Dear Partners in thought,
As the 11th December vote is looming it is increasingly apparent as foreseen that Ms. May will not get her deal through Parliament. It was to be expected as a forgone conclusion that no amount of wishful thinking or Churchillian rhetoric would have changed. As the government stresses the long queues at ports, the likely shortages of key goods for consumers and the Bank of England assessment of a gradual 10.5% GDP decline that a No Deal would entail in a desperate hope to sway Parliament to back the hapless deal on offer that satisfies no one, one hears more and more the only dual choice available to avoid disaster: either a “Norway +” arrangement or a once thought impossible second referendum.
The deal proposed by Ms. May is one that was negotiated and signed with the EU after arduous discussions, where the EU spoke as one. It was not the product of a diktat as it is often referred to by those Brexiteers (already preparing to deal with the expected popular backlash of the consequences of a No Deal outcome) who would ideally have an “à la carte menu”-based exit (as if one would join my club in London but only pay for and do what one wants, which is not very British after all). There was no diktat from Bruxelles, who was dealing with a much unwanted exit scenario, and the agreement that was struck reflected the best deal “for both parties” and the impossibility for the EU to surrender its existential principles and risk setting up a disastrous precedent for the future of the union.
The EU will not likely renegotiate an exit agreement with Britain as it is simply too complex and unacceptable for it to do so. A “Norway +” could have been envisaged much earlier but the British team chose to believe it could have its cake and eat it too, making a poor negotiating hard line choice in front of a 27 member country union, its main trading partner and the largest bloc in the world. Wishful thinking ran amok driven by dreams of past glory only gradually shattered by a succession of reality checks, even with the hallowed “special relationship” with America. However, as stressed in an excellent wrap up piece of “where we are and likely to go” by Philip Stephens in the FT today, the European Court of Justice, through its Advocate General, has indicated the possibility that the UK could revoke unilaterally the famed Article 50 and rescind its decision to leave the EU. If that were done, as Philip Stephens rightly argued, then a likely caretaker PM post-Parliamentary defeat could ask the EU 27 to “stop the clock” pending a second referendum with the right questions and the better facts at hand for British voters, something we know would likely be given by Bruxelles in the hope that the EU would stay eventually stronger.
This second referendum option, which has always been unfashionably the more logical one for a while and is gaining increasing momentum, even considering the ire of some of the Brexiteers, would be the less bad (and I dare say even the best) of all options for Britain. Rather than a blow against the much heralded “will of the people”, this avenue would strengthen democracy in giving Britons a new shot, after two and half years of a revealing process and knowing the outcomes far better, at a more sensible choice of their very future. It would also allow the younger age group to take more possession of their future, something they did not in June 2016. A second referendum would not provide a foregone conclusion in terms of outcome, even if a majority leans Remain today but it would give an opportunity for an outcome that would have to be accepted by all. Even a Remain win would entail discussions with the EU for the next steps though with the likelihood that the latter would show flexibility to keep the former “in” on good terms for Britain as a win-win outcome. The UK would then stay in the EU with its people knowing far better all the key strengths the great nation derives from “being” in this great bloc and would be able to keep influencing it as it has done with success in the past. In many ways, this Brexit process would also be a valuable experience that many other EU members would learn from as we keep growing together as the leading bloc in the world.
Serge Desprat – Dec 7, 2018 (Prague)