Guest Opinion: Leaving the EU just got stickier

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nov. 4
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The question of whether Britain will leave the European Union or not, believed settled by the June 23 vote to leave, has been thrown into a cocked hat again by a High Court decision announced late last week.

The three-judge panel ruled that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which launches the two-year process of exiting the EU, cannot be initiated without an act of Parliament. The British electorate voted by 51.9 percent — representing 17.4 million voters — to pull out. On that basis, then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who had launched the referendum, resigned, to be replaced by Theresa May.

May subsequently announced that she would initiate British departure in March 2017. In the meantime, chips had begun falling as they may, based on the expected impact of a British departure, in the economy, in the U.K.’s status within the EU and in British foreign relations in general. The United States, which has had the habit of using the United Kingdom as a bridge between it and the EU and Europe in general, began to back away, waiting to see what would happen.

So what happens now? The British government will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. It will probably lose. There is some talk that May may call a snap election, based on her general popularity at the moment, although that could easily dissolve in the fluid British political climate. The Labour Party is in disarray, led by Jeremy Corbyn, whom many Labourites even consider to be too far left in his views. The U.K. Independence Party, which led the charge out the EU door, has suffered a severe leadership crisis.

If the court’s ruling that Parliament must vote before the EU treaty’s Article 50 can be invoked, the question even comes into play whether May’s government can ask for the vote before the terms of the U.K.’s departure from the EU have been put before and approved by Parliament. The whole process could be declared now to be a mess, except by those who think that the referendum was a mistake in the first place but dare not ask for another referendum on the question — yet — fearing another rejection.

This question is now clearly in the domain of the mills of God — and the British government — grinding exceedingly slow.