The Straits Times says

Pressing on with decision on Brexit

Given the narrow margin with which the referendum on a British exit from the European Union (EU) passed last year, getting to the actual departure point was never going to be an easy task. This week's House of Commons vote, which Prime Minister Theresa May lost - her first parliamentary defeat - underscores the conflicting emotions even within her own Conservative Party as the British contemplate life outside the Union. Under the amendment successfully introduced to the European Union Withdrawal Bill, MPs get a legal guarantee of being able to vote on the final deal Britain strikes with EU headquarters. One lesson of the parliamentary vote is that critical national decisions should not be taken on partisan grounds, as was former Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to hold the referendum itself. Once the results were clear, Parliament should have been given a say on the final shape of the withdrawal. That would have upheld the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.

The latest development is not a Brexit-killing manoeuvre so much as one that adds complications. The stir in the House of Commons aside (the Conservatives are already moving to paper over the cracks within the party and the Cabinet), there is no reason why talks should not proceed reasonably smoothly on the two-year transition period that Britain sees after its formal departure in March 2019. EU leaders seem to appreciate Mrs May's predicament; those trying to block her will find that Brussels will be in no mood to negotiate afresh to include their inputs.

Against criticism from the likes of Mr Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, that the two-year transition is a deception that would see Britain leave the EU "in name only", Mrs May has taken several steps to make Brexit as painless as possible to the British and EU economies. She has yielded on citizens' rights and been remarkably dextrous in breaking the impasse over the Irish border, the final obstacle to opening trade talks with EU leaders. As it now stands, Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, will stay within the EU's rules of a single market and customs union under which Ireland, the member-state, operates. Britain, however, is committed to leaving the customs union and the single market.

Nothing is worse for business than uncertainty. It is important, hence, that the political momentum in the Brexit talks must not be allowed to falter. Unquestionably, Asia would have liked to see the EU stay united. However, Asia also appreciates the impulses that caused the drive towards Brexit. Since so much of Asian investment in Europe is routed through Britain, some complications are inevitable and portend a vexatious period. However, Asians are a pragmatic people. Rather than lament life's vicissitudes, they will make the best of the world as they find it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2017, with the headline 'Pressing on with decision on Brexit'. Print Edition | Subscribe