Brexit: Is there anybody supporting a non-violent separation?

British Prime Minister, Theresa May traveled to Brussels to meet with the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk. Not even thin smiles there. Taken on December 11, 2018. UK government photo, Some rights reserved.

Like Christopher Clark’s ‘Sleepwalkers’, Britain alone on the one side and the European Union led by Germany and France on the other are walking apart, without a deal to jointly settle their future relations. One and a half years have elapsed since the 23 June 2016 referendum, with endless talks and self-complacency.

Still, neither side seems to really care to avoid an inimical separation, possibly at the sole exception of one person in the British islands, the battered PM Theresa May. It’s exactly as Clark describes in his famous book, “How Europe went to war in 1914”. He concludes that the bloodiest confrontation between the European powers could have easily been avoided.

In the summer of 1914, the declaration of war brought cheering crowds to the center of Paris, London and Berlin. By the same token, though, only a small part of the public opinion, the usual ‘nationalist’ suspects, were hard pressing for war, plus some key parts of politically insecure elites. Unfortunately, now, in the centennial of the 1918 ‘Armistice’ and only three months ahead of the Brexit date of 29 March 2019, there is every indication the unimaginable can happen; the unfriendly, hard if not aggressive divorce, with difficult to estimate devastating consequences for both parties.

Devastating consequences

It’s a fact that on both sides of the English Channel, Britain and the EU are actively preparing for a no-deal Brexit. In the latest incident, 10 Downing Street authorized the Department for Transport, to spend £108 million towards this destructive end. This UK government plan foresees that extra sea-ferrying of lorries to and from the Continent will be needed because of a no-deal Brexit. The 4,000 additional trips will come and go mainly from Dover but also from Plymouth, Poole, and Portsmouth.

It’s about servicing the extra needs of the dizzied supply chains and all kind of logistics firms, not knowing what the next day will bring about. The ironic side of the story is that the British DfT money goes largely to mainland European shipping companies, operating ‘roll-on/roll-off’ ferries. First amongst them is a French firm, ‘Brittany Ferries’ which gets £46.6m, almost half the overall amount.

Paying mainland Europeans

However, the three shipping operators, which are contracted for the 4,000 extra trips connecting Britain and the Continent, were not chosen in an open auction procedure. There was just private negotiation. The DfT justified this option because of the “Extreme urgency”, to avoid “severe congestion at Dover, in the case of a no-deal Brexit”. This DfT action attracted strong criticism from the UK political parties.

According to the BBC news group, the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, described this action as “complete madness”. He added, “The government has the power to stop ‘no deal’ at any time but instead is spending millions on last minute contracts”. Cable didn’t miss the opportunity to observe the absurdity of paying French shipping firms, to solve Britain’s sea transport problems relating to Brexit. He said “The fact that this money is predominantly going to European companies is nothing short of ironic, reducing Britain to a laughing stock on the global stage.”

Full preparations

Unfortunately, this is not the only indication that Britain is actively preparing for a no-deal Brexit. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – the UK taxation and customs authority – has published a relevant guide for all businesses having dealings with mainland Europe. It is called the “Partnership pack: preparing for changes at the UK border after a ‘no deal’ EU exit”. The authors explain, “This partnership pack is designed to help you support businesses preparing for day one if we leave the EU without a deal”.

Understandably, 10 Downing Street has to be prepared to meet every eventuality. However, the deal MP Theresa May has struck with the Europeans stands no chance in the British Parliament, the Commons. The vote on it has been set in the week starting on 14 January. There are already strong pressures from both Tory and Labor MPs to reschedule the vote much closer to the exit day of 29 March. However, this is going to be a high risk bet. In such a case, the other options will be a no-deal exit or the deference or even the revocation of Article 50 Brexit.

When to vote?

On the other shore of the English Channel, the European Union has turned a blind eye to reality, assuming an attitude of revenge. The fact that the Brits are still deeply divided about Brexit is not taken seriously into account in Brussels. Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, in the face of it, the top EU Brexit decision maker, still maintains an aggressive stance. Last week, at an interview with the German newspaper ‘Welt am Sonntag’ he said, “Britain should get its act together” and addressing the entire British population he arrogantly added, “then tell us what it is you want.”

Being a politician all his life, Juncker still pretends not to understand what is happening in Britain. The deep division of the Brits up to the point of leaving the UK frozen in inaction, leaves the top EU leadership totally indifferent. Juncker has been asking this same question for many months now, despite seeing an entire country, the fifth largest economy of the world, being politically impotent to answer it, due to widespread national paranoia. And still, the mainland Europeans leaders insist on their hard attitude in recognition of this British problem.

A British problem

The cause of this UK problem may be the inability of the Brits to recognize, after seventy years, the end of their world supremacy and the definitely bygone imperial past. Whatever the cause of the UK freezing disease though, it’s at least a vicious attempt by mainland Europeans, to grab the opportunity for vengeance. True, Britain has been for centuries meddling in mainland European affairs in a divisive manner. But today’s Britons have not inherited that empire, consequently they should not be held responsible with what their ancestors did.

All in all, the entire Brexit affair and what is to follow will be a hard test for our brave new world. Economic globalization and political liberalism are already the victims. Brexit and Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ disruptive action may bring back the phantasm of aggressive nationalism. Then we all may end up ‘sleepwalking’ into a modern times Middle Age.

 

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