Opinion: Britain′s hour of destiny | Opinion | DW | 13.01.2019
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Opinion

Opinion: Britain's hour of destiny

This Tuesday, MPs in the House of Commons are set to vote on the Brexit deal Prime Minister Theresa May has hammered out with the European Union. They should reject it, writes DW's Birgit Maass.

Probably there aren't too many delegates in the British House of Commons who don't feel haunted by the breath of history prior to this historical vote. The outcome of the ballot will impact the United Kingdom for many decades: Its economic future is at stake, as are Britain's image across the world, the coexistence of generations and interaction with immigrants.

Currently it appears the prime minister will suffer a bitter defeat, and it would be well-deserved. The Brexit deal — the agreement on Britain's withdrawal from the EU — has many shortfalls compared with initial promises made by Brexit advocates to their supporters. Agreed, in a couple of years, Britain will be able to make the choice on which immigrants from the EU are allowed to enter the country, and it will actually leave the EU's institutions. But Brexit will also have considerable negative effects on economic growth. There can be no question of billions' worth of savings, pledged by Brexit promoters, which could then be added to the health care system budget. A sovereign post-Brexit UK — a land of milk and honey — remains a product of the imagination.

Moral compass lost

Theresa May has made many mistakes. For a long time, she kept silent about the economic consequences of a withdrawal from the EU. In addition, she was never honest about the fact that Britain has to broker compromises with the EU in order to prevent a very painful exit from the bloc at the end of March. Instead of building bridges, which includes approaching other political parties, she deepened the divisions in the country: Her labeling of those who see themselves as mobile world citizens as "citizens of nowhere" — a term clearly referring to Britain's pro-Europeans — perturbed many.

Maaß Birgit Kommentarbild App

Birgit Maaß is DW's correspondent in London

Her sense of duty and her fierce determination commanded respect even from political opponents. But it appears that amid all that zeal, she lost her moral compass. She seems obsessed with an allegedly historical mission, namely implementing the will of the majority of those who voted in the Brexit referendum. Stopping unchecked immigration of EU citizens into the United Kingdom seems to be her Holy Grail. At an early stage, she inhibited herself and her negotiation team by drawing certain "red lines" too rigidly, for example leaving the common market and the customs union in any event.

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At this point, she's trying in vain to align the deeply divided House of Commons to her approach — that there's only this one deal and no other. So the alternatives are: No deal, or no Brexit. She's strictly opposed to a second referendum.

A second referendum would be democratic

The referendum on June 23, 2016, however, was only a snapshot in time, with those voting in favor of Brexit not exactly leading by a wide margin. At the time, many voters were unaware of the full implications of a Brexit. In the meantime, it has become clear that many of the promises of Brexit advocates cannot be honored, and it would be democratic to ask for voters' opinions once again.

So the delegates should turn down the deal in order to pave the way for a second referendum. Naturally, Britain is free to leave the EU; it will, however, suffer severe economic setbacks. The people should decide whether, under those circumstances, they really want a Brexit.

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