With just two weeks until a crunch EU summit, Britain is refusing to put forward serious proposalsby Jonathan Lis / March 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
Brexit resembles a short-lived dystopian sitcom in two specific ways. First, the farcical incompetence of its protagonists, which stretches and eventually ends the patience of the audience. Second, the unnerving way in which, at the end of each fast-paced, multi-storylined episode, the underdogs’ despair remains agonisingly unchanged and overwhelmingly predictable.
So it has proved over the last few weeks. Against the deepening drama and black comedy of the government’s own dire economic impact assessments, the prime minister’s admission that we will not, after all, gain the “exact same benefits” of our European Union membership, and the foreign secretary’s comparison of the Irish border’s century-old wound to the boundaries of a London borough, we remain largely where we have been since the start. The government, hopeless in intention and hapless in result, has followed the traditional formula and garnered the traditional consequences.
Last Wednesday the EU spelled out, once again, the realities of Brexit—this time in terms of the Irish border, and the required practical steps to implement the UK and EU’s joint December agreement which promised a last resort of “full regulatory alignment.” Two days later, the PM again delivered a speech targeted squarely at a domestic audience (in fact, the two wings of the Tory party), which called for bespoke Brexit outcomes she must have known Brussels would not accept. Five days after that, European Council president Donald Tusk again confirmed that the EU could not accept them. The pattern may have differed in nuance and degree, but was infused with the same conflict of exceptionalist delusion and political reality that has pervaded Brexit’s trajectory from the start.
Theresa May’s Mansion House speech was a success compared with her only other significant Brexit speeches, in the sense that it did not leave the EU fully horrified (as with Lancaster House), or immediately spill into a quagmire of contradictory, ego-driven ministerial briefings (as with Florence). Certainly, it also struck a more reasoned tone (she did not traduce “Remain” voters or threaten to burn EU regulation), and conceded significant ground on future convergence with EU rules and a role for the European Court of Justice. Most significantly, she confessed for the first time that we would not, in fact, be able to consume unlimited…