The latest on Brexit

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 4th of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: Brexit. 

U.K. voters opted to leave the European Union in a nationwide referendum in 20-16 by a slim majority.

The referendum isn’t binding under parliamentary rules. But leaders of the Conservative Party currently in control of the government vowed to honor voters’ wishes. It’s been harder to carry out than anyone thought.

BASHAM: Yeah, it’s no exaggeration to say Prime Minister Theresa May has had a real struggle. When she finally reached a deal with European countries, British lawmakers repeatedly rejected it.

The latest vote came Monday. Parliament rejected four different proposals that would have mapped out a path forward. May now has until April 12th—that’s next week—to come up with a new plan.

If she can’t, Britain may leave the European Union without provisions for doing business with trading partners.

REICHARD: Tim Montgomerie is a British political analyst described as one of the country’s most influential conservatives. He has been a longtime Brexit supporter and split with the Conservative Party over its leaders’ Brexit opposition. He joins us now from London to talk about the turmoil roiling his country.

Tim, it’s been a very interesting two weeks in London, to say the least. Parliament voted on four measures Monday. The one that would have kept the U.K. in an EU customs union lost by just three votes. A measure calling for another Brexit referendum lost by just 12 votes. It seems that the real problem here is that a majority of lawmakers don’t want to leave the EU. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

MONTGOMERIE: I think that is absolutely right. The basic problem you have is that the British people—52 percent to 48 percent—voted to leave the European Union, but 75 percent of the actual Members of Parliament, the people who have to implement the outcome of that referendum, actually wanted to stay in the European Union. 

And there were very clear promises made at the time of the referendum. Politicians on all sides of the political aisle said this was a once in a generation decision and whatever you decide, we will implement it. And, I’m afraid, that hasn’t proven to be the case.

REICHARD: Brexit opponents predict dire consequences if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. Do you think that’s overblown?

MONTGOMERIE: I think there is a very big danger that there will be quite a lot of transitional costs if we leave the European Union without a deal. Britain has been a member of the European Union for over 40 years now. And so a lot of our trade arrangements depend upon treaties with the European Union.

I’m very confident that after a few months that those problems will be overcome, but there are real dangers, yes, in leaving without a deal. And I think that’s why most MPs, even most Brexit-supporting MPs, are trying still even at this late stage to get the deal agreed.

REICHARD: What do you think this all this mean for British politics? The country and its politicians are clearly divided. No matter what happens going forward, a large percentage of the population will be unhappy. How does Britain move forward once this contentious issue is settled?

MONTGOMERIE: Well, America is a nation that decides its own laws. You have courts in your own country that rule on those laws set by politicians. All Britain wants is the same as America has, the same as, actually, most countries in the world have is to be self-governing, not be ruled and have many of their policies decided by a government in another country, politicians from other people. 

I think once we are out of the European Union, I think things will settle down reasonably quickly because most of what it says about life outside of the European Union by those who oppose leaving membership is very exaggerated. And there is certainly a lot of fear-mongering by people.

REICHARD: Some analysts have drawn parallels between the push for Brexit and rising nationalistic sentiments all over the world, including in our own country. President Donald Trump has said he supports Brexit, even though the U-S doesn’t have a direct stake in it. Do you see similarities between the president’s America First message and Brexit?

MONTGOMERIE: I think there are some similarities at the frustration that lots of voters have at politicians who blame other nations or the United Nations or the European Union, in Britain’s case, for some of the problems that they experience. I think people want the politicians that they elect — whether it’s in the White House or 10 Downing Street — to take responsibility for the problems and challenges that each of our nations face.

And I think you should as all those who are informed by a Christian worldview should be generous to our neighbors whether they are close to us or in other parts of the world. But if you don’t look after the people who are struggling in your own countries, then that is a recipe for social unhappiness.

REICHARD: Tim Montgomerie is a political activist and columnist in the U.K. Tim, thanks for joining us today!

MONTGOMERIE: A real pleasure. Thank you for having me.

(AP Photo/Frank Augstein) A pro EU protestor waves flags opposite the House of Parliament in London, Thursday, April 4, 2019.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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