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Britain’s Messy Divorce

LONDON – As Britain formally triggers the doleful negotiations to exclude itself from the mainstream of European politics and economics, Prime Minister Theresa May refuses to use the word “divorce” to describe what is happening. My wife, a retired family lawyer and mediator, thinks May could be correct. After all, the family house we are exiting still contains much of our history and family silver, as well as our future economic interest. In that sense, divorce is scarcely an option.

Britain has not been as insular an island as some people take it to be. From our reigning royal family (which is German) to our exports (overwhelmingly to Europe), we have helped to shape and in our turn been shaped by developments in the rest of Western Europe. We are separated by just 20 miles (33 kilometers) of water – these days, apparently a very wide 20 miles – at the Strait of Dover.

So why are we leaving? The cause is a mixture of frustration, delusion, mendacity, and bloody-mindedness. We were fed up with Europe’s inability to tackle some of its biggest challenges – from competitiveness to immigration – without seeking to acquire more central powers.

In addition, our political leaders have for years played into the hands of those hostile to the EU, by appearing to accept any and every criticism of it, many of them a compound of falsehoods. We refuse to see ourselves for what we are: a mid-size country that no longer rules much of the world. We are too easily persuaded that you cannot be a patriot without being a nationalist.