Thursday, 13 July 2017

How do you solve a problem like Brexit?

It is a natural British phenomenon to be simultaneously tremendously cynical and baselessly optimistic, particularly in matters of patriotism. This phenomenon is perhaps best illustrated with the Brexit negotiations David Davis started the end of June.

Though the left is wanton to brand Mr. Davis’s initial negotiations as wrought with concessions to his opposite, Michel Barnier, and the right keen to use words such as bilateral, professional and mutual, one should not ignore the fact that many do not believe these talks will result in a good result for the United Kingdom, regardless of political leaning.

In a week where Theresa May called for consensus, this is what I offer. Observe Mr. Farage’s comments after the general election result in early June, where he expressed concern that Brexit would not be done right. He even threatened to re-join front line politics, which is perhaps a more terrifying prospect than the often discussed cliff edge. Or, take Mr. Farage’s polar opposite, someone such as Vince Cable, who said on Andrew Marr that he felt Brexit might not even happen, given the challenges it presents.

In this landscape, I suggest it’s irrelevant whether Mr. Davis made concessions to the Europeans or not. The result of these negotiations is already determined, regardless of which side one is on. The deal will be bad. This is consensus, albeit to Mrs. May’s horror.

And make no mistake, there will be a deal. Whoever is prime minister in March 2019 (something that, at this time, seems extremely uncertain) must ensure there is a deal with the EU, or else their reign will be tarnished with what would be seen as a great failure of cooperation and diplomacy. When Mrs. May says, “no deal is better than a bad deal,” she is not technically wrong – there are worse, hypothetical, deals that could be offered to us – but she is being deceptive in her stance. There must be a deal, less her position be untenable.

And thus we have a problem. On the one hand, we have a political landscape where right and left will be unhappy with whatever deal is eventually reached, and at the same time we have requirement to strike a deal, or get a new prime minister. Indeed, if after June’s election result Mrs. May did not see her position as untenable, there is little chance she will voluntarily walk to the hangman’s noose in 2019.

One might simply put it as, ‘how do you solve a problem like Brexit?’ Well, for many Leave campaigners Brexit was never a problem, but a solution to a great many problems. Sovereignty, the NHS, immigration. These were all sicknesses for which Brexit was the panacea. But the reality, at least from a Remain perspective, is Brexit is not a panacea, and this will be evidenced when, post-2019, these problems still exist.

If Mrs. May secures a deal that Brexiteers applaud, they may have to eat their words when these problems persist. Though they will not, for Mrs. May will not secure a deal that satisfies Brexiteers. Perhaps we will have a transitional arrangement, or retain membership of the Customs Union, or pay a large divorce bill. It does not matter. What matters is that Brexit must remain an issue for those on the right, less they admit their errors in calling for the UK’s exit of the EU. From a Brexiteers’s perspective, they cannot afford be satisfied.

2019 will not see the emergence of a post-Euroscepticism era in the UK; rather, we will bear witness to the rise of the Releaver. In the general election, the term Re-Leaver was used to describe a Remain voter who was planning on voting Conservative. But I suggest a Releaver is actually something quite different, and quite literal: someone who will demand we renegotiate our terms of leaving the European Union.

I imagine a phrase such as, ‘leaving the EU was right, but the way we left was wrong,’ to be quite a common phrase is 2019, when the problems that face this country persist and the EU, now no longer a viable scapegoat, must be recast in that role again.

For Brexit is a tremendously complicated issue, but the politics, at least in a pragmatic sense, is remarkably simple. As a country, we must now all be cautiously optimistic for the future, for what else can we be? But make no mistake, the infamous British cynicism will return, if indeed it ever left, and the whole Brexit furore will rumble on beyond our eventual departure. Mrs. May might believe no deal is better than a bad deal, but perhaps it is time we all come to accept there might only be bad deals going around?

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