Departure from the European Union is the most gruelling constitutional challenge faced by a British government in living memory. Two years on from the referendum the sense of national fatigue is palpable. The process of disentangling ourselves from 45 years of European law is proving immensely draining. A huge sum of political energy is being expended. What will be the end result?
Listen to hardcore Remainers and you’d think that Britain was heading for catastrophe. They have spent the years since the 2016 vote prophesising doom. Brexit will send Britain into meltdown, the thinking runs. The economy is headed for collapse. We are erecting barriers with our biggest trading partner, which will devastate small business. We are doing irreperable damage to our transnational alliances. British security is being undermined. These were the warnings during the campaign and still they come.
It’s one way of looking at it, and there is certainly some truth to the reading. There is right now lots of uncertainty in the system. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. Remainers are right that Brexit is a bad idea, but they miss something fundamental. The real problem isn’t that Brexit means chaos, at least not in the long term. The real problem is that it’s pointless.
The truth is that Brexit was always unlikely to send the British economy into total meltdown, and is still unlikely to. There is a chance that negotiations collapse, but it’s an outside possibility. No, far more likely is that Brexit will not result in disaster—but that in safeguarding against the damage, you defeat the point of leaving in the first place.
If Britain were to exit in the hardest way imaginable, in the way hardline Brexiteers envisage, leaving customs arrangements, the single market, ending ECJ jurisdiction, leaving all EU agencies, it would indeed be catastrophic. If talks broke down things would be even worse. At the most extreme end airplanes would not take off. Isotopes for chemotherapy would not be delivered. The economy would fall off a cliff.
But a fundamental truth of politics is becoming clearer as Article 50 winds on. The truth is that no government—even one ostensibly committed to a hard exit—can look at those costs and not blink. No political body with a built-in instinct for self preservation can weigh those consequences, in full consideration of…