There's still time to do Brexit right. This is howby David Allen Green / November 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
The United Kingdom is facing a departure from the European Union on terms that few if anybody in the UK seems to positively want. Is this bound to happen? Or is it not too late for Brexit to be done another way?
At the time of the referendum no UK politician, campaigner or pundit—and presumably no voter—wanted a departure based on the current draft withdrawal agreement, especially with its Irish backstop arrangements and its long transition period in which the UK will continue to have legal and hefty financial obligations without any representation. Few wanted the UK to leave with no withdrawal agreement at all. But unless something unforeseen happens, the current draft withdrawal agreement or no agreement are the two most likely outcomes.
How this predicament has come about will one day be of interest to historians. Perhaps they will say that these two available forms of Brexit were inevitable, and no better method of departure would ever have been possible. They may conclude there was a direct line from the referendum result, or perhaps from the Article 50 notification, which led to what is currently set to happen on 29th March 2019.
But historians do not always find such neat lines of causation. The historian Conrad Russell set out how the English Civil War was not inevitable. The conflict instead was the result of various contingent events, and non-events—some of them much earlier, some late in the day—any one of which could have led to different consequences.
If we apply the same logic to Brexit it would mean that even now, as 2018 draws to a close, a different approach to the UK’s departure could be adopted which would avoid both a Brexit on unwanted terms and a Brexit on no terms at all. This may be politically unlikely, as senior politicians are invested in the current process. But, legally at least, they are not prisoners of process. An alternative route is, even now, still possible.
Three part predicament
There are three aspects to the current predicament. The first has been the UK’s lack of clarity and resolve about what it actually wants after Brexit. London has, for instance, no real idea about how it wants the crucial Irish border issue addressed. It has proved politically incapable of committing…