Having a British accent at a continental university means one thing these days: you’re going to get asked about Brexit fairly frequently. For this exact reason, I don’t tend to comment on the fiasco all that often. After four years of conjuring up increasingly vague and long-winded ways of saying ‘I haven’t got a bloody clue either’, the whole debate seems to lose it’s spark somewhat.
Like an aged gentleman who’s just discovered the wonders of viagra, however, that spark came back to me this week, as Theresa May’s proposal suffered the worst defeat in Parliamentary history since 1924. All this, followed by a narrow escape for May from another vote of no confidence? Coupled with multiple Labour frontbenchers threatening to resign if Corbyn backs a second referendum? Oh my.
I had the pleasure of celebrating this newfound zeal for discussing Brexit with a brief interview for RTL radio in an interview with my friend and colleague Bill Wirtz. As I tried my very best to explain the situation to Luxembourgish listeners, I still found myself unable to fully say what’s going to happen next.
Of course, no-one really can. Brexit has very quickly morphed into a Catch 22, locked in a Japanese puzzle box, and hidden in the Labyrinth of the minotaur. With there being no consensus on the direction Brexit should take in either Parliament or the nation as a whole, it really seems as though any possible outcome of Brexit will, at best, satisfy only a minority.
Ultimately, the terms ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘Remainer’ have all but lost their meaning, with countless factions emerging in either wing, each calling for a style of Brexit incompatible with others.
In practice, this has made following any remaining democratic will almost impossible. We know that, democratically speaking, we have to follow the will of the Leave camp. So far, so good. But, since there are Brexiteers calling for a total ‘hard Brexit’ split, while others call for us to join Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein in EFTA, how can we expect to satisfy the mandate of everyone who voted to leave?
The votes this week solidified what we already knew: whatever route Brexit takes, most people are going to be disappointed. That’s really all the analysis that can be given at this point.
Yet, this isn’t as surface-level as it may seem. In reality, the Brexit debacle has taught us a valuable lesson about democracy. Sometimes, a mandate determined by the majority won’t actually produce the result thought to be desired.
The tragedy of Brexit is the result of a failure to accept nuance early on in the process. In offering the binary choices of ‘leave’ or ‘remain’, no room was given to accommodate any of the nuances of such a complicated process. Of course, this is understandable, given that a referendum which allowed voters to choose exact scenarios would have been many pages long.
In the days following, however, what was done to ensure that we knew which direction to take? A general election held right after Cameron stepped down, for instance, would have allowed such nuances to be selected through each party basing it’s platform on the route down which they would take Brexit. This, of course, didn’t happen, and two years later we’re still squabbling over the ends, with no time left to discuss the far-more-pressing means.
Ultimately, the vote this week made one thing very clear: any action taken now can only really be too little, too late. With no consensus on how we want Britain to look after Brexit, we can hardly be expected to agree on the terms of our divorce with the EU. And, with only two months left, we don’t really have much time left to design our endgame, and much less to fight for this in Brussels.
In sum, Brexit has to be taken as a lesson on how to effectively manage direct democracy: if you’re going to have a decision made by the majority, you have to ensure that all nuances and goals are defined and established as early as possible. Without this, you’ll quickly find yourself fumbling in the dark.