LONDON – “Brexit means Brexit,” Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has declared. So it must: the wishes of the electorate, expressed by however narrow a margin, must be respected, even though referendums have no place in Britain’s unwritten constitution, which is based, sensibly, on representative parliamentary democracy.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum to quell a rebellion in his Conservative Party, miscalculated so badly that his government failed even to plan for a vote to leave the European Union. Two months later, the fog is beginning to clear, and a way out of the Brexit maze can be discerned.
Brexit, it turns out, is not “Bruicide.” The referendum’s outcome has had little effect on the wider global landscape, and the impact on EU institutions is just another crisis to be managed, not the existential implosion that London-centric British newspapers imagine. May is in no hurry to act; nor is German Chancellor Angela Merkel (though, facing re-election next year, the increasingly desperate French President François Hollande says that he is).
May, who is as tight-lipped as Cameron was an open (if empty) book, has already created the institutional skeleton of a political strategy. Her government has created a department of international trade, which will be responsible for drawing up trade arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world (the European Commission had previously handled such arrangements). Another new department, the so-called Brexit ministry, will handle political, judicial, and constitutional negotiations.