The Pathos of Politics (96-6) Brexit


On a referendum held on 23 June 2016, Britain voted by a margin of 4% to leave the EU. (The referendum was a ploy played by British Prime Minister David Cameron to shut up Brexit supporters in his party. Cameron misjudged and lost his post for it.) The result was spurred by a campaign of lies. For those who voted to leave, it was a protest vote against the status quo: imagining that their country might be better off independent, rather than staying in an international union which had failed to deal with a succession of crises, from the financial collapse of 2008 and resultant economic stagnation, to a resurgent Russia, and the massive influx of migrants from the war in Syria and other conflicts. (The UK was not affected by any of the named crises by being in the EU. Instead, EU membership had been a great advantage to Britain, as it was to learn with its departure.)

Somnambulists to a fault, UK politicians and the world at large were caught unawares. Political and economic panic ensued.

The main impact will be massive disorder in the EU. ~ French international relations researcher Thierry de Montbrial fretting in 2016

The immediate response by EU leaders to Britain’s internal poll was childishly inhospitable. While the procedure to initiate exit from the EU is entirely up to the government of country wishing to do so, EU leaders demanded an immediate withdrawal. Befuddled Britain took its own sweet time in pulling the ripcord to exit the EU.

The British government was utterly unprepared for the complexity of treaty negotiations required to exit the EU and retain the favorable trade deals it had by being a member. The problems inherent in leaving the European Union were obvious, which means Brits voting to leave out of trite pique was shortsightedly self-defeating.

It is an illusion to suggest that the UK will be permitted to leave the European Union, but then be free to opt back into the best parts of the European project. ~ Belgian politician and EU parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt in January 2017

In the 3 years that followed the Brexit vote, Prime Minister Theresa May incompetently tried to negotiate an ongoing relationship with the European Union rather than crash out of the EU and further damage Britain’s economy and diplomatic standing. In the meantime, facing uncertainty, many international companies relocated from the British Isles. The UK slumped economically. Domestic political backbiting became especially acute, with some of the more sensible members of the House of Commons abandoning both of the major parties to form their own.

Abetted by an inept cabinet, it took Prime Minister May 2 years to disabuse herself of delusions that she could cherry-pick the UK’s association with the EU. Instead, the EU wrote the terms of Britain’s walking papers: an outcome that was clearly predictable, based upon the EU constitution and the balance of power. The British parliament rejected the deal by 230 votes: the largest majority in modern times.

Despite the education that the Brits received over what a folly it was to leave the EU, British politicians irrationally could not bring themselves to ask their citizens to reconsider Brexit. As of mid-2019, a pall of uncertainty clung, with Britain unceremoniously exiting the EU without any negotiated deal a distinct possibility – the most disastrous option for the UK’s political and economic health.