If you listen closely, you might be able to hear the wailing of voices and gnashing of teeth from across the Atlantic Ocean. No, the world is not coming to an end. Rather, one of the most complicated political divorces of our time is taking place in slow motion.
This sorry chain of events took place back in June 2016, when voters of the United Kingdom decided, by the most narrowest of margins, they no longer wanted to be a part of the European Union. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron, an avid “remainer,” was hoping that his country wouldn’t leave the union, but rather just send a stern message that the EU accords needed some reform. Well, he certainly got more than he bargained for. Mr. Cameron split the scene as fast as humanly possible and the clock started ticking on one of the world’s newest terms, Brexit.
The referendum that was passed by voters basically said that by March 29, 2019, the United Kingdom would no longer be a part of the European Union. Mr. Cameron’s replacement, Theresa May, was given the unenviable job of cobbling together some time of agreement that would appease both those in United Kingdom and those in the European Union — a sort of grand deal that would outline the terms in which the departure would be done in a relatively smooth and orderly fashion. It was a difficult job and it had a relatively tight time frame.
Of course, the alternative of not having a grand deal doesn’t seem appealing. A simple crashing of the United Kingdom out of the EU would have disastrous economic implications, which economists should be avoided at all costs.
So, now that March 29 has passed, how did Mrs. May do? She failed miserably.
Her grand plan was voted down twice by Parliament. But she shouldn’t feel alone. Every other plan that was put forward by her fellow members of Parliament were also shot down. Basically, the Parliament has said that it wants some type of deal, it simply cannot find any consensus on what kind of deal it wants. At last count, at least eight proposals have been voted down.
And what does all this mean? In the end, it means breaking up is hard to do.
In 1995, Quebec nearly left Canada in a referendum vote. In an election that had 93 percent turn out and that was decided by a margin of 1.16 percent, the Quebecois made a announcement that they wanted to stay in the Canadian federation. In 2014, Scottish voters narrowly decided that they wanted to continue to stay a part of the United Kingdom, in a referendum that had over 83 percent turnout.
The arguments that were made by both Canadians and the Royalists in these referendum is that even though Quebec and Scotland have distinct cultures and identities, it’s hard to break up shared institutions. Could Quebec and Scotland swing it on the world stage as independent countries? Probably. But it’s a lot harder when you don’t have your own currency, your own military and the borders that once were open are summarily shut. And it isn’t easy to adjudicate who gets what in an ugly nationwide divorce.
So, where does Great Britain go from here? Most of the learned political observers say it’s impossible to say what will happen. Which in reality means, nothing is going to get passed. The United Kingdom will crash out of the European Union. And then the real problem solving begins. How do you treat the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is still part of Her Majesty’s realm? What about trade? What about fishing rights? What about work permits for EU citizens in the United Kingdom? No easy answers, that is for sure.
I can’t say with any degree of certainty that the voters in the United Kingdom either made the right or wrong decision when it came to the Brexit vote back in June 2016. But I can say this: elections have consequences. Whether it be on the local level or the national level, every election will have some bearing on the future. The British are living proof of that reality.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.