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.
Not surprisingly, Eurosceptic Tory ministers are up in arms. Between the time I post this and you read it, Theresa May might be facing a vote of no confidence. At the moment, 37 of a needed 48 letters asking for the vote have been sent to her. A Tory leadership change may be right around the corner.
Not only does the EU want Britain to assume the status of an EU colony, it also wants Britain to cough up £39 billion in what can probably best be described as “reparations.” In 2017, Britain’s exports to the EU were £274 billion, nearly half of all UK exports. UK imports from the EU were £341 billion, more than 50% of the UK total. So is Britain’s future with the EU?
I would say No. The EU as currently configured is anti-democratic, asphyxiating, top-heavy Leviathan. Britain’s best future lies with the Anglosphere: with the U.S., Canada, Australia, India, and other parts of the world where English is spoken and freedom is a byword. Of course, Britain will continue to trade with the EU. All the Brussels talk about punitive tariffs is just bluster. The EU needs the UK at least as much as the UK needs the EU. If it were up to me, I would skip out on paying that £39 billion. I wouldn’t announce it. I just wouldn’t pay it. What’s Jean-Claude Juncker going to do, invade?
The EU’s usual tactic with recalcitrant voters is just to keep offering them another vote until they get it “right,” i.e., until they vote to do what Brussels wanted them to do in the first place. They are trying it again now in an effort to repeal the 2016 Brexit vote.
It might work. But there are enough angry Tory ministers in revolt that we will probably see a new Tory MP in Number 10 very soon, one with more backbone and diplomatic skill than the pathetic Theresa May. I have always had a soft-spot for Boris Johnson. And then there is the “member for the 18th Century,” the eloquent, impressively attired Jacob Rees-Mogg. Either would be light years better for Britain than Theresa May. Britannia may no longer rule the waves. It should at least assert its right to rule itself.