Citizens must be confronted with the whole truth—and then asked to decide anewby Tom Clark / January 31, 2019 / Leave a comment
The Brexit locomotive is running out of legal road, and everybody is fuming. Even Leavers who would be content to coast off the tracks are raging that the May government devoted two years to her deal, rather than properly planning to go it alone. Those who had vaguely hoped for a softer exit were disappointed by the stark shortcomings in Theresa May’s plan—which hands back, rather than takes back, control by requiring the UK to submit to rules it can no longer help to write. And as Jaguar-Land Rover sheds jobs, and Dyson’s HQ shifts to Singapore, Remainers think the economic damage of which they’ve long warned is at last starting to translate from theory to fact.
Even before Brexit, to adapt from the Dodo in Alice, the mood could be characterised as “everybody has lost, and all must have grievances.” Gaby Hinsliff’s brilliant tour d’horizon of our troubled political culture explores why nobody feels like they’re winning today. Online “debate” has fostered a fashion for taking umbrage and venting outrage (see Adam Wagner). Party cohesion is collapsing—just look at what the mild-mannered Dominic Grieve has to say about the Tories—and this has combined with constitutional changes (which I discuss here) to produce a grudging stalemate, where no one feels on top. Amid this resentment all round, Britain’s politics must now nonetheless, somehow, recast half a century of commercial and diplomatic policy—and at break-neck speed.
After the thumping defeat of May’s deal in mid-January, something surely has to give. But what? The usual British way to resolve an impasse is a general election. It may come to pass, and yet nobody can explain how it will help. The best guess is that the result would roughly reproduce something like the current Commons. Even if the Conservatives were to win back their majority, the government benches would still be hopelessly split; as for Labour, in the heat of a campaign it would most likely double down on its artful ambiguity. Besides, in solipsistic Westminster, it is too easily forgotten that the status of the UK is in the end a matter of international law not local politics. The ticking clock that matters is in Brussels.
The first thing that needs to give, therefore, is time—London must ask Brussels for an…