MADRID – The French mathematician Blaise Pascal famously said, “It is not certain that everything is uncertain.” Had he been around for Brexit, he might not be so sure. While a moderate outcome remains likely, uncertainty and animosity have been on the rise in recent weeks. This is the Brexit paradox: the longer it takes for pragmatism to re-enter the debate, the higher the chance that the chilling effect of the unknown will cause permanent damage to both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
This was supposed to be the month when the world would gain more clarity on what is in store for the UK and the EU, as the UK prepares to withdraw. But the October European Council did not formally address the Brexit negotiations at all, reinforcing the lack of direction of September’s informal Council meeting in Bratislava, which resulted in only vague promises for unity.
For its part, the UK is in the throes of a bitter row between Prime Minister Theresa May and Parliament over the latter’s role in the negotiations. Rifts have also developed within May’s Cabinet. And questions about Scotland’s future status vis-à-vis the UK and the EU are intensifying.
But the problem extends beyond confusion, with the various sides, playing to their domestic audiences, adopting increasingly polarized, even antagonistic positions. May fired the first major shot at the Conservative Party conference. After declaring that she would invoke Article 50 no later than March 2017, she adopted a decidedly hard negotiating stance, declaring that halting immigration would take precedence over retaining access to the single market.