Reflecting on Brexit

British politicians are only now it seems discovering that actions have consequences. The chaos surrounding the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union is simply because childhood lessons have been ignored by those who should know better.

I understand the frustration many people (in many European countries) have with the EU. I agree that it looks easier just to dump the social engineers in Brussels and get on with life. Looks though, as have been so often told, can be deceiving.

Holding a referendum on EU membership was probably a reasonable political response to growing unhappiness within the UK. The government could have used the results to push for reforms within the EU. But what bright soul decided to make it binding? Did no-one foresee the problems of a close vote?

You shouldn’t end a 40-year economic relationship without fully considering the consequences and understanding the ramifications. In 2016 the British people voted with their hearts, not their heads, and it was close. A second referendum held today would I expect produce a much different result.

On January 15 The House of Commons rejected the Brexit deal that Prime Minister May’s government had negotiated with the EU. I guess it wasn’t good enough for them.

Today no-one knows exactly what is going to happen at the end of March. I’m not sure there is time to forge a new deal and have it ratified by all parties by the deadline.

What I don’t understand is why British politicians expected a sweetheart deal. They in effect told the EU that they wanted a divorce. Why would the EU want to give them the house, the car and generous alimony? From a European perspective it makes more sense to let the UK know there will be no favours here. If you want to leave, then just take your clothes and go. What happens next is your problem.

From my vantage point, it seems that a lot of what is happening in the UK comes from politicians with petty political rivalries putting those before the good of the country. That is not leadership.

It is too late to pretend that the referendum didn’t happen. It isn’t too late for politicians to come together and fix the problem. A second referendum would have made the most sense, but for some reason the government rejects that. Too bad – there is precedent for such a move.

To boil a lot of history down to a few short sentences, in the 1940s the Dominion of Newfoundland, an independent country at the time, went bankrupt. The government wanted to rejoin the UK. The UK didn’t want them back.

In 1948 they held a referendum on whether Newfoundland should join Canada. (The Canadian people didn’t get a vote in the matter.) It wasn’t a simple yes or no, but a choice between Canada, independence and a joint UK/Newfoundland commission running the country (as had been the case since 1934). There was no majority. Essentially, Newfoundland was a bankrupt country with no options. The UK didn’t want them, they couldn’t survive on their own. They held a second referendum six weeks later. The rest, as they say, is history as Newfoundland became Canada’s tenth province.

I am not going to presume to tell British politicians how to fix this mess they have created. As a sometime political consultant, I know politicians rarely listen to free advice, even good advice.

Hopefully though, in the wake of Parliament’s rejection of the divorce deal, there is someone who can see clearly enough to realize that concrete action must be taken. The first thing to do is deal with that March 31 deadline.

There is huge uncertainty, socially and especially economically as the British departure from the EU rapidly approaches. Yes, they should have worked out a deal long ago, but these things tend to be last minute (for reasons I won’t go into here). Why not just press the pause button?

There is no legal reason, as far as I know, why the UK and the EU can’t postpone the exit date for six months or a year while they consider options. That gives time to negotiate a new deal, or hold a second referendum, and would ease the pressure on financial markets and the expatriate community.

To me the big question is whether the EU would take the UK back. Once you’ve filed for divorce, it is hard to repair the relationship.

One comment

  1. The whole situation here is a complete mess at the moment with so many petty disagreements and various other agendas complicating the Brexit question. It was never going to be easy after 40 years but it probably will happen now although what the exit deal is remains to be seen. Brexit has split the country in half and unfortunately that division will almost certainly never heal given the string feelings on either side. I personally wish they had never had the referendum.

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