Brexit: A case when delay is not danger, but opportunity

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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The British people, renowned for their determination and never-say-die approach to major difficulties, are facing one of their sternest tests — the so-called Brexit issue.

Brexit is turning out to be one of the expensive mistakes countries make when they let pride prevail over pragmatism.

The British public voted two years ago by a narrow margin in favour of leaving the European Union (EU). The Government of the day, the Prime Minister Theresa May-led Conservatives, a political party itself deeply and irreconcilably split on this contentious issue, was handed the task of negotiating Brexit.

Along the way a number of problems occurred. First, the British sought a group of objectives that together were not compatible with leaving the EU in a way that was consistent with the treaty, and on terms which the other members were prepared to countenance.

Another was that several lead negotiators and technical experts resigned or were fired midstream while the negotiations were being conducted. Further, the overall negotiating strategy was never clear and was based more on “hanging tough” than actual negotiations.

In spite of Prime Minister May's grim determination, the EU did not blink. In any event, two years was much too short a period to negotiate an agenda that was so all-encompassing and so enormously complex.

During the process, PM May and the Conservatives have suffered several Cabinet resignations by people who did not oppose Brexit itself, but opposed how PM May was conducting the negotiations.

Parliament asserted its power to vote on the decisions and Mrs May became the first prime minister in the history of Britain to have been censured by parliament. Various versions of her deal have been defeated by massive voting majorities yet the PM keeps insisting that there is only her deal or no deal, which is widely seen as a disaster.

Most recently, the House voted to ask for a delay in the March 29, 2019 departure date, which the European Court has indicated is allowable if all 27 member states are in consensus. It seems that now, at literally the last minute, good sense is likely to prevail by default.

Given that there is no agreed deal and nobody wants the risk of leaving without a deal, a belated request to postpone the departure date is likely to be the next move. This delay should not be for three months as mooted by some, but should be for at least one year during which the British public can be asked in a new referendum whether they still want to leave or stay.

The referendum will be good for British democracy and is necessary because a lot has since been learnt about what Brexit would actually mean. Much of what the advocates of Brexit promised has been proven to be simply incorrect and unrealistic.

The promises are illusory and the costs of Brexit have been shown by the vast majority of reputable empirical studies to be very high. Some of the damage has already been done by the mere prospect of Brexit.

Usually there is danger in delay. Not this time. We hope that all the parties will use the time to do a full and deep analysis of the real implications and cost of Britain leaving the EU. Then, if they still decide to go ahead, so be it.

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