“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” How Brexiteers must regret that Britain did not heed the hard lessons the European Union teaches its recalcitrant members, and struck hard for WTO Brexit as soon as giving notice to Brussels that it intended to withdraw. Upon reflection, it may have been inevitable that regardless of its actions, Britain would stand in its present relation with the EU: with no deal, mounting ill-will and bad blood on both sides of the English Channel as the deadline nears, and rising despair for the future of an independent Britain.
Perhaps, as per Article 50 of the “Treaty of European Union,” Brussels would have dragged its feet on immediately concluding a withdrawal agreement along WTO guidelines, arguing the letter of the law: that “the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”
In this scenario, an exit alternative as laid out by law would come to pass — “failing that, two years after the notification” from the withdrawing State — as now appears to be the case.
What must also be clear, certainly to all who want to honor the Brexit referendum, is that asking the EU to extend the Article 50 deadline is a mug’s game. If the UK and EU have not been able to agree withdrawal on equitable terms by now, they never will.
Only those who push back against withdrawal hold out the false promise of a deal, just around the corner, “just give us more time.” There will never be time enough for Leavers and Remainers to come to an amicable understanding, let alone the UK and EU to arrive at a win-win situation.
Simply to ask Brussels for an extension flaunts Britain’s supine negotiation position. It can only go downhill from there. The slight chance at that stage for Britain to conclude a passable deal, “to save face,” would be prospective Continental uproar, of gall rising in the throats of other member countries, appalled at the manner in which a seceding colleague is treated by Brussels — thus forcing the EU to quickly agree a settlement to thwart further unrest.
From across the centuries, Thomas Paine offers wearied Brexiteers empathy. “Until an independence is declared,” Paine would opine that Britain “will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.”
Passing strange for this correspondent to quote Paine, Revolutionary nemesis of Britain, in relation to Brexit? It’s quite simple, really.
Paine’s genius was to empower American patriots then — and British patriots now — when it became, as the “Declaration of Independence” states matter-of-factly, “necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another”; and, for the United Kingdom, to regain its “separate and equal station” among other world powers.
No less a Euroskeptic than Margaret Thatcher embodied how former EU enthusiasts were made cynical by the machinations of Brussels mandarins.
“It may seem trite,” Mrs. Thatcher observed in Statecraft, “but it is also true,” that successive Conservative and Labour governments “were doing our best, as we saw it from differing angles, to serve British national interests in Europe.” Unfortunately, she concluded, “none of us was able to do more than partially improve the otherwise unfavorable terms of our membership — if that.”
No more than 32 days remain on the Brexit clock. There is only one option left to Britain. Hunker down and run down that clock to March 29. And make the case, again and again, ad nauseam, of the benefits of WTO Brexit.
Brexit wasn’t quick. The nature of the task, combined with the catalogue of British ineptitude and EU recalcitrance, doubtless made that an impossibility from the very start.
But if Brexiteers keep their nerve and prevent the British government from bottling its last, best hope for an honorable exit, Brexit will be done and British independence won.
Stephen MacLean maintains the weblog The Organic Tory.