London: Weekends are usually peaceful days at Westminster. But the ongoing Brexit debate has changed Britain’s ground zero of power.
The Big Ben and other towers are covered with polythene sheets to shield the public from viewing the ongoing restoration work at the seat of mother of all parliaments. But it's the government in the seat of power which needs a restorative touch.
As Parliament prepares to vote on Brexit next Tuesday, the day India looks with bated breath at the poll results from five states, there is massive lobbying in the British corridors of power to fortify the different camps. The empty corners of Westminster are occupied by TV crews from all over the world.
The British public, too, is watching with bated breath as new twists appear every day on the Brexit drama in Parliament. The limelight is on Prime Minister Theresa May along with her cabinet; Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn; seasoned politician Sir Vince Cable; maverick former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson; Tory chief Brandon Lewis; and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, formally known as the Conservative Private Members' Committee.
The list of main characters, of course, keeps changing with the addition of new figures. The focus, of course is on the 650 members of the House of Commons as every vote is precious in this crucial battle. The next few days will define the legacy of May's premiership. It could see Parliament wresting control from the ministers on the future direction of the UK's departure from the European Union.
The ministers are busy visiting constituencies to convince their electorate about the deal and senior politicians are hopping from one TV studio to another to win the support of audiences. Despite the threat from alliance partner Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), May is going ahead with the vote on December 11. It will be among the most contentious in recent history with MPs divided on all sides of the House.
It comes after five days of intense debate, which was preceded by the government being found in contempt of Parliament for the first time in history. The numbers appear to be against the Prime Minister, and with amendments from across the Brexit spectrum being tabled, the vote could produce a variety of outcomes -- an attempted renegotiation, a no-deal Brexit and even a second referendum.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) on Monday will release its judgment in a legal challenge over whether the UK can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 notification on leaving the EU. The ECJ's chief legal expert, Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona, has said that Britain should be able to cancel Brexit without needing the consent of the other EU member states. He also rejected the contention that Article 50 only allows the possibility of revocation following a unanimous decision of the European Council.
If the court's judgment follows the advocate's opinion, it would be a blow to May just 24 hours before MPs have their meaningful vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The judgment is due at 8 a.m. UK time (1 p.m. IST) on Monday.
The Prime Minister and her close team members are rejecting all the pleas and going ahead with the vote. As the opposition to the deal gathers momentum, the vote could be defeated by a 200 plus margin. But the TINA (there is no alternative) factor and the probability of extreme-Left wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn grabbing power are dithering the Conservative fold.
Sir Graham Brady, the likely consensus candidate to replace May, is trying to preserve the party unity behind the Prime Minister. He conveyed a backbenchers' appeal to consider delaying the vote. But Downing Street remains adamant despite growing cabinet unease.
After the vote on Tuesday, attention will turn to Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs hold a debate on the outcome of the Commons' vote. EU Chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, made it clear that May's deal is the only opportunity for the UK to leave the European Union in an orderly fashion. That means, if Parliament rejects the deal, Britain may exit the EU without a deal. The Bank of England already predicted a grim picture if the country exits EU without a deal. The economy will be the worst victim in this battle.
Brexit has already taken its toll on community ties. Immigrant pockets are worried about the aggressive debate over Brexit. The Indian community is also divided over the issue. Rami Ranger, chairman of the Conservative Friends of India (CFI), a prominent businessman, is backing the Prime minister.
"Brexit is not about my way or highway! It is about cooperation and collaboration as a sovereign nation. Britain's economic strength underpins our sovereignty," Ranger said. "Totally wrong to assume that Britain will be under foreign powers with May's Brexit deal. In fact, cooperation and collaboration underpins our sovereignty," he added.
"The objective is not to scupper the PM's Brexit deal, instead it should be to protect the economy, jobs and influence in the world when we no longer have an empire to dictate our terms to others. Our economy is already shrinking," he said.
Meanwhile Virendra Sharma, the Labour MP from Ealing Southall, is leading the opposition campaign.
"The way the Prime Minister has handled the negotiations with the European Union over the past two years has been disastrous," Sharma said. "We are now facing a situation where we have a bad deal that does not work for our country and is unlikely to be endorsed by Parliament. This is a result of the government's failure and refusal to adopt the kind of approach I have been calling for that could have safeguarded jobs and the economy."
Still there is no clear picture about the outcome of Brexit. Good, bad or ugly, the vote on December 11 will decide the fate of Great Britain.
(Azeez Anasudhin is the Editor of Asianlite. The views expressed are personal.)