Turning Brexit Into a Celebration of Democracy
Paradoxically, while the current Brexit impasse is pregnant with risk, the British should welcome it. Their discontent with the choices before them is an opportunity, not a curse, and more democracy is the antidote, not the disease.
ATHENS – Discontent without end looms over Britain. Leavers and Remainers are equally despondent. Her Majesty’s Government and the Labour opposition are equally divided. The United Kingdom is deeply divided between a Europhile Scotland and a Euroskeptic England, between pro-EU English cities (including London) and anti-EU coastal and northern towns. Neither the working nor the ruling class can unite behind any of the Brexit options making the rounds in the House of Commons. Is it any wonder that so many Britons feel anxious and let down by their political system?
And yet, paradoxically, while the current Brexit impasse is pregnant with risk, the British should welcome it. Since 1945, the Europe question has obscured at least eight other questions fundamental to Britain – about itself, its political institutions, and its place in the world. Brexit is now bringing all of them to the fore, and the prevailing discontent is the first condition of addressing them. Indeed, Brexit may empower British democracy to resolve several of the country’s long-standing crises.
First, there is the Irish question. Though partly settled by the Good Friday Agreement a generation ago, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is re-opening it by insisting that the province, which is part of the UK, must not in any way be distinguished from, say, Wales or the Home Counties.