The Brexit Burden
You can remain on friendly terms after a divorce but a condition of doing so is that you both recognise that you are divorced. Brexit isn’t a divorce, of course, but it has some of the characteristics of one. Both sides feel failures at not making the togetherness work. Both parties want to appear generous while screwing the maximum out of the situation for themselves. Both try to maintain an air of civility even if they are slagging each other off behind their backs. Probably both feel bitter – about themselves if not about the other.
The vote for Brexit was a mistake. More and more people in Britain and Continental Europe are realising this. Damage your own economy to make a ‘ya-boo’ point and you will soon see how silly you look. Stability is a precious quality in today’s world. However, once the deed is done, it is done. The question is “Is it done yet?” Much as I would like to say ‘no’ I fear it really is. If there were a way back it would have emerged before this. A stronger PM in Britain might have sold unity but when the voters are restless democracy will have its way.
So how shall Europe and Britain cope with the Burden of Brexit? Giving away money helps a difficult break-up but not if the basis of the gift isn’t clearly understood. Pay-to-leave may be part of the terms on which Britain was a member of EU but the negotiation must yield benefits for the payer, too. The Cabinet collegiality to decide the cash and terms of leaving makes a sensible negotiation impossible. I wouldn’t accept the job of negotiating the way out unless I had a free hand with a generous top price. Returning to base for every additional dollar is crazy. I’ve seen it happen with company take-over bids and it doesn’t work.
Situations like Brexit, whether divorce or take-over, require a steady Kissinger quality if they are to succeed. Stature of the single negotiator is a key part. A mixture of Prime Minister, Secretary for Dissolution, Secretary for Rejuvenating Trade, Secretary for GOK is about as bad as you can get. Something as important as Brexit is the Prime Minister’s job, nobody else’s. Add the blushing bridesmaids and you get the kind of chaos we see now.
Saddest of all is the illusion that keeping some good trade deals with Continental Europe will solve the Brexit problems. Europe is not the competitor, merely a distraction from the real action. That is in China, India, United States. Within ten years the world will be polarised between these three, maybe even between only two of them. Flirting with good trade relations with Luxembourg is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Britain has a history of coping well with adversity. It is manifest in the emergence of a strong character with outstanding leadership qualities. The arena admittedly looks rather barren of such talent at present but it must be there. Sixty-five million people must have someone strong, fit and able. Now is the time for this person to stand up and take charge.
If they don’t the ship won’t sink but it will drift, possibly onto the rocks.
Step forward Margaret or Winston Whoever-you-are.