If you give someone an inch, they’ll take a mile. What happens if you give them a country?by Jonathan Lis / February 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Brexit has claimed many scalps over the course of its unhappy two-year rule: not least the traditional British pursuits of liberalism, internationalism and a decent reputation. But it seems that the British value most despised by the hardline Brexiteers, and therefore one of the first to be condemned, is compromise. No matter how many carrots, concessions or victories the prime minister drops into their outstretched hands, these flag-waving Mick Jaggers just can’t get satisfaction.
The last 30 years have seen a steady accumulation of Eurosceptic demands. Some, such as Britain’s European Union rebate in the 1980s, were fully endorsed by the government of the day. Others, such as the total rejection of the Maastricht Treaty, were not. Today, the main battle is not about degrees of integration but about whether we accept any deal at all. The Jacob Rees-Mogg wing of the Tory party—which threatens a formal take-over in the event of any vacancy for prime minister—is determined to walk away from the EU at any cost. How did we get here?
In a sense, the hard Brexiteers took their cue from the prime minister herself. The rot set in from the moment Theresa May announced her bid to be Conservative leader. Knowing that she could only succeed with Brexiteers’ support, she declared that “Brexit means Brexit”—and for months afterwards ignored Remainers and their concerns. The referendum had been a 51.9-48.1 per cent split, and as such demanded an inclusive approach. Instead, the government and media developed, in tandem, a narrative of “metropolitan elites,” “citizens of nowhere” and “Remoaners.”
May, along with the right-wing press, worked hard to place these inauthentic global citizens in opposition to the “people” whose will, however abstractly expressed, had to be religiously obeyed. Any effort to stay in the single market or customs union, or implement real-world efforts to preserve the invisibility of the Irish border, was scorned not as compromise but sabotage. The eventual government climbdowns over money and the transition only came because the EU forced them. On the rare occasion now that the prime minister does appeal to Remainers, she merely tells them that everything will be alright, and never explains how.
The principal reason for the government’s dogma—and cowardice—is fear of the hardline Brexiteers. Locked in a symbiotic psychodrama of co-dependency,…