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US News The great Brexit dilemma

12:05  22 november  2019
12:05  22 november  2019 Source:   ft.com

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Home Greece Greek Politics BREXIT – The Great UK Dilemma . Brexit however poses a serious dilemma for the EU institution; a dilemma that its own existence may depend on! The fear of Brexit may well destabilize the cozy EU bureaucracy to shaken up this private club and unless it makes

JJeremy Corbyn launches the Labour Party's manifesto in Birmingham. © Reuters JJeremy Corbyn launches the Labour Party's manifesto in Birmingham.

It has been billed as the “Appalling Choice” general election, and in one of Britain’s smartest streets Zoe Ley is pondering which option she dislikes most: Boris Johnson’s Brexit or the possibility that the country could end up being run by Jeremy Corbyn, the old-school socialist Labour leader, with his agenda of nationalisation and wealth taxes.

Ley lives in a house in London’s Belgravia worth millions of pounds and runs a company making “life-enhancing superfood for dogs”. But her internal debate about how to vote in the December 12 election will be familiar to millions of the 48 per cent of people who backed Remain in the country’s fateful EU referendum in 2016.

In or out Jeremy? Labour leader refuses to say if he wants to remain in the EU or not after being asked FIVE TIMES - but admits he would like a 'close relationship' with Brussels 'in the future'

  In or out Jeremy? Labour leader refuses to say if he wants to remain in the EU or not after being asked FIVE TIMES - but admits he would like a 'close relationship' with Brussels 'in the future' Mr Corbyn, who officially backed Remain in 2016 but has spent decades calling for the UK to leave the EU - declined to give a definitive answer. But he admitted that he would like a 'a close relationship with the EU in the future', which may fuel suggestions he would prefer a Labour-style Brexit. © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Corbyn admitted that he would like a 'a close relationship with the EU in the future', which may fuel suggestions he would prefer a Labour-style Brexit He also suggested he would include Brexiteers in his negotiating team.

Brexit . Image copyright Nilz Böhme. Image caption British opera singer Stephen Chaundy faces major obstacles with just a UK passport. "Some people think that this might be an easy way out of the whole Brexit dilemma – but in fact it isn't: it'll be costly and take a lot of time."

How one factory explains the Brexit business dilemma . The Nissan plant in Sunderland. The plant was opened with great ceremony by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. Sharon Hodgson, now Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West, which includes the plant, remembers that as a teenager, she was

“Corbyn is an existential risk,” she says, dogs playing at her feet. “He would take this country into some kind of Orwellian nightmare. One could live with the evils of Brexit above having a Marxist in Number 10.” She might end up voting for the pro-European Liberal Democrats but like many voters in this most fluid of elections, she has yet to make up her mind.

What next for Brexit? Follow key developments, expert analysis and multiple perspectives as the UK edges closer to leaving the EU

British voters are preparing to go to the polls in a general election for the third time in four years, and the choice facing Ley is also being widely discussed at soirées in the City of London — where many banks and financial services companies fear the impact of Brexit on growth — and in Remain-voting constituencies up and down the country.

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The Brexit Dilemma . London Business School Contributor. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. From the recent developments in the Brexit negotiations, it seems that there is a Brexit dilemma or even trilemma. After leaving the European Union, Britain will have to choose

Boris Johnson lays a brick on the campaign trail in Bedford. © Reuters Boris Johnson lays a brick on the campaign trail in Bedford. Is now the time to end the country’s Brexit psychodrama and political paralysis, even if that means voting for Johnson — the man many Remainers blame for getting the country into this mess in the first place? Or is it yet possible to halt a policy that many regard as an economic disaster and national humiliation?

The dilemma is especially acute here, in one of Britain’s wealthiest constituencies, the Cities of London and Westminster. Dominated in the east by the gleaming towers of global capitalism in the City and in the west by the bling of Mayfair and Belgravia, the central London seat also harbours pockets of social housing.

Seventy-two per cent of voters opted to Remain in the 2016 referendum, but the constituency has elected a Conservative MP in every general election since the seat was created in 1950. Could Brexit be about to change all that?

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Brexit is the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU). Following a June 2016 referendum, in which 51.9% voted to leave

It seems almost inconceivable. But if Nickie Aiken, the Conservative candidate and leader of the local council, fails to hold the seat that the party won with a 3,148 majority over Labour in 2017, it would mark a historic shift, suggesting Johnson might also lose elsewhere in Remain-voting areas of the south.

It would also mean that the party would have to succeed in Leave-voting seats in the Labour industrial heartlands of the north, including places that have never elected a Tory MP, to win the election outright.

Gallery: The last time Britain was split over the EU (Mirrorpix)

Boris Johnson, Harold Wilson are posing for a picture: Sick of Brexit? In despair about the state of our country? Who isn't? But it's not the first time Britain has been divided about our place in Europe. Let's step back in time to when we first joined the EEC...

Nick Boles, a former Tory minister, described the “Appalling Choice of 2019” in an article for the London Evening Standard. “It will be recorded as the only election in modern times in which you wouldn’t trust either of the prime ministerial candidates to mind your children for an hour, let alone run the country,” he wrote.

“Historically, one or other of the main parties has been relatively sensible at any given time,” he tells the FT. “Now you have both of them going crazy at the same time.”

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  What the papers say – November 20 The first leaders’ debate dominates Wednesday’s front pages.The i newspaper says the debate saw “Insults fly” while the Financial Times says Mr Johnson survived a “hazardous duel” with Mr Corbyn, according to a snap YouGov poll also covered by The Times which showed a narrow win for the PM.

Theresa May has postponed her crucial Brexit vote amid huge divisions in her party. But there is a dilemma , too, for Labour MPs whose constituencies voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU. How do they square their voters’ wishes with that of their party and their own conscience?

BREXIT ; The Great UK Dilemma .

Tony Halmos, director of public relations at the City of London Corporation for more than two decades, agrees: “It’s a ghastly dilemma. A lot of people are agonising over the whole situation and wishing there wasn’t an election.”

The Conservative campaign slogan, “Get Brexit done”, is an echo of a sentiment that has been expressed across the country for months, as people have become increasingly frustrated by the political paralysis in Westminster. Johnson believes that Brexit fatigue is such a chronic condition that even grudging Remain voters now accept the need to move on.

He often neglects to extol the alleged opportunities of Brexit on the campaign trail, but refers instead to his desire to “get this thing done”. It is as if he is discussing a dismal chore — the washing-up, perhaps.

Johnson insists that his Brexit deal — struck with the EU in October — can be passed in parliament in January if he wins the election, and Britain can then leave on January 31. A trade deal with the EU would then be completed by the end of 2020, and the whole Brexit saga would be wrapped up. Britain’s potential would be “unleashed” and the entire messy business would be over.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson flashes a thumbs up as he poses with workers during a visit to Wilton Engineering Services. © Reuters Prime Minister Boris Johnson flashes a thumbs up as he poses with workers during a visit to Wilton Engineering Services. Few trade experts believe this timeline, however, and many entrepreneurs and business executives are also sceptical. The government refuses to say publicly how much Johnson’s proposed “Canada-style” trade deal would cost the UK compared with EU membership, but the Treasury calculated last year that growth would be 5 per cent lower over 15 years compared with current forecasts.

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There was a great deal of coverage of the British Prime Minister Theresa May and her plans for Brexit in the media last week, where she emphasized that she wants a broad range of Meanwhile, little attention was paid to the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his reaction to the Brexit dilemma .

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Meanwhile, Johnson’s vaunted trade deal with the US — which Donald Trump is now starting to question — would raise GDP by just 0.2 per cent in the long term, according to the UK government’s own figures.

In the Cities of London and Westminster — dubbed by local politicos “the Two Cities” — there are an unusually large number of voters who look at the fine print of the economics of Brexit and wonder: what on earth?

But the capital’s social scene is also awash with conversations about how breaking the Brexit impasse could at least end uncertainty and kick-start investment in Britain — currently on hold — and might be better than gambling with a Corbyn government.

“My sense is that people fear Corbyn more because they are less sure how to deal with that prospect,” says Halmos. “The City has, in a quieter way than some others, sorted out all kinds of schemes and plans to deal with Brexit. Even if we had a hard Brexit, we wouldn’t have been talking about weeds growing in Cheapside.”

Nicky Morgan, a Tory cabinet minister and Remainer stepping down at the election, says: “In my experience, most City businesses hate Corbyn more and want Brexit sorted.”

Jeremy Corbyn is not having cut-through with Britain's elite. © Reuters Jeremy Corbyn is not having cut-through with Britain's elite. The Liberal Democrats, who finished a distant third here in the last election, hope to exploit both the anti-Corbyn sentiment and the anti-Brexit vibe, offering a centrist platform and a firm promise to revoke Article 50. They are fielding Chuka Umunna, the MP once touted as a future Labour leader, who left the party this year and is loathed by the far-left.

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Why hasn't Brexit happened yet? Brexit was originally due to happen on 29 March 2019. That was two years after then Prime Minister Theresa May triggered The revised plan effectively creates a customs and regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This means some goods entering

Brexit . Image copyright PA. Image caption Sarah Wollaston is one of two Conservative MPs who make up I'm told they are in a "genuine dilemma ". Part of them is itching to articulate in Parliament, with a vote The focus must be, they argue, on the moment when the campaign's strength is at its greatest

Jon Norris, who runs a fresh fish stall on the Tachbrook Street market in Pimlico, says he discusses the election with many of his customers and that Umunna has “a really good chance”. He adds: “Brexit is the thing — totally. This would be a safe Tory seat otherwise. I don’t think anyone likes Corbyn. Let’s get that straight.”

A couple of miles away, Labour candidate Gordon Nardell, a Corbyn-supporting QC, is gathering a team of campaign volunteers in Baker Street to try to storm the Tory Two Cities citadel. If the enthusiasm of his supporters is any guide, the seat should be in the bag.

At least 150 people have gathered to knock on doors and deliver leaflets. It is like a political flash mob, blocking the pavement outside Pret A Manger. “We’d better move on, they’ll think we’re picketing them,” jokes one activist. Tourists on the trail of Sherlock Holmes try to squeeze past the Labour crowd.

Nardell says he is confident of victory but, like Corbyn himself, he seems keen to talk about subjects other than Brexit. “I had expected every conversation to be about Brexit but that’s not the case,” he says.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaks at the launch of the party's manifesto in London. © Reuters Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaks at the launch of the party's manifesto in London. “People often seem relieved to be talking about other things to a politician.” Health, housing and primary-school provision are at the heart of his campaign.

Labour’s reticence on Brexit reflects the fact that the party’s supporters are simultaneously cosmopolitan Remain voters (particularly in big cities such as London) and hardcore Leave voters, especially in the declining towns of the Midlands and north of England.

Corbyn, who voted Leave in Britain’s only other European referendum in 1975, has adopted a suitably convoluted Brexit position. He has vowed to renegotiate Johnson’s Brexit deal to make it more Labour-friendly — including EU levels of workers’ rights and environmental protection — and then to put this deal to the voters in a referendum.

British author Lee Child applying for Irish passport due to Brexit

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Brexit however, poses a serious dilemma for the EU institution; a dilemma that its own existence may depend on. The fear of Brexit may well destabilize the cozy EU bureaucracy to shake up this private club and unless it makes radical changes to become more accountable to the electorate

The party would decide at a later date whether to campaign for this excellent Brexit deal or for Remain — the preference of most Labour activists, including the vast majority of those milling outside Pret.

But Corbyn’s refusal to say whether Labour is a Brexit or Remain party is only one of the difficulties he faces. The other is that opinion polls suggest he is the least popular opposition leader in recent history; his party is riven by factional divisions and he has been widely criticised for failing to tackle anti-Semitism in Labour ranks. 

Gallery: Leave v Remain - Brexit reveals a divided UK (Photos)

Even the Corbynite Momentum grassroots movement, many of whose members are gathering in Baker Street, recognise there is a problem.

A “having difficult conversations on the doorstep” guide offers tips to Momentum activists on how to answer questions about whether Corbyn supports terrorism, tolerates anti-Semitism and presides over a deeply divided party. It suggests activists should “try saying, ‘This election is about policies, not personalities.’”

Labour’s policies are bold to say the least. While Corbyn’s plan to vastly increase public spending — including raising capital investment to £55bn a year — will appeal to the party’s core voters, business groups have decried his plan to nationalise swathes of the economy, and to force companies with more than 250 workers to gradually hand over 10 per cent of their shares to their workers.

Nardell says Corbyn continues to embody a thirst in the country for “real change”. He says of the Labour leader’s strong performance in the 2017 election: “It wasn’t so much the man — it was the fact he represented the opportunity to change things.”

Chuka Umunna © Getty Chuka Umunna The Lib Dems finished a distant third in 2017 in this seat, behind Labour by more than 10,000 votes, and Nardell says that Umunna’s hopes of hoovering up the Two Cities vast Remain vote is the stuff of “fantasy land”. However, Labour are 7-1 outsiders to win the seat, according to bookmakers William Hill, with the Tories at 4-6, and the Lib Dems at 5-4 — suggesting a two-horse race.

Tory candidate Aiken, a Remain voter now reconciled to the need to complete Brexit, says it is “farcical” to think the Lib Dems could win: “It’s Labour who are my opposition.”

She is replacing Mark Field, who is standing down as an MP, and who was suspended from his role as Foreign Office minister after he bundled an environmental activist out of a speech at London’s Mansion House in June.

Aiken argues that her strong record as leader of the local council, particularly in areas such as social housing, and the Johnson message that Britain needs to deliver Brexit so that it can move on to other issues, is a winning combination.

There is an undeniable optimism in the Umunna camp, as he trawls for votes in Belgravia, an area of London that would once have been no-go territory for non-Tory candidates. Umunna cuts a relaxed figure, relieved to have found a new political home after bailing out of Corbyn’s Labour party.

After chatting to one sympathetic voter on the doorstep he discovers that the potential backer is a member of the House of Lords. “He can’t vote,” Umunna chuckles. “It’s the sort of problem you find around here.” Another potential backer invites him in for a chat and Umunna’s eyes are drawn to an original David Hockney over the fireplace.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m over-egging the pudding but the response on the doorstep has been extraordinary — Labour doesn’t really register,” says Umunna. While the Lib Dems were once caricatured as the party of Britain’s Celtic fringe, their staunch opposition to Brexit has now made them the party of choice for some of the country’s elite.

“Boris Johnson is hated as much as Jeremy Corbyn in this constituency,” he says. “We are the party of liberal, open, internationalist voters who embrace the future.” Canvassing on Fridays here is problematic, he notes, because many voters have “left for their country homes or gone abroad”.

Umunna’s problem is that while some despair of Brexit, many believe that “getting it done” might be the quickest and best way to restore business confidence.

The Lib Dem challenge is explaining how Brexit can be stopped without causing severe political and economic dislocation, including putting Corbyn into Downing Street.

Gallery: The ups and downs of the campaign trail (Photos)

Most pollsters predict that even on a very good night on December 12, the Lib Dems will do well to secure 40 seats, many of them gained from the Tories in rich Remain areas such as the Two Cities and the wealthy suburbs of London. The Scottish National party, which also opposes Brexit, might win 50 seats on a very good night.

But the only way either party could stop Brexit would be to join forces with Labour — possibly with 250 or so seats — to create a rickety minority government with an overriding mission to hold another EU referendum.

Umunna argues the Lib Dems would never allow Corbyn into Downing Street. “People know me and they know why I left the Labour party,” he says. The Lib Dems suggest they could work with Labour if Corbyn was thrown overboard by his own party in a hung parliament.

Alternatively, Umunna suggests, opposition MPs could work together to force Johnson, if he remained prime minister, to hold a second referendum.

But both options look a lot messier than the Conservatives’ clear “Get Brexit Done” slogan. There are big questions about whether Britain would overturn Brexit if there were to be a second referendum — current polls suggest a 53-47 Remain vote — and what would happen if Remain won by such a tight margin. Would there have to be a third poll, a penalty shootout? And what would be the impact on the economy and society?

Voters standing on the doorstep of their £5m homes in Belgravia are reluctant to give their names, but one retired woman says: “I will vote for whoever will stop us going around in circles. I just want this thing finished.” A company chairman and Leave voter says: “We have to move forward. Everyone is fed up.”

The result of Britain’s election could swing on whether Britain’s disgruntled Remainers decide to call it a day and back Johnson to deliver Brexit and move on, or whether they vote for candidates such as Umunna or Nardell to pave the way for another referendum — and one last chance to halt the process of leaving the EU.

Andrew Quested, a purveyor of multimillion-pound properties to the global elite, believes that Britain has had enough uncertainty. He voted Remain in the referendum but, for his business, Wellbelove and Quested, selling four-bedroom homes in Belgravia at £7m a pop, a Corbyn government would be a chilling alternative.

“People aren’t buying or selling,” he says, noting how Brexit and the election have frozen the prime property market. “People buying here are paying millions and they like certainty. I’m a Remainer but I’ll vote Tory. I just want certainty. Get it done. It’s destroying business — that’s the reality of it.”

George Parker is the FT’s political editor

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