Rethinking Europe

Brexit: Britain Entering a State of Emergency

It seems less likely by the day that Britain can solve its Brexit problem in an orderly parliamentary process. The question is whether there are other options.

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Takeaways


  • It seems less likely by the day that Britain can solve its Brexit problem in an orderly parliamentary process.
  • The UK government has been absorbed by Brexit for so long that the entire government machinery has ground to a standstill.
  • Britain, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is assuming features associated with a “failing state.”
  • Britain is in a state of emergency, so emergency measures will need to be taken.

Even a few weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable to suggest that the government and parliament of the United Kingdom might not be able to reach an ultimate decision as to how it should handle Brexit.

The world’s oldest existing democracy, the mother of all parliaments, one of the world’s most sophisticated legal systems and one of the most experienced government bureaucracies in the world should surely be able to draw on existing procedures and precedents even in a situation where a majority vote in the House of Commons seemed out of reach of Her Majesty’s government. But this is not happening.

The European Commission is unfortunately correct in pointing out that it cannot strike a deal with a negotiating partner who has no recognizable mandate as to what kind of specific outcome it actually wants.

It is not just that the UK government’s policy, adopted after the 2016 referendum, of attempting to establish special relations with individual EU members and thus break the solidarity of the EU27, has failed dismally. What’s worse is that the UK government is actually negotiating against itself.

Government ground to a standstill

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the UK government has been completely absorbed by the Brexit issue for so long now that vital decisions on other matters have not been taken for over two years. The entire government machinery has virtually ground to a standstill.

As a result, a former world power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, still one of the largest economies worldwide, equipped with what’s still a formidable military force, is assuming features associated with a “failing state.”

Flagrant misbehaviour on the part of individual politicians has not helped to argue against that notion. This includes a Foreign Secretary in Jeremy Hunt who favors a hard Brexit.


Cost of a no deal Brexit for the UK and EU


Moreover, in international conferences, the recent G-20 event for one, the British Prime Minister is now a mere shadow figure operating on the fringes of the event. She bores her colleagues with yet another futile attempt at improving her own situation.

May resigning won’t change anything

Even if Theresa May were to resign, it is hard to see how this would improve matters. Both the Tories and the Labour Party are deeply divided and not in any way inclined to put Britain’s interest before their own.

The same seems to apply to most MPs. Scotland seems more determined than ever to pull out of the UK. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, polls indicate more protestants than a few years ago would not mind living in the Republic of Ireland and thus in the European Union, while rumours persist that the elected Sinn Fein MPs are reconsidering their long-standing decision not to take their seats in Westminster.

But the tearing-up process extends well beyond those regional developments. The widespread failure of a majority of British people and its governing elites to come to terms with reality over a period of somewhere near 100 years is now making the whole fabric of the United Kingdom crumble and may indeed bring it down.

Britain is in a state of emergency, so emergency measures will need to be taken, even to a point of going beyond the orderly process of parliamentary procedures.

Cameron’s coup d’état

David Cameron’s referendum was not far removed from a coup d’état in the first place. While the British Constitution, defended so powerfully and eloquently by the Leave campaigners, rests on the sovereignty of Parliament, he chose to override parliamentary prerogatives in favour of a plebiscite, for which he provided neither arguments nor adequate reasoning.

The argument for “taking back control” is in deep conflict with restoring it to where it used to lie. So, might it not be an option to transgress the straight and narrow path once again?

After all, as any history book can tell us, neither England, let alone Scotland and Ireland, nor any other European nation has been able to preserve total continuity and legality of law making under all political circumstances.

A second referendum might be the softest form of an emergency measure. But who knows? In the interest of the country, some spirited and hopefully well-intentioned women and men might feel the urge to take a bolder and more dramatic initiative. I would not be totally surprised.


Who people think would win in a second referendum

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About Rupert Strachwitz

Rupert Strachwitz is a political scientist and historian.

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