"Amid the frenzy, Prospect’s role is to provide some perspective on how Britain got itself into this perilous position, where things are heading and how bad they could get"by Tom Clark / September 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
Life, it is often said, hangs by a thread. Liberal democracy certainly does. One day in sleepy late August, No 10 announced that a parliament confronting almighty questions and a tight legal deadline would be suspended for several weeks. Downing Street also told journalists that if MPs passed a no-confidence vote the prime minister would not resign, but would instead force through a divisive no-deal Brexit, and only then go to the country—after the irreversible deed was done.
We shall see. The autumn will see many bluffs called. The times are mercurial. Each day brings new events that alter our understanding of what happened the day before. And we shall—very possibly—soon have a general election. Amid the frenzy, Prospect’s role is to provide some perspective on how Britain got itself into this perilous position, where things are heading and how bad they could get.
The proximate cause of the crisis is three years of grinding failure to deliver on the Brexit deal that the winning Leave campaign had promised in the referendum. To tell that story we have turned to Peter Foster—the formidably well-connected Europe editor of the Daily Telegraph. Meticulous and measured, he explains step-by-step how the negotiations were blown. He pinpoints grandstanding in London and rigidity in Brussels. But the single biggest problem that’s haunted the entire process is—in Foster’s judgment—the UK’s stubborn refusal to face up to reality.
Any meaningful deal was bound to require aligning with Europe on various rules: that is the essence of a modern trade agreement. But such has been the spell cast by the absolutist rhetoric of the hard Brexiteers that some imagine a country can run a commercial policy which is at once totally frictionless and totally autonomous. This is a logical absurdity, most brutally exposed on the island of Ireland, where the Boris Johnson administration has ramped up the pretence that one can have two separate regulatory regimes without a border between them. Some soul-searching is overdue. What is it about British culture—and especially the British press—which has nurtured such nonsense, and then allowed it to reign unchallenged?
Reality will out. If the democratic process can’t adjust to accommodate it, then it will eventually begin to unravel. Which is—at least in the opinion of one of the country’s most distinguished historians, Richard Evans—what we are witnessing with parliament’s suspension. To gauge…