EDITORIAL – UK and Brexit: An embarrassing spectacle

“This is a culture war issue. It’s a very, very awkward position to be in, because you have to go against your constituents in order to protect them – even though they say they want no deal.”
– Tony Travers, London School of Economics professor

For astute analysis of complex geopolitical issues, we often turn to the Cayman Islands’ own Tony Travers, a senior partner of Travers Thorp Alberga who knows more about global finance than, well, just about anyone. Today’s editorial, however, opens with an incisive quote from “the other Tony Travers” – a London-based professor who neatly sums up the “elites’ perspective” on the ongoing Brexit fiasco.

England’s Mr. Travers made his comments to The New York Times in response to Parliament’s vote Tuesday to attempt to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the Brexit deal that had been negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May and then rejected by overwhelming margins in Parliament.

British lawmakers’ proposal to amend the 585-page Brexit agreement sends Ms. May back to Brussels, where she is to meet European Union officials who have already (to quote the Associated Press story we have published on Page 10 in today’s Compass) “offered a united chorus of ‘No’” to the changes she is charged with negotiating.

Both Ms. May and EU officials have previously asserted that the plan rejected by Parliament was the best that could be expected. French President Emmanuel Macron said it “is the best accord possible. It is not re-negotiable.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk’s office stated this week that the Irish border agreement, specifically, is “not open for renegotiation.”

Pundits say Parliament’s decision to press the issue of the Irish backstop increases the likelihood of the U.K. leaving the EU on the March 29 deadline without any agreement being in place. (It is worth noting, but perhaps not much more, that British lawmakers also passed a non-binding motion calling on the government to rule out the occurrence of a “no deal” Brexit on March 29.)

In other words, Ms. May can expect her reception in Brussels to be not just “chilly,” but akin to the “polar vortex” that has frozen large chunks of the U.S. Midwest, plunging temperatures as low as -44 degrees Fahrenheit. (For the benefit of our British and European readers, that’s -42 Celsius.)

Not aiding Prime Minister May’s cause … actually, obliterating any leverage she might otherwise possess … is her status as a “dead woman walking” following her narrow escape from a no-confidence vote among Parliament following the historic repudiation of her Brexit deal.

From the beginning, British officials’ handling of Brexit could be described as a form of entertainment for those who enjoy ogling slow-motion train wrecks. In mid-2015, then-Prime Minister David Cameron set the stage, and perhaps the bar, for the cavalcade of follies generated during and after the June 2016 Brexit referendum upon which Mr. Cameron bet the future of his political career and his country … a wager the ex-Prime Minister lost, and the consequences of which have engulfed the U.K. and European Continent.

The benefit of hindsight is not necessary to determine that the complex and nuanced question of withdrawing the U.K. from the EU should never have gone to a plebiscite. As American columnist George F. Will has said, the role of the public is not to make policy decisions, but to decide who will make those decisions.

That being said, attempted justifications for holding a second Brexit referendum make for weak tea. Any attempt at a “do over” would be based on the elitist belief of “The Establishment” that the more than 17 million people who voted “Leave” in June 2016 were too misinformed, or too stupid, to know what they were voting for.

Once U.K. voters cast their ballots in favor of “Leave,” their elected officials were (and “remain”) duty-bound to carry out the popular will to which they had appealed … deal or no deal.

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