The history of the past couple of decades has been of futile attempts to appease the fantasies of die-hard Brexiter zealots. Media driven distorted representations of the EU have cowed successive Prime Ministers, bringing the UK to its present state of ignominy.
The vision of peaceful cooperation has continually been maligned by ministers who have too often portrayed the EU as an enemy whilst appropriating successful fruits of EU cooperation as their own. Eating the cake and still having it to eat again, claiming the benefits while rejecting the costs of cooperation has been the hallmark of the Brexiter dream. Allied with xenophobic populism to the point of barely disguised racism, the concoction has been toxic, yet at the same time, the UK has been living in a strange dualism: while the Brexit tragicomedy has played out as a gruesome ‘reality’ show, with the government’s 432 to 202 defeat as another sorry saga, life has continued as it has had to.
Yet Brexit is real. In a couple of months the demons must hit home. The Article 50 period might possibly be extended a few weeks, but come May, there would be legal challenges because all EU members are obliged to hold EU elections.
Self-evidently, Brexit ought to be thrown out, but the venom has become systemic. A referendum to countermand the flawed vote of 2016 would only partially draw the poison, but other avenues are worse or given the current state of Westminster, unachievable. Under Corbyn, only a referendum would drag Labour on board.
In an odd way, an ignominious ‘Brexit In Name Only’ (BINO), remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, respecting the Court of Justice of the EU, might be one of the least toxic outcomes, both in the UK and across the EU, however currently in any case, there is no mechanism or parliamentary process that could feasibly bring this about since neither anti –Brexiters, such as myself nor many Brexiters would actively support this.
After a nasty, damaging, no deal chaos, a BINO outcome could be the life raft that the UK would eventually cleave to, but no one with any interest in the matter could advocate this given the enduring damage that lack of an agreement would cause.
I see no realistic alternative to a referendum, but, unfortunately, even for this the impediments may prove insuperable.
With the a third of the governing party voting against itself, it made no sense of MPs of other parties to lend support; had the motion passed, the disagreement and indecision in government would merely have been perpetuated and the corrosive uncertainty prolonged. Meanwhile the opposition is enfeebled by a leadership out of tune with its members and most of its MPs. It is an irony that May and Corbyn are closer to each other on Brexit than they are with their members.
At the very moment where courageous and far-sighted visionary leadership is sorely needed, it is so palpably lacking on both sides of politics in the UK. A flaw in the political and social character of the country portends its downfall: it is a truly national tragedy.
Photos from Luxembourg Liberal Democrats among the more than 700,000 at the people’s march against Brexit. With particular thanks to Sue and Peter.