The process of “divorce” between the United Kingdom and the European Union has now lasted longer than many marriages.
Two years ago, then-British Prime Minster David Cameron put the fate of the nation into the hands of the people, calling a referendum on whether the U.K. should “Leave” or “Remain” in the EU.
The people of the U.K., as we all know now, chose “Leave.”
At that point, regardless of their personal feelings on the subject, it became the imperative of U.K. leaders – particularly the majority lawmakers in Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party – to execute accordingly the will of the people. Mr. Cameron, who (in one of history’s ironies) happens to oppose “Brexit,” had a parallel choice of his own to make: “Leave” the government, or “Remain.”
Mr. Cameron left. Picking up the Brexit baton was current Prime Minister Theresa May, whose Downing Street tenure has been characterized by a perceived lack of toughness on what is, admittedly, one of the tougher issues in 21st century politics.
In addition to the intricacies involved in halting and unraveling a complex merger-in-process that was decades in the making, Prime Minister May and her government have had to contend with powerful “anti-Brexit” forces in the U.K. and Europe, spearheaded by political and business elites, the members of which overlap with Ms. May’s own party. Equally challenging, the “Remain” sentiment may well be shared, at least tacitly, by legions of London bureaucrats whose careers have been defined comfortably by the status quo with Brussels.
(As they say in horror films, “The call is coming from inside the house!”)
The result, so far, is that Brexit negotiations have constituted a series of stalls, subterfuges and sabotages, with the latest culmination being this week’s “standstill transition agreement.”
According to the “deal,” U.K. and EU officials have agreed that, even after the U.K. “officially” leaves the EU in March 2019, the U.K. will still abide by EU rules – including on the all-important topic of immigration – but will have no vote in EU decisions. The transitional period lasts through Dec. 31, 2020.
Other concessions and question marks that are present in the transition agreement include the U.K. accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over EU laws and EU citizens, lack of U.K. control over fishing rights in local waters (much to the consternation of Brexit-supporting fisherman and Scottish Tories), and an absence of clarity on the future of the border between Northern Ireland (U.K.) and the Republic of Ireland (EU).
This last issue has serious potential ramifications in terms of economics and public safety.
(Some recent background, in extremely broad strokes: The 30-year Northern Ireland conflict, known as “The Troubles,” mainly between paramilitary groups who either wanted to join the Republic of Ireland or stay in the U.K., killed more than 3,500 people and injured more than 47,000 from 1968 to 1998.)
In return for their capitulations to the EU, what did British “negotiators” receive? Apparently … more time.
How much time do they need?
Perhaps half-hearted Brexit officials secretly hope, if they manage to bungle the negotiations sufficiently, that the people of the U.K. will change their minds about leaving the EU.
That seems unlikely. From where we sit (out in “the colonies”), the more protracted the negotiations become, the stronger our antipathy toward allowing Brussels bureaucrats to dictate the domestic affairs of sovereign nations.