BREXIT VOTE

Security, Concerns On Terror Dominate As UK Parliament Gets Set To Vote Once Again On Brexit

Ashwin Ahmad New Delhi 13 March 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to remain trapped in a cage. Her second failed attempt to pass through her Brexit deal has meant that the UK continues to hurtle down an uncharted road with the ‘no Brexit’ option looking more and more likely.

After the defeat of the motion to pass the deal by 391 to 242 votes, May has called for a ‘free vote’ in the British Parliament on Wednesday where MPs will have another chance to reconsider Brexit. This is a scenario that seems far from likely given the hardline opposition to the EU by even fellow Conservative party members – 75 of them rebelled against the Prime Minister’s proposed deal in the recent vote. But a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is not the only thing that will be voted on. The British Parliament will also have to decide on whether they would like a transition period or opt immediately to leave the EU. If they opt for the latter, the UK comes crashing out of the EU bloc on March 29.

The recent vote means a number of issues for Britain to deal with the most serious of which is the security one. Already, police officers across the country are being notified that they will be required to go to Dover, the place where goods from EU come into the UK for customs and for security reasons. This could not have come at a worse time for the UK which is currently dealing with a soaring crime rate as knife attacks, especially against schoolchildren, have soared in recent times.

The other issue is the growing fear of sectarian violence erupting in Northern Ireland. Reports of ‘letter bombs’ being found at busy locations in locations, one of which included Heathrow airport, suggest that this could well prove to be the case. No one was hurt, but counter-terrorism experts in the UK are more than certain that such attacks are likely to increase with a no-deal Brexit. How? This is because a no-deal Brexit means the UK will have to put up a hard border across Northern Ireland, as Northern Ireland claims to be part of Britain. This will infuriate Irish terrorist organisations such as the IRA – Irish Republican Army or the New IRA, who have already claimed responsibility for the letter bombs, as they are fighting for a united Ireland. Once started, the attacks will no doubt be countered by Northern Ireland Protestant terrorist organisations such as the UFF – Ulster Freedom Fighters – effectively ending the Good Friday Agreement which was agreed to by all the major actors in Ireland in 1998.      

Apart from domestic security concerns, the UK may also have to deal with the issue of global terrorism all on its own. As Britain’s Security Minister Ben Wallace pointed out last year, a no-deal Brexit will lessen the UK’s security cooperation with the EU. According to the minister, systems for exchanging data, alerts on potential terror suspects, extradition requests will be heavily affected. This again comes at a very bad time for Britain who now has to deal with the potential ISIS operatives, who are British citizens, returning to the UK.  Some of these operatives are married to Europeans making them citizens of that EU country. One of the most recent examples is the media-dubbed ‘British ISIS bride’ Shamima Begum. If the UK rejects her, Shamima, who is married to a Dutch ISIL operative, may be able to seek Dutch citizenship. Other such cases will also prove a nightmare for the UK as it will, Brexit or no Brexit, need much closer security co-operation with the EU to monitor these ‘at risk’ operatives.

There is a chance of course that taking all this into account, the British Parliament will heed the Prime Minister’s call for a deal or at least to delay Brexit. But so far this is far from likely. Discontentment with how May has managed Brexit so far suggests that whichever way the vote goes, her political future seems far from certain. However, Conservative hard-Brexiters from the European Research Group, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, who want a complete, immediate break from Europe, will not have it easy either, as centrist Tories are vowing to oppose them. They may vote for a transition period, in which case the UK will have until the end of 2021 to discuss terms on which to leave the EU.

On Labour’s side, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants a ‘soft Brexit’ but much of the party’s traditional voter base is working-class and affiliated to trade unions. These voters are very concerned about EU workers taking British jobs and are pushing their local MPs to vote on exiting the EU immediately. As for the Democratic Unionist Party – DUP – the government’s partner on key issues, they are against any deal so far because of concerns on the Northern Ireland border or backstop issue. So far, the DUP has not changed its stance on this. But with deadlines drawing close and furious backroom negotiations going on, it is still anyone’s guess on whether the UK will leave the EU and if so when.                                        

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