For a few days there, it looked as if British Prime Minister Theresa May’s much-maligned plan to Brexit from the European Union would claim another victim: May herself. But last week the prime minister squeaked by in a humiliatingly close no-confidence vote of United Kingdom lawmakers and then gamely declared a “renewed mission” for her Britain-E.U. economic divorce proposal. Problem already.
For Americans who have lost track of this boisterous British soap opera, a recap: May had hoped for a smooth exit from the E.U. without having to deal much with British lawmakers. No such luck. Instead, she has now reportedly agreed to exit her job after she steers the country through Brexit on March 29 — if she can make that happen.
To U.S. eyeballs, Britain’s Brexit agonies — and the E.U.’s bureaucratic dysfunction — may seem remote. Not so. Americans — heads up, citizens of high-export Midwest states — have a major stake in the health and stability of their major trading partners. The E.U. and Britain are better off together than apart.
Economists warn that a hard Brexit could bring food and medicine shortages, paralyze trade and prompt a recession in Britain. Instead, May’s plan wisely retains close economic ties with the E.U. That’s called a “soft Brexit.” If Britain has to leave — and 52 percent of voters approved the exit — then a soft landing is better than a hard one with all the collateral damage that suggests.
But the May deal’s prognosis is grim. Many Brexiteers, including some in May’s own party, oppose the deal because it fails to deliver a clean break from the E.U. The hard-liners seek to shed the yoke of E.U. rules and regulations. Bremainers, however, argue that a “hard Brexit” would create economic chaos in Britain and the E.U. — with ripple effects in the U.S. and around the world.
Can May persuade the lawmakers who let her survive to approve, next month, her Brexit agreement with the E.U.? We’ll see.
May treks again to Brussels soon in hopes of winning new concessions from the E.U. that may make her plan more palatable to domestic critics. But E.U. leaders aren’t promising much. “We will not renegotiate the deal. but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate U.K. ratification,” European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter. “As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario.”
In other words, get on with it, Britain. Or better yet, rethink the whole dicey idea of Brexit. Economic chaos in lieu of a deal is the worst outcome of all.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE