Both camps prefer simple slogans to concrete proposalsby Pawel Swidlicki / August 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
It is now well over two years since Britain voted to leave the European Union but despite the huge political volatility that the result unleashed, for the most part the debate about how to proceed remains stuck, unable to move meaningfully beyond the rhetoric of the referendum campaign. On the whole, neither side has demonstrated that it is willing to grasp the unpalatable trade-offs inherent in Brexit, and instead these are wished away. This in turn has exacerbated what would in any event be a very difficult and complicated process, and contributed to the government’s long periods of paralysis.
On the Remain side, many have still not fully come to terms with Brexit and jump with relish on allegations of Vote Leave misconduct in the belief this renders the result invalid, or that the vote ought to be re-run. This fails to consider what such a decision would mean for confidence in the democratic process at a time of creeping authoritarianism around the world.
The actions of most Brexiteers on the other hand bring to mind the proverbial dog that caught the bus and didn’t quite know what to do next. The lack of a concrete plan was an asset during the referendum as it allowed Brexit to be a sufficiently blank canvas for a wide range of groups—from nostalgic nationalists to cosmopolitan advocates of globalisation—to support it as the necessary first step towards the realisation of their respective agendas. In victory however, this lack of a workable plan has proved to be a major liability. It has hobbled the government’s attempts to deliver Brexit as it tries to square several competing and at times contradictory imperatives.
For example, during the campaign it was easy to dismiss concerns about the status of the Irish border and therefore the Good Friday Agreement as “scaremongering” and claim it would not be difficult to find a solution that would allow the border to remain “just as free-flowing as it is today,” in the words of the Brexit campaigner and then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers. In practice, however, it has become apparent there is no magic solution that allows the UK to leave the single market and customs union and avoid a hard border in Ireland, while also avoiding a new border down the…