Back in 2016, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted just how messy British politics would get after the Leave vote won. Sure, even then the polarising effects of the vote could be seen, with the atmosphere of division becoming palpable not long after the votes had been counted and the results shown. But almost three years, countless failed votes and numerous calls for extension, it’s become difficult to tell who’s really going to be the winner in all of this.
Oh boy, another extension. Surely an extra month is all we need to agree on a deal (or lack thereof)?
Forgive my cynicism; after years of floundering it’s pretty tough to stay optimistic. A reluctant remainer myself, I’d hoped at the very least that we’d have an inkling of which direction we’ll take – especially since we’re already a week past the initial deadline. Despite the long list of paths, from Norway + to May’s Deal to No Deal and further, not once has it seemed like the country was at least semi-committed to a single path.
To me, this is the real burden of Brexit. Should we have been able to agree on a path earlier on, and to commit to it, I have no doubts that our departure from the European Union could have been fruitful at some point down the line, irrespective of how that path looked.
Without this commitment, however, we’ve found ourselves stranded. As one Facebook user predicted back in 2016 with an almost too-perfect analogy, Brits are now left standing in a kebab shop after leaving the club, with no idea of where to go next, squabbling over whose fault it is.
Hilariously apt as this may be, this uncertainty is damaging. Companies are hiring less, and investors are increasingly reluctant to invest amidst all the confusion. The British people, it seems, are just getting sick, tired, and anxious of hearing about it. I know how they feel.
But why has it taken so long to achieve so little? It was never going to be simple to leave the EU, but why has it become quite so complicated and out of control? To answer that, perhaps it’s best to look at an example of a split gone right: the so-called ‘Velvet Divorce’ of Czechoslovakia in the 1990s.
While Britain has struggled for nigh-on three years to find a way out, the Czechoslovaks were able to split their country in just six months back in 1993. In just a sixth of the time it has currently taken the UK to attempt to leave the EU, a country which had been unified since 1918, complete with a common currency, federal government, shared assets, and deep cultural ties was peacefully and efficiently split in two. What’s more, this all happened during a massive political and economic transition from communist state to a liberal democratic one.
If the Czechs and Slovaks could accomplish all of this, why is Britain struggling so much under arguably much more comfortable conditions? Perhaps it was just because they knew where they wanted to head. Negotiations in Czechoslovakia were peaceful and cooperative, with both sides seeking an amicable solution (hence the nickname ‘Velvet Divorce’).
In the UK, meanwhile, our Parliament can’t agree on what they’re negotiating for. Even without considering the shortcomings in the stance of the EU, the hostility and stubbornness in Parliament has made it all but impossible for there to be anything ‘Velvet’ about Brexit. Sandpaper Divorce might be a better name, if there are any future historians reading.
It’s probably too late for any of this to really matter at this point. We hardly have time for renegotiations, even if PM May get’s her extension. At the very least, I suppose, we can look back at Czechoslovakia twenty-six years ago for a small glimpse of what could have been.