Amid further negotiations to put Brexit into action comes another factor to consider: party politics. New prime minister Theresa May is being challenged from within Parliament to change her Brexit negotiations or face being blocked by her own country.
In order to pass the agreement that would officially allow the UK to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May must agree to the Labour Party’s Brexit bottom line, which includes guaranteed access to a single market and workplace rights.
Article 50 in Play
The debate centers on Article 50, which the UK would invoke to separate from the EU. The article from the Lisbon Treaty vaguely states how a country would go about leaving the EU, stating that, “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”
According to the treaty, any country that wants to leave has to notify the council of its decision, negotiate the terms of its withdrawal, and establish plans for a future relationship with the EU. The UK has already taken care of a few of those steps and is in the middle of negotiating the terms of its exit. Since no country has invoked Article 50 before, the rules are a little murky. Theresa May has stated that she plans to put her plan into action to invoke Article 50 by March 2017, but recent demands from members of her own Parliament could change everything.
Labour Party Demands
The most difficult part of the Brexit negotiations has been deciding the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU, which is also a major sticking point for local politicians. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party would align with Conservatives in favor of staying in the EU to block the passage of the article. In order to gain the support of the Labour Party, May must agree to their demands, including (1) giving the UK access to 500 million customers in Europe’s single market, (2) guaranteeing that EU workplace rights don’t get watered down, (3) ensuring consumers and the environment are safeguarded, and (4) promising that UK will pay for any EU capital investments lost as a result of Brexit.
“We are not challenging the referendum,” said Corbyn. “We are not calling for a second referendum. We’re calling for market access for British industry to Europe.”
The Labour Party demands match many common concerns about Brexit: The single market is what allows EU members to trade across borders without charging duties and also creates the common standards for goods across countries to reduce bureaucracy. Those against Brexit have long worried about losing access to the single market if Britain were to leave, and Brexit ministers have stated that it is unlikely the UK would be allowed to stay a member of the single market after Article 50 is invoked. Labour’s other demands include workplace rights, which the EU has worked to strengthen for years. Membership in the EU currently provides rights such as annual time off, rights for women, and anti-discrimination measures; there is concern that some of those rights could be lost after leaving the EU. The promise that the country pays for any lost investments could also be a stretch—as more companies leave the UK before Brexit is official, some companies are worried about the effect the new regulations and changed trade agreements will have on their bottom line.
A high court recently ruled that the prime minister would have to get approval from Parliament to trigger Article 50. According to the court, constitutional law in Britain states that only Parliament can take away rights from citizens, and some current rights will be lost when the country leaves the EU. May holds a small majority in the House of Commons, and the government is appealing the rule.
Early Election Threat
Corbyn and other Labour Party members have threatened that May should be prepared for an early election if she doesn’t meet the party’s demands.
“We have the members, the organization and the enthusiasm. We welcome the challenge,” he said. “It would give us the chance to put before the British people an alternative economic strategy for this country.”
An early election could be difficult for a country that is already fragile in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, but it could be effective in motivating May to give in to at least some of Labour’s demands.
As Brexit walks through the uncharted waters of Brexit, it is setting the stage for future economic and trade policies, which could be greatly altered depending on which side wins this battle in Parliament.
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