As the ending, or at least what we think will be the ending, to the Brexit saga seems to be getting messier as it gets closer, the hard truth that not much has changed since the initial referendum vote nearly 3 years ago is setting in.
Writing in Politico EU, Tom McTague reminds us that through the ups and downs of the Brexit saga, nothing much has actually changed since the initial referendum, except the closeness of inevitability.
It was at 6:22 a.m. on June 24, 2016–59 minutes before the official tally was unveiled — that the European Council sent its first “lines to take” to the national governments that make up the EU.
The United Kingdom was leaving the European Union and Brussels was determined to seize control of the process.
In the short five-paragraph document written by Council President Donald Tusk’s chief of staff, Piotr Serafin, and circulated among EU ambassadors, the bloc’s remaining 27 national governments were urged to speak with one voice and to insist that the U.K. leave through the Article 50 process set down in EU law.
This meant settling the divorce first and the future relationship second, once the U.K. had left. “In the future we hope to have the U.K. as a close partner of the EU,” the document read. “First we need to agree the arrangements for the withdrawal.”
“We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave” — The official Brexit campaign in 2016
This was crucial. It ran counter to declarations by the U.K.’s victorious Vote Leave campaign not to be bound by the formal exit procedure. If the U.K. agreed to the terms of its departure before its future relationship was settled, the Brexit campaigners had argued, it would deprive itself of much of its leverage.
“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop,” read the official Brexit campaign’s prospectus — endorsed by two of the political leaders of the campaign, then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson. “We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.”
It would be the first of many battles the EU declared, and the first of many it would win, as it stuck to the strategies it laid out in the earliest days of the Brexit process.
Over the 33 months since the referendum, British officials would stage a series of unsuccessful stands, trying to dislodge the EU from its chosen course before grudgingly — and often bitterly — acquiescing amid howls of pain in Westminster.
You can read the rest but the gritty details basically come down to the same truth we’ve known, and which has played out since: The EU has a coherent goal and plan and has stuck to it, while most of the UK was caught unawares by the successful “leave” vote and has been scrambling since.
Whatever your feelings on Brexit, this was always going to be messy. The EU has every incentive to make leaving as horrible as possible to deter any further defections from countries who might not fancy their fates captained by Brussels. The remainers in and out of government in the UK had every reason to drag their feet, obstruct the process, and hope for a second referendum and reversal of Brexit all together. For the Brexiteers, anything other than a hard Brexit with no concessions was going to put them at the mercy of the EU, which as we’ve noted isn’t going to give up anything at all. It’s a Gordian knot that there is no getting out of.
Now, after 8 “indicative” votes all failed in parliament yesterday, the Prime Minster played a risky, but likely the only, card she has left.
On Friday, the prime minister will ask the House of Commons to approve only the withdrawal agreement — the divorce element of the deal she struck with Brussels back in November.
If this passes, the EU will allow the new Brexit date to be set for 22 May.
If it does not, on 12 April the UK will either leave the EU with no deal or have to request a longer delay to Brexit.
A longer delay would force the UK to once again elect MEPs to the European Parliament.
In other words, even the very big “if” of the halved deal passing, there still is little hope the rest will pass, the EU will agree, extensions will be done, any meaningful negotiations will meet with parliament’s approval…on and on and on. Like it has been for 33 months. Until general elections are called for, or perhaps even a second EU referendum.
Which would be in the greatest of autocratic traditions to be foisted onto our UK friends: keep voting till you get it right. Or at least right as Brussels sees it. Which is the point of why the Brexiteers want to leave.
See how that circle never ends?
God help them.
Originally published at ordinary-times.com on March 29, 2019.