The Emerging Brexit Betrayal

In June 2016, almost three years ago, 17 million citizens of the United Kingdom voted to exit the European Union — more than have ever voted for anything or anyone in British history. And yet, from the first hours after these votes were cast, Brexit opponents and EU apologists began to undermine the clearly-expressed will of the British electorate. Among the most galling of these attempts to sabotage British democracy have been calls for a “People’s Vote” on whether to cancel Brexit — as if the “people” had not already been heard from!

Sadly, it appears that the insidious forces trying to block Brexit may be on the cusp of winning their long struggle to keep Britain shackled to the EU. Why? Because Prime Minister Theresa May has lost two parliamentary votes on her own plan for Brexit, and she will likely lose a third. After that happens, she has promised to seek a long extension of the deadline for Brexit from EU authorities. They are poised to grant it.

Parliament’s unwillingness to endorse not only May’s Brexit plan, but any other realistic plan to leave the EU, therefore means additional months and possibly years of wrangling, giving anti-Brexit forces even more time to organize roadblocks. The chances are thus rising that Brexit will never happen. Brexit will have died a death of a thousand cuts, and elite politicians surely will not mourn.

The most disturbing part of this story is the seemingly disingenuous role played by Theresa May herself. May took on the daunting and utterly thankless task of trying to shepherd an anti-Brexit Parliament towards the confirmation of a realistic path to Britain’s departure from the EU. She negotiated a plan for Brexit with EU leaders that fully satisfied no one, but would at least have honored the will of the British people and substantially bolstered the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. For all this she deserves praise.

May was, however, lest we forget, an opponent of Brexit in 2016. While she took up the mantle thereafter of implementing Brexit, she never took off the table various escape routes that members of Parliament could utilize to avoid backing her own imperfect plan. May essentially said to Parliament, “Here is my plan. Vote for it, if you like, but if not we’ll come up with something else. Or maybe we’ll have a no-deal Brexit. Or maybe we’ll seek an extension. Who knows.” In other words, she never used the extraordinary leverage that her position as Prime Minister conveys. More importantly, she never used the critical leverage of Britain’s scheduled and legally binding departure date of March 29th. What do I mean by this?

May could have given Parliament a simple binary choice: “Vote for my plan, or we’ll be forced into a no-deal Brexit when the deadline strikes.” She thus could have ruled out another referendum, another plan, and any extension of the deadline. She could have convincingly argued that any of these other options would either be impractical, given the limited time available, or they would represent an unconscionable betrayal of the will of the British people. She could have done that, but she chose not to. She chose instead to ask politely for Parliament to back her plan — and not surprisingly Parliament, confused about its alternatives, declined.

One has to wonder, frankly, whether May anticipated this reaction all along. Did she want Parliament to refuse to back her plan, so that Brexit could be put indefinitely on the political back burner, but she could still say that she gave it her best shot? Only she can answer such a question, but increasingly her credibility and her integrity are in doubt, along with her competence.

Britain thus finds itself in one of the greatest democratic quagmires of the modern age. Of course, anti-Brexit forces will not care. For them, blocking Brexit has always been more important than honoring the decisions of the electorate. The sad part is that these obstructionists look increasingly likely to get their pernicious way — and in one of the world’s oldest and greatest democracies, no less.

And, if Britain can’t respect the will of its people, what does that portend for American voters who dare to defy the judgment of their self-satisfied elites? Nothing good.


Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at:

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Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy

Nicholas L. Waddy, an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred, blogs at

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  • This writer does not understand the position of Prime Minister in the UK. In many ways they have a lot more power than the US President, being head of the Executive, the legislature AND their party, but they are also living always on the approval and support of Parliament and their own MPs. Margaret Thatcher, a towering force and winner of three elections in a row, was fired by her own party and out of office in a matter of days. Theresa May had inherited a tiny majority in Parliament, and any MP in Parliament can propose bills that challenge Government policy and decisions. With a healthy majority a Prime Minister can order her MPs to vote for her and cope with a handful of rebels. But with a tiny majority it was touch and go.
    So May called a snap election, at a time when polls suggested she’d win a healthy majority and be able to impose her will on Parliament.
    But it didn’t work out that way.
    She lost seats and her majority, and had to form a coalition with the Northern Irish DUP, generally allies of the Conservatives anyway. Even with them she has a tiny majority, and a fair number of her own MPs are utterly determined to stop Brexit. Most of the Tory old guard, Major, Heseltine, Clarke, Patten etc are staunchly pro-EU.
    So much as this article is saying she should have imposed decisive leadership on Parliament she just didn’t have the votes. Parliament has voted for a bunch of bills that limit her actions and reduce her power, including a vote that demands she not have a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. Anyone who has ever negotiated anything will understand that if your opponent knows you cannot walk away you will never get a good deal. Thankfully that vote was purely advisory and not binding, but it still greatly encouraged the EU negotiators to refuse to offer any concessions.

    Noteworthy is the fact that although May lost seats she actually got a lot of votes. In the last forty years only two Prime Ministers have ever got a bigger share or a higher number of votes in a general election. One of Margaret Thatcher’s three victories and one of Tony Blair’s three victories. May got a LOT of votes, but as with Donald Trump getting three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton but winning the electoral college the distribution of those votes made a huge difference.
    Also worth pointing out that at that 2017 election the main opposition party, Labour, ran on a manifesto of accepting and carrying out the referendum decision and leaving the EU, and they too got a lot of votes. In all well over eighty percent of the British voters voted for MPs who promised to carry out Brexit.

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