Brexit is sometimes more entetaining than Match of the Day. There are certainly more goals, especially own goals, in the Houses of Parliament. I recall the late manager of Liverpool football club, Bill Shankly, saying that Football was more important than life or death. That was, of course, hyperbole, but I really do think Brexit is that important. We now have the unedifying prospect of PM Theresa May going back to the EU to negotiate the un-negotiable. The prospects for success are so unlikely that former Pro-Hard Brexit Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, is preparing the ground by blaming the EU for the failure before it’s happened!
Let’s remember that we, the UK, signed up to the Lisbon Treaty and all the Ts&Cs in the first place. We, the UK, fired the starting gun on departure by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty; we didn’t have to do that when we did. Our negotiators have spent the best part of 18 months negotiating the terms of our exit while arguing amongst themselves about what they were negotiating on. Negotiation implies both ‘sides’ having a wish list and meeting somewhere in the middle: compromise. In the midst of that process Theresa May called a snap general election because she, mistakenly as it turned out, thought the Labour Party would lose seats and thus secure her position in Parliament. The disastrous consequence of losing her slender, but workable, majority was having to give the 10 Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs a massive influence over the Brexit process. Hence the disaster of the so-called “backstop”, a way to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which is and remains in the EU) open. Doing this in the toxic context of the Good Friday Agreement, the failed devolved Northern Ireland executive, and the simmering unresolved legacy of the “troubles” was nothing short of criminally reckless.
Whatever, a negotiation was concluded and the UK signed. Now, in the face of massive dissent across the House of Commons (never mind the country as a whole) our government is seeking to re-open the negotiation, in the face of explicit and oft repeated statements from the EU (individually and collectively) that there will be no renegotiation. We must remember that word: “compromise”. In order to get to a Brexit agreement at all, both ‘sides’ have compromised. We would do well to remember what the other 27 members of the EU have given up from their wish lists. For example, will Spain want to bring Gibraltar back into play? The EU Parliament is about to have elections too, and we don’t know what the make up of the new legislature will be; perhaps it will be more nationalistic. Poland and Hungary have already ‘lurched’ to the right. Other EU states are former eastern bloc countries with significant ‘rumps’ of pro-nationalist voters. Italy is (habitually) in meltdown and so is Greece. Perhaps the EU Parliament will have a distinctly right wing posture. Perhaps it will want to reopen the negotiations too? So, even though it will impact on the EU overall, the EU cannot afford to delay. It may suit them, overall, to say “We’re done with negotiating – leave”, both to set an example to the others but also to concentrate on the bigger picture of EU stability.
On 29th January 2019 the UK Parliament had opportunities to pass amendments which would have bought more time to conclude an agreement, or even amended the existing agreement, and they passed up the chance. Having spent 18 months taking a negotiating position of saying “No deal is better than a bad deal”,what they have done is tell the EU we will not accept “No Deal” and we have less than 2 months until Brexit Day. The timescale for passing legislation to give effect to our departure is impossible.
It should be no surprise that Parliament is split from top to bottom on this issue. The main parties are split, both for and against Brexit, as is the country as a whole. No amount of negotiating, of renegotiating, of persuading or bullying is going to change that. No new referendum, the so-called “People’s Vote”, will change that. I believe the process of achieving Brexit will prove to have been vastly more damaging to our society than the fact of Brexit. We urgently need, both politically and personally, to prepare for what comes next. We, the UK, as a nation (or collection of nations) need to have a grown up conversation about who we are, and what kind of country and society we want to have. We need to heal. The sight of Nigel Farage laughing out loud at the frustration of the EU Parliament last week was hard to take, but it encapsulated the very real danger we face now. There is a political vacuum forming which is ideal ground for populist and charismatic politicians with extreme views. It’s no use wishing it were otherwise. I believe Brexit is a disaster for the UK, you may agree or disagree, but a fractured Europe is something we should all fear and we cannot afford to look away now.