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From Brexit to Eternity

British Prime Minister Theresa May is now confronting Parliament with a vexing choice between an unsatisfying Brexit deal and crashing out of the European Union. But, because no compromise with the EU is acceptable to hard-line Brexiteers, the argument that another referendum would be divisive is beside the point.

LONDON – British members of Parliament will soon have to make one of the most difficult political decisions of their lives. The choice is between approving the Brexit deal that Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated with the European Union, crashing out of the EU with no deal, or trying to reverse the exit process altogether. With respect to the third option, it has been two and a half years since a slim majority of Britons voted to leave the EU, and recent polls now find that a majority would prefer to remain.

The decision to hold a referendum on EU membership was made by May’s Conservative predecessor, David Cameron, who seems to have been focused more on politics than the national interest. Cameron was hoping to defang a faction of right-wing English nationalists and opportunists in his party, but his inept gambit blew up in his face and he promptly resigned, leaving to his successor the unenviable task of interpreting what the referendum outcome actually meant. She decided that “Brexit means Brexit,” and has since been leading a process that she herself originally opposed.

From the start, May’s task was complicated by three factors. First, the Brexiteers had woven a web of mendacity and delusion about what withdrawing from the EU would actually mean. They promised an easy exit that would allow Britain to have its cake and eat it. The country would gain much, lose nothing, and sail off to a promised land free of EU regulations. As masters of their own fate, Britons would cut new trade deals with whomever they liked. Yet, to the Brexiteers’ apparent surprise, the EU could not and would not allow a country to enjoy the full benefits of membership without accepting the obligations that come with it.

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