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Michael Swartz / Dec. 14, 2018

Botching Brexit Leaves No Good Way Out

Prime Minister May had one job: Steward the transition out of the EU. Oops.

Back in 2016 it seemed so easy. Having overcome a grueling campaign against the group known as “Remain,” those Britons who decided in favor of leaving the European Union and charting their own economic and political course free of Brussels-induced shackles thought they’d made it through the hard part and that the inevitable divorce would be amicable. Reality since then has been a bit disappointing.

As The Heritage Foundation’s Nile Gardiner wrote at the time, “Britain will no longer be subject to European legislation, with Britain’s Parliament retaking control. British judges will no longer be overruled by the European Court of Justice, and British businesses will be liberated from mountains of EU regulations, which have undermined economic liberty.” Some believed that thanks to the example set, Great Britain would be the first of many nations to leave the EU. After enough of its partners left, that line of thinking continued, the EU and its overburdening bureaucracy would collapse on its own.

The defeat of “Remain” also meant its top supporter, Prime Minister David Cameron, would no longer stay on as the British government’s leader. Fellow Conservative Party member Theresa May was selected to replace Cameron weeks later, and negotiating the withdrawal from the EU has been the signature issue of her tenure. While May was not a Brexit supporter, she ran for the job knowing it was a task that needed to be accomplished. By many accounts, however, she’s failed: “Presiding over a divided party, facing a pro-Remain British establishment and negotiating with a hostile EU, May never had an easy task,” opined columnist Rich Lowry. He concluded, “She has nonetheless not only failed to rise to the occasion but been crushed by it.” Despite this ineptitude, May survived a no-confidence vote earlier this week.

To be fair, Prime Minster May has been handicapped from the start. Her party, not to mention the UK at large, was split severely by the Brexit issue. The Remain and Leave sides didn’t necessarily hew to British party lines, either, as there were Tories such as Cameron and May who were fine with staying and members of the opposition Labour Party, particularly the working class, who were willing to leave the EU. Nor did it help her cause when she was told by a court early on that the executive’s power in these negotiations was limited, and that a vote of Parliament was required to proceed. (Just as is the Left’s practice when they lose at the ballot box in this country, they quickly ran to a court to see it they could thwart the will of the majority in the UK. Read on and you’ll see that the courts aren’t through with this whole affair just yet.) Afterward, the editorial writers at the Daily Express complained that the plaintiffs were content to watch for decades as their sovereign power was usurped by the EU bureaucracy, but couldn’t abide the Prime Minister taking it upon herself to claw it back.

While not quite saying “we told you so,” observers on this side of the pond such as The Wall Street Journal are quick to remind readers, “Britain and the EU have to learn from the fiasco of the past two years. … One lesson is that unhappy countries have to be ready to leave the EU, and not merely willing.” But the EU is neither a fair arbiter nor a willing participant in the proceedings, and its leadership is making sure that the British people suffer under the most draconian terms of departure possible.

That thorny problem likely explains why May has repeatedly delayed a necessary vote of the House of Commons to approve her deal — a Faustian bargain that, in one egregious example, leaves Great Britain dependent on the EU for a customs arrangement in Northern Ireland but powerless to stop any rule changes that may affect it. This is an important aspect to the negotiations, as Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, shares its border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. As it stands presently, the two nations maintain a relatively open border for commerce but also a longstanding truce after three decades of sectarian unrest that finally ended in 1998.

Also registering his concern with the possible Brexit deal is the former head of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency, Sir Richard Dearlove. He spoke for a group of military and intelligence leaders with a 12-point response to “Number 10’s” (shorthand for the prime minister, akin to referring to our executive branch as “the White House”) objections to their contention that the government “has during Brexit negotiations embedded the UK in EU defence and security structures, without seeking proper parliamentary oversight or approval.”

Finally, as a reminder of just how the EU is playing ball, it’s worth pointing out that the European Court of Justice — to which the United Kingdom remains subservient because it’s still in the EU — has allowed the possibility of Parliament granting a complete and rotten mulligan on the matter. In the words of National Review’s editors, the ECJ has given out “a ruling that the U.K. can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 notice that it is leaving the EU and reverse Brexit before it happens. It can, that is, decide to stay in the EU even after giving notice that it is leaving.”

As this battle of attrition wears on, this ruling could be the olive branch that Conservative Party members grasp to retain any semblance of political correctness. One group solidly on the “Remain” side was younger voters, who blamed their elders for that old-fashioned idea of becoming a sovereign nation once again rather than being subservient to the European Union and, by extension, the world. Come to think of it, this situation calls to mind a beleaguered citizenry that long ago took action to fight for its independence from a tyrannical ruler. Much to the benefit of mankind, we didn’t listen to anyone else’s court on the matter.

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