Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

Opinion

Brexit and the Queen Sacrifice

  • 'At times, the sacrifice of an important piece, a knight, a rook or even a queen, opens up your game and paves the way to ultimate victory' (Photo: Downing Street)

I don't consider myself an accomplished chess player.

But I do know that, in a chess game, it is not uncommon that a sacrifice brings success.

Read and decide

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  • (Photo: wikipedia)

At times, the sacrifice of an important piece, a knight, a rook or even a queen, opens up your game and paves the way to ultimate victory.

The same can happen in politics in Slovakia, we faced a momentous decision in 2011.

One of the parties of the then government coalition refused to support the creation of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) – the euro-bailout fund, referred to in Slovakia as 'Euroval'.

Without the votes of its MPs, the EFSF ratification would be impossible.

Although the strongest opposition party did support the Euroval, it set its own conditions for supporting the ratification: the dissolution of the government and early election.

The creation of the EFSF was vital not only for rescuing Greece and safeguarding its euro area membership, but also for strengthening the euro area, which already included Slovakia.

As the final vote on the Euroval ratification was approaching, the then Slovak prime minister Iveta Radicova linked it with a vote of confidence in her government.

Her intention was to put pressure on the rebellious government party to support the Euroval, or else to let it be ratified with the help of the opposition, even if the price were to be the collapse of her government and early elections.

The government party opposing the Euroval voted against its ratification and the government did fall.

Early elections had to be called, but the Euroval was ratified by part of the government coalition together with the strongest opposition party.

The government fell, but Slovakia saved its face and – most importantly – the euro area obtained a critical tool for handling crisis situations.

Brexit parallels

Reverting to chess, I would say that Radicova's government made a queen sacrifice in that challenging game only to eventually win the game – to achieve the ratification of Euroval.

In many respects, Brexit makes me think of that experience of the Slovak government and of a difficult chess game.

Prime minister Theresa May, after having survived a no-confidence vote triggered by members of her own party, needs to make a strong, active move in order to win this incredibly demanding chess game.

In my view, a solution for her would be to take a similar approach to the one mentioned in the Slovak story: a 'pro-active resignation'.

It is true that May said she would not lead the conservative party to the next election.

But that's not enough. The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled for 2022, while the deadline for Brexit is the next 29 March.

The situation in the British parliament today is very similar to that in the Slovak parliament in October 2011: an important segment of the ruling party (or of the government coalition in the case of Slovakia) does not support the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

While there are many also on the Labour side who would ratify the agreement, the opposition is quite united in not conceding an easy victory to the Tories.

That is why I can see only one solution: a queen sacrifice. This means calling snap elections in parallel with submitting an orderly withdrawal agreement for ratification.

This would give Conservatives a strong incentive to rally their ranks and Labour the chance to achieve a government change and vote for the Brexit deal without losing face.

I believe - or at least hope - that both sides are well aware that no other Brexit deal preventing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is possible.

A queen sacrifice thus offers a solution, at least assuming that the chess game being played in Westminster is about ratifying the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU.

Of course, things are different if the game is about securing the longest possible premiership for May. Prime minister May has demonstrated admirable negotiating skills as well as great resilience.

Now she has an opportunity to make a winning move that would enable Britain to save face, settle the country's relations with the EU, and secure May's own place in history.

But when was the last time Britain had a chess champion?

Mikulas Dzurinda is president of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies in Brussels, and former prime minister of Slovakia, 1998-2006

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