gives ministers too much power. MPs are likely to push through amendments of the bill when it comes before the house again in October, which provides other parties the chance to add their opinion and clauses to the final bill.
Brexit is far from over, but the possibility of the UK being will to walk away without a deal throws a new dynamic into negotiations. Time will tell if both sides are able to come to an agreement or if the UK really sets out on its own.