/ 10 April 2019

Five pivotal moments behind Brexit chaos

Brexit or bust: How did Britain end up in a political labyrinth?
Brexit or bust: How did Britain end up in a political labyrinth? (Getty)

Britain’s decision to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union three years ago has ended up in political chaos that few could have predicted then.

Here are five pivotal moments that led to this:

January 23 2013

Then prime minister David Cameron promises a referendum on EU membership — if the Conservatives win the next general election in 2015.

According to EU Council President Donald Tusk, the Tory leader calculated that the next election would likely result in another power-sharing deal with the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, and he could dodge the pledge.

But Cameron instead wins a surprise outright majority and goes on to hold the referendum in 2016.

September 12 2015

A lifelong eurosceptic from the far left of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn becomes the improbable winner of his party’s leadership election thanks to a surge in grassroots support from younger members.

The issue of leaving or staying in the EU is highly divisive among Labour voters and Corbyn’s campaigning for Remain in the 2016 poll is lukewarm.

March 29 2017 

Under enormous political pressure to kickstart its departure following the referendum, the British government formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave, starting a two-year countdown to Brexit.

But critics said it did so too early and should have first built a consensus in Britain — particularly in parliament — over what kind of future relationship it wants with the bloc.

Early on, Prime Minister Theresa May sets out rigid red lines — leaving the customs union and ending free movement — which shape the negotiation.

June 8 2017 

In perhaps the biggest miscalculation of all, May calls a snap general election and loses her party’s parliamentary majority after a lacklustre campaign.

This forces her into a deal with Northern Ireland’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party — just as the issue of the Irish border emerges as the main point of contention in negotiations with the EU.

January 29, March 12, March 29 

May refuses to change course as Brexit hardliners in her party reject the deal she struck with the EU three times, in the hope of a better offer from Brussels or a “no-deal” break with the EU.

The gamble ends up delaying Brexit and raising the possibility of closer future economic ties with the EU, as May belatedly reaches out to opposition Labour MPs for help in passing her agreement.