Risk of contagion
Peter Foster’s excellent essay (“How the deal died,” October) makes for very saddening reading. Brexit is a story of permanent misunderstanding of the EU since 1973, recurrent lies, mounting foolishness, and lost opportunities. UK governments bear the essential responsibility, but the EU also contributed. (Nobody has explained yet why the Withdrawal Agreement had to make provisions for Northern Ireland while forgetting the rest of the future relationship. This was a legal and political mistake, whose cost appears clearer now).
One striking element lies in the incompetence of the recent leaders. Cameron, May and Johnson don’t understand how the EU functions, and seem not to care. Cameron’s 2015 renegotiation was nonsensical (so much so that it was totally forgotten as soon as the 2016 campaign began). Corbyn conducted an ectoplasmic referendum campaign in 2016. May defined her Brexit red lines without proper consultation, and led a disastrous electoral campaign in 2017. Johnson was an abysmal foreign secretary and, as prime minister, jumps from soundbite to soundbite without any coherence.
Another striking element is the mounting intolerance in the country. A 52/48 referendum is seen by many Brexiteers as a democratic choice for hard Brexit (which it is certainly not), and by multiplying Remainers as inexistent. Those pleading for a soft Brexit are attacked from all sides. Meanwhile, death threats abound on the social networks. Jo Cox’s assassination confirms they are far from idle. Racism and xenophobia are on the rise. The bases of democracy—parliament, judges and the press—are contested.
Many on the continent see all this with schadenfreude. They miss the big picture. Hostility to democracy, racism and polarisation are rising in many member states. So, by the way, is
political incompetence. And the death of political conviction. As confirmed by the USA morphing into a banana republic, we undergo a general crisis of western democracy. Too often our “leaders” do not see that Brexit constitutes a particularly acute strain of this general disease. They should reflect more on John Donne’s words: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were… And therefore never…