Brexit, what now?

There is a danger that, sated by coverage and conversation about Brexit, some of us might miss how momentous November 2018 has been.

Nov 30, 2018

By Fr David Stewart SJ
There is a danger that, sated by coverage and conversation about Brexit, some of us might miss how momentous November 2018 has been. This stuff has been going on for well over two years, heaven help us, and has rarely felt like it was going anywhere.

The news cycle has been bringing us crunch summit meetings in Brussels almost weekly.

Along came a last-minute, last-chance draft agreement for departing the European Union that, inter alia, was meant to circumvent the toxic matter of the land border between both parts of Ireland that will become, after March next year, the United Kingdom’s only land border with the European Union.

Practically the only thing that unites almost every player is the desire to maintain a frictionless, invisible border on the island of Ireland, but also to avoid any settlement that would treat the six Northern Irish counties any differently from the rest of the current United Kingdom — in this instance, through a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Prime Minister Theresa May has battled gamely; that’s one thing she can do. She goes into automatic mode, so noticeable that The Guardian newspaper dubbed her the “Maybot,” and the nickname has stuck. Nobody was satisfied with the new draft agreement, which runs to over 500 pages and which, for many, keeps the United Kingdom too closely tied to the European Union. Outrage flew from the lips of such as Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary who had left the government over a previous attempt by Ms. May to reach a concord.

Having now lost two Brexit secretaries including the most recent one Dominic Raab, Prime Minister May came up with a third hapless soul for the job.

However, time is running out before the deadline on Jan 21 for Ms May to submit an exit deal to Parliament.

But we are beginning to hear serious commentary about the possibility of Brexit not happening after all. There are more calls for a second referendum, a so-called people’s vote, on the terms of any proposed deal. What might have been whispered even two months ago is now said openly: A second referendum might not be a binary choice (approving or rejecting a proposed exit deal) but could even ask if Brexit should be cancelled.

The standard line constantly repeated by the government is that the British people democratically voted to leave the European Union, a decision that must be respected. But it is clear that they did not vote for what might happen now or next year; anyway, those voting to leave numbered 16.7 million out of a population of around 62 million.

Ms May, who does not like to be reminded that she was a “remainer,” metronomically repeats that line about the democratically expressed will of the people, but she has very rarely been challenged about that. The referendum process and a system of parliamentary representative governance are, philosophically, an odd fit.

We are witnessing the slow, self-imposed demise of a country that used to congratulate itself on its influence and respect, even if that were gained by dubious colonial means, but that now looks ludicrous on the world stage. There is the realistic prospect of a “no deal” Brexit, meaning that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union without agreements in place concerning imports and customs, police and security cooperation, and even air-traffic control.

Britons have heard that food distribution companies have filled every last available pallet to try to maintain supplies, and the government has not denied that police and troops are preparing for possible unrest should supplies fail. Even those 16.7 million voters did not vote for this, whatever they did vote for. It is quite bizarre that the fifth-largest economy in the world should be reduced to this. The “leavers” have diminished their country, possibly permanently, for the sake of a populist trope about taking back control. -- America Magazine

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