Opinion: Brexit, lies and anarchy

Resignations, a potential leadership challenge and a dogmatic prime minister battling to save her Brexit deal have plunged London's political world into chaos. DW's Barbara Wesel says the lies are coming home to roost.
Barbara Wesel
Barbara Wesel

The ministers and deputies in Westminster had barely taken a look at the 585-page Brexit deal before the shock waves began to rock British Prime Minister Theresa May and her government in London.

For the most of them, it only took one look at the term "customs union" and the projectiles began to fly. Following an agonizing appearance in the House of Commons and a series of resignations, including that of Brexit Minister Dominic Raab, the prime minister — along with the whole edifice of British politics — was plunged into a state of chaos.

What a glorious Brexit...

Scornful laughter rang through Westminster when May declared that she had now negotiated a "smooth and orderly" Brexit. The deal is pure political poison. For friends of Europe, it brings too few advantages; for the Brexiteers, it is too close to the EU. The Scots feel ignored, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party demands equal treatment, and the opposition Labour Party hopes, above all, to overthrow the Tory government with the help of Brexit.

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DW's European correspondent Barbara Wesel

But even in the face of fierce resistance, the prime minister once again proved her unrelenting stubbornness. Once the prime minister sets sail with an aim in sight, she can no longer be swayed from the course. Like a terrier, May latched on with a single bite that she continues to justify with a recurring litany of rhetoric.

Such as the declaration that her deal is in the "national interest" — or so goes the Brexit motto. A claim that she repeated a dozen times on Thursday as she battled for survival and tirelessly swore that her faith in this Brexit came from the heart.

Read more: How does a UK leadership challenge work?

Lies, lies, and more lies

Anyone who listened to May's pronouncements, her redemptive promise of jobs and of the prosperity and security that she wanted to guarantee for the country, inevitably came away with a clear conclusion: The easiest way forward now would be no Brexit at all. It would avoid Britain becoming the EU's vassal without voting rights. Economic catastrophe would be averted. Northern Ireland would be further pacified, and the common security policy saved. Life could be so simple.

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UK still deeply divided over Brexit

Instead, the prime minister preached to the public once again that her Brexit deal would maintain the benefits associated with EU membership. She continues to rave on about a wonderful future relationship with Europeans — a relationship that is far from settled. The heart of Brexit remains the grand delusion of its supporters.

Against her better judgment, May once again conjures up the mysterious advantages of Brexit that would supposedly one day benefit the British. She promises better schools and hospitals, but in reality their condition has nothing to do with the EU and everything to do with years of neglect from the conservative government.

As always, it's about power

And so May continues to confound "national interest" with the ideological spleen of the conservatives, where for decades there has been a European disease, one that has been gnawing away at the party from within.

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Some may admire the fighting courage of the prime minister, but in reality, she is sacrificing the welfare of her country for the sake of her own leadership and the internal power struggle of the conservatives.

Should her own Brexiteers stab her in the back as they have threatened, the political downfall of May would be well deserved.

The future of the Brexit, however, still hangs in the balance. Nothing is official until the terms have been agreed upon, and agreed upon by all sides.

Four months before the planned exit date, the British have just enough time to avert certain disaster.

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Britain's embattled skipper: Theresa May

May became prime minister after David Cameron resigned from the post in the wake of the Brexit referendum vote in June 2016. Despite her position, she has struggled to define what kind of Brexit her government wants. Hardliners within her Conservative party want her to push for a clean break. Others want Britain to stay close to the bloc. The EU itself has rejected many of May's Brexit demands.

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Britain's reluctant rebel: Jeremy Corbyn

The leader of the British Labour Party has no formal role in the Brexit talks, but he is influential as the head of the main opposition party. Labour has tried to pressure the Conservative government, which has a thin majority in Parliament, to seek a "softer" Brexit. But Corbyn's own advocacy has been lukewarm. The long-time leftist voted for the UK to leave the European Community (EC) in 1975.

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Britain's boisterous Brexiteer: Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson's turbulent two years as UK foreign secretary came to an abrupt end with his resignation on July 9. The conservative had been a key face for the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum campaign. Johnson disapproves of the "soft Brexit" sought by PM May, arguing that a complete break from the EU might be preferable. He became the second Cabinet member within 24 hours to quit...

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Britain's cheery ex-delegate: David Davis

David Davis headed Britain's Department for Exiting the EU and was the country's chief negotiator in the talks before he quit on July 8, less than 24 hours before Downing Street announced Boris Johnson's departure. Davis had long opposed Britain's EU membership and was picked for the role for this reason. Davis was involved in several negotiating rounds with his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier.

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Britain's former Brexit secretary: Dominic Raab

Raab replaced Davis in early July 2018. But he only lasted four months, resigning a day after Theresa May presented a draft withdrawal plan to her cabinet. Raab previously worked for a Palestinian negotiator in the Oslo peace process and as an international lawyer in Brussels advising on European Union and World Trade Organization law.

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Britain's turnabout diplomat: Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt was Britain's Health Secretary until he replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary in early July 2018. The 51-year-old supported Britain remaining in the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but said in late 2017 that he had changed his mind in response to the "the arrogance of the EU Commission" during Brexit talks. He has vowed to help get Britain a "great Brexit deal."

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Britain's firebrand: Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage was the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) until July 2016. Under his stewardship, the party helped pressure former Prime Minister David Cameron into calling the EU referendum. He was also a prominent activist in the Leave campaign in the lead-up to the vote. Farage still has some influence over Brexit talks due to his popularity with pro-Leave voters.

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Brexit's banker: Arron Banks

Businessman Arron Banks is a friend of Nigel Farage, and donated a significant sum to the former UKIP leader's Leave.EU campaign – making him the group's biggest financial backer. He had several meetings with Russian officials ahead of the referendum, but has denied allegations of collusion with Moscow in the Brexit vote, branding the claims a "political witch hunt."

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Europe's honchos: Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk

EU Commission President Juncker (left) and EU Council President Tusk (right) share two of the bloc's highest posts. Juncker heads the EU's executive. Tusk represents the governments of the 27 EU countries — the "EU 27." Both help formulate the EU's position in Brexit negotiations. What Tusk says is particularly noteworthy: His EU 27 masters — not the EU commission — must agree to any Brexit deal.

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Europe's steely diplomat: Michel Barnier

The former French foreign minister and European commissioner has become a household name across the EU since his appointment as the bloc's chief Brexit negotiator in October 2016. Despite his prominence, Barnier has limited room to maneuver. He is tasked with following the EU 27's strict guidelines and must regularly report back to them during the negotiations.

Politics

Ireland's uneasy watchman: Leo Varadkar

The Irish PM has been one of the most important EU 27 leaders in Brexit talks. Britain has said it will leave the EU's customs union and single market. That could force the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, to put up customs checks along the border with Northern Ireland, a British province. But Varadkar's government has repeatedly said the return of a "hard" border is unacceptable.

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Europe's power-brokers: the EU 27

The leaders of the EU 27 governments have primarily set the EU's negotiating position. They have agreed to the negotiating guidelines for chief negotiator Barnier and have helped craft the common EU position for Tusk and Juncker to stick to. The individual EU 27 governments can also influence the shape of any Brexit outcome because they must unanimously agree to a final deal.

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