London has spent three years refusing to confront the real Brexit choices on offer. Will it continue to do so right up until 31st October?by Peter Foster / September 2, 2019 / Leave a comment
How did Brexit become a “do-or-die” project deliverable only through an abrupt divorce that threatens to do lasting damage both to the economy and the constitutional integrity of the UK? Back in 2016, neither the official nor the unofficial Leave campaigns advocated crashing out—instead, the expectation was that the UK would negotiate a close partnership with our European neighbours with an orderly transition to the new terms.
Changing from that course should have required a deliberate choice. National sovereignty was, after all, the animating ideal behind Brexit: Britain voted to “take back control.” Life would not necessarily be easy outside the EU, but at least the UK would be free to make its own decisions.
But looking back at the last three years, the most striking aspect of the way London has played its hand has been its reluctance—even its inability—to make any real choices at all. Doors have been slammed on viable options, negotiations fumbled for lack of direction and hard choices consistently ducked.
Theresa May did occasionally make quiet concessions to reality, but found it almost impossible even to settle on a cogent negotiating position, never mind pull off all the political manoeuvres and persuasion required to make it stick.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, noisily insists that he has made his choice—to prioritise departure on 31st October above all else. In August, he zipped across to the continent, made nonchalant noises about Britain’s ability to cope with a no-deal departure, and, in effect, told Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron that if Europe wants to avoid this, it needs to rethink its own red lines.
Tabloid headline-writers might call this resolve, but the prime minister continues to pass over many of the real choices confronting the country in silence. He still cannot explain how he actually expects Brexit to work, or how he would approach the subsequent negotiations with the EU as a non-member.
At least for the next month or two, he will continue to face the same practical dilemmas May was unable to resolve; and he will be operating under many of the same political pressures, too. In figuring out where Johnson is actually taking Britain, then, it is as well to start by…