In June 2016, I was in London and reported extensively on the Brexit referendum in these pages (see here, for example, and here, here, here, and here). It was, briefly, an ebullient moment. I had been assured by everyone from taxicab drivers to Tory ministers that Brexit hadn’t a chance in hell of passing, and a good thing, too, because it represented “nativist,” “racist,” and “xenophobic” (not to mention Islamophobic and economically illiterate) elements of the population.
For me, as for a tiny coterie of friends, Brexit was centrally about sovereignty. The guiding question that precipitated it was Who Rules Britain? Is it Parliament? Or is it Brussels?
I thought it should be Parliament, i.e., the duly elected representatives of the British people, not the corrupt, unelected, and unaccountable transnational progressive elite in Brussels. So I was thrilled when the Brexit referendum won. Some Remainers grumble that the vote was close (nearly 52 percent to 48 percent and change), but in fact more people — 17 million — voted for Brexit than had ever voted for anything in Britain, ever.
A couple of days after the big vote I threw a small dinner party at a secure, undisclosed location in London and had the pleasure of supplying Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament and a key advocate for Brexit, with his first glass of champagne in eighteen months. Dan had girded up his loins for battle and had sworn off all improving beverages until such time as Brexit was a reality. Here, at last, we were, and so was the Billecart-Salmon rosé.
The euphoria didn’t last long. Within a month or two people were distinguishing between “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” (code for “no Brexit”) and the oozing gummy enervating gel that is the EU in action began surrounding and suffocating those charged with reasserting British sovereignty.
Here we are, nearly two-and-a-half years later. Theresa May, who chanced into the prime ministership faute de mieux because of the consternation that the Brexit vote triggered, came to office with one clear mandate: make Brexit happen. This she has conspicuously failed to do. Under her inept — what to call it? “Leadership” is not the right word. Under her counterproductive fussiness, the UK is on the brink of acceding to a Brexit plan that is actually worse than the status quo ante.
One huge issue is the status of Northern Ireland. According to the current plan, Britain would agree to an indefinite “backstop” in case negotiations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland fail. The EU wants an indefinite “backstop” requiring that the UK remain subservient to the EU trade rules in case there is no agreement regarding the border and trade relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. “Indefinite,” Kemo Sabe. That smirking countenance you espy in the mists is that of the insufferable Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator.