In Summary
  • At the heart of the British conceit surrounding Brexit is that the country imagined it was better off without the EU.

  • A hard-right wing of the Conservative Party believe so, and they have repeatedly resisted May’s Brexit compromises with the EU.

  • Yet every sensible person, from bankers to businessmen to farmers, knows Britain has stood to gain from EU membership.

Democracy sometimes brings out the worst of outcomes. Such is how Britain ended up with its Brexit mess.

On Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May gave up her sad and futile efforts to steer a Brexit deal through a toxic House of Commons. She surrendered and said she was resigning as PM. It was a poignant moment as she accepted her failure and announced, in near tears, that she would be calling it a day on June 7.

BIG MISTAKE

History will not be kind to her, but I think it won’t be too brutal either. She was in office when Britain had brought on herself perhaps the most divisive problem in peacetime. It required a politician of truly superhuman talents to push it through successfully. Her predecessor, David Cameron, found himself out of office in 2016 when he called an unnecessary referendum on whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union. It was a huge mistake. Cameron, who favoured remaining in the EU, had imagined the voters would vote to remain. He thus chose to give the bluff to the hardliners in his Conservative Party, who favoured leaving the bloc. Instead, the voters disagreed with Cameron and voted to leave.

Enter May as the PM replacement. She made her own big mistake by calling for a general election that wasn’t due, hoping to bolster her parliamentary majority and thus be in a strong enough position to negotiate a favourable Brexit deal with the EU. Unfortunately for her, that election saw her already slim majority whittled down such that she had to scamper for a coalition with the Democratic Unionist party of Northern Ireland, which has caused May even more Brexit pain.

At the heart of the British conceit surrounding Brexit is that the country imagined it was better off without the EU. A hard-right wing of the Conservative Party believe so, and they have repeatedly resisted May’s Brexit compromises with the EU. Yet every sensible person, from bankers to businessmen to farmers, knows Britain has stood to gain from EU membership, from its giant single market, from its customs union, and its free flow of labour, especially the skilled variety. A complete break with the EU — what they call “no deal” or “hard” Brexit — will mean Britain will be cut off from these membership benefits. She has been scrambling to strike trade deals with Commonwealth countries like India and Nigeria and South Africa, but these cannot compensate for her exclusion from what has been the most successful trading union in the world.

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