The Decline and Fall of Brexit

With the clock ticking on Britain’s departure from the European Union, Brexit Minister David Davis and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson have now resigned from Prime Minister Theresa May's government. May now has a full-blown political crisis on her hands – and all the while, the massive economic and social costs of crashing out of the bloc are beginning to sink in.

LONDON – In the beginning, British Prime Minister Theresa May had a plan: “Brexit means Brexit.” The idea was to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union so fast that voters would not realize they had been sold a bill of goods during the EU referendum campaign and should therefore not punish the Conservative Party for having lied to them.

The plan was to pretend that whatever deal was negotiated with the EU would be a “bespoke” and “best possible” Brexit, allowing Britain to quit the bloc while retaining unfettered access to the European market. In strictly partisan political terms, the plan made sense right up until the snap election last June, when May lost her parliamentary majority.

To be sure, May recently scored a victory when she faced down Tory Europhiles in the House of Commons. But it hardly matters. Since last June, British politics has been spinning around the same conundrum: how to avoid the sudden destruction of much of British manufacturing – which depends on European just-in-time supply chains – without also accepting the “Norway model” of obeying EU rules without having any say in making them.