Will the hardline Brexiteers fight to the end?
Qu Bing

Editor's note:  Qu Bing is an Associate Professor of the Institute of European Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Theresa May’s Brexit deal was fiercely resisted by the hardline Brexiteers as she suffered historic humiliations twice in the House of Commons.

But things are changing. After the majority of the British Parliament voted to take the no-deal exit off the table permanently and then supported the extension of Brexit process, the pressure on the hardliner also increased. Will they change their minds?

The "spiritual leaders" of the hardline Brexiteers are some veteran Eurosceptic MPs like Bill Cash and John Redwood, who are long-term critics of the European Union. 

Bill Cash called his "30 Years War" to save Britain from the European "super-state". John Redwood once wrote that leaving the EU was "more important than which party wins the next election or who is the prime minister." 

The core organization is the Conservative Party's European Research Group (ERG) which counts around 60-80 MPs as members. As the "critical minority" of the Conservative Party, they have the capability to sabotage every piece of government legislation. 

Theresa May could win approval for her Brexit deal either by pressing the ERG members on board or turning to the favor of Labour (the opposition party) MPs. To avoid the splits in her party and the collapse of the Government, Mrs. May chose to woo the hardliners in the Conservative party.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna (L) and Conservative MP Anna Soubry (R) pass a pro-Brexit protester after leaving the the Cabinet Office following a Brexit meeting with Theresa May's Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell and David Liddington MP, January 21, 2019, London, England. /VCG Photo 

Labour MP Chuka Umunna (L) and Conservative MP Anna Soubry (R) pass a pro-Brexit protester after leaving the the Cabinet Office following a Brexit meeting with Theresa May's Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell and David Liddington MP, January 21, 2019, London, England. /VCG Photo 

Hardline Brexiteers are impervious to Mrs. May's warnings on the risk of no-deal Brexit. Their biggest concern is that the UK risks being trapped indefinitely in the backstop-an insurance policy to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland under any circumstances. 

They pressed the Prime Minister to reopen negotiation to remove the backstop arrangement. The second preference is demanding a strict time limit or a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop. They were desperate to get rid of the "straightjacket" of EU rules. 

If those objects can't be realized, they would push the UK out of the EU in a "clean break". Their well-known argument is that it's worth paying some prices in order to have an independent trade policy after Brexit. They actually prefer a trade deal with the EU, but that's a deal similar to the EU and Canada-style free trade agreement.

They have some wishful thinking. First, the EU depends on the UK's cooperation in the field of the financial sector, security and military. Second, they hope the EU will make concessions at the eleventh hour. Third, both the UK and the EU have been conducting some contingency measures for the no-deal scenarios, so it would be a "managed no-deal exit" and the economic consequences could be mitigated. The idea of "no need to fear the no-deal exit" is popular among them.

Prominent  Conservative politician Bill Cash gestures as he arrives in Downing street in London, January 22, 2019. /VCG Photo 

Prominent  Conservative politician Bill Cash gestures as he arrives in Downing street in London, January 22, 2019. /VCG Photo 

The ticklish problem is, they might have to face the possibility of the reverse of Brexit. One scenario is a longer extension. Mrs. May issued a final ultimatum to the hardline Brexiteers: If they vote the deal down again, she will go to Brussels to seek "a much longer extension" of Brexit, possibly ending with "no Brexit". The other scenario is a softer Brexit. Chancellor Philip Hammond has indicated he is open to a softer form of Brexit, including the permanent UK-EU customs union advocated by Labour party. 

A long delay means many hitches. Under these threats, several ERG members said that they were considering shifting their positions. 

Simon Clarke, one of the Conservative MPs who opposed Mrs. May's deal, said there was "a gun to my head at this point" and he had to choose between "a bad Brexit deal" and "no Brexit at all". He hinted he could back the deal in the next vote. But Steve Baker, ERG's deputy chair, insisted that he would not be bullied into voting for the current deal unless it "changes substantially and the UK becomes an independent country."

Theresa May is expected to return to the House of Commons next week for a third vote on the Brexit deal. The hardline Brexiteers are facing tough choices. Some of the "hardcore" will fight to the bitter end. They may not win the war of "no-deal Brexit", but they can keep the political deadlock for a long time.

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