Brexit Drama Reaches A Fever Pitch
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This year’s Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day observance was especially poignant, as it marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. The occasion prompted a number of historical remembrances, one of the best of which can be found here. While the 1918 armistice ended the hostilities, it sowed the seeds for a new round of antipathy that brought the world back to war just twenty years later.
The post-WWI period was politically volatile in a number of countries. Coalitions that had formed behind the common cause began to fracture after the fighting ended. Woodrow Wilson’s vision for a League of Nations ran onto the rocks of Republican gains in Congress. In the United Kingdom, the Prime Ministry of David Lloyd George crumbled amid the kind of behind-the-scenes plotting that is spectator sport for those in Britain.
Those members of parliament (MPs) outside party leadership struggled to have their voices heard during that interval, so a group of Tories formed the Conservative Private Members’ Committee, informally known as the “1922 Committee,” to push back against the established order. Nearly a century later, the 1922 Committee is front and center as the United Kingdom wrestles with Brexit; the group is responsible for collecting letters expressing doubt about Prime Minister Theresa May. Should Ms. May fail to survive a no confidence vote, a messy process would become even messier. But there is reason to think that British politics and the British economy will avoid the worst.
The events of last week, while dramatic, were not a surprise to many who have followed Brexit at close range. The 2016 referendum passed by a margin of 52% to 48% with only 72% of voters casting ballots. The divisions within the U.K. were deep at that time, and have remained so. This makes negotiating Brexit terms difficult; for more than two years, Britain has struggled to reach consensus on what it wants from the process.
It seemed clear that those who voted to leave had only a modest understanding of how difficult divorce would be. Google searches for details on the EU spiked immediately after the referendum. The collective understanding of what Brexit would mean for the Irish border was almost certainly incomplete; this issue has become one of the most difficult for negotiators to solve.
The formal process of separation was initiated in March 2017 with the delivery of a letter from Prime Minister May to the president of the European Commission. Some thought the U.K. should have waited a bit longer to get started, as negotiating points had yet to be established. The EU, by contrast, was well-organized behind the governing principles that its members have adopted over time.