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The EU Needs a Brexit Endgame

Despite having her negotiated EU withdrawal deal soundly rejected in the House of Commons this month, British Prime Minister Theresa May is still in charge of the Brexit process. To avert a disastrous "no-deal" scenario, the bloc's leaders must continue to work with May on a compromise solution, whether it likes it or not.

PARIS – After 31 months of the United Kingdom and the European Union arguing over Brexit, the truth is that neither side knows what it wants.

This sad reality is most obvious in the case of the UK, whose ruling Conservative Party has consistently been at war with itself over the actual meaning of the June 2016 Brexit referendum. After a series of strategic mishaps and tactical blunders by Prime Minister Theresa May, the Tory infighting came to a head in mid-January, when Parliament voted down her negotiated exit agreement. It made clear that May lacks support within her own party for a realistic compromise with the EU. 

At the same time, a majority of MPs and British voters oppose the “no-deal” exit advocated by hardline Tory Euroskeptics. That scenario would put the UK in breach of legally binding international commitments, jeopardize the 1998 agreement that ended violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, and result in immediate economic costs and job losses. At a time when US President Donald Trump is hastening the demise of the post-war global order, it is frankly stunning that Brexiteers still believe in the fantasy of a thriving, free-trading Global Britain. And yet here we are.