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British politics is incredibly entertaining at the moment. In June 2016, 52% of voters opted for the UK to leave the European Union and in March 2017 the UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty) to formally start the process of the UK’s departure. This process was meant to last 24 months, and the 29th of March 2019 was to be the date that the UK would formally leave the EU.
By the time of writing (mid-April 2019), the UK is still a member of the EU. Brexit has been delayed at the request of the British government. The Brexiteers are fuming, indeed they fear that “Brexit is being stolen” from them. The Remainers cheer, they feel that every day the UK remains in the EU is a victory. And most observers like myself are just astonished at this.
Astonished at Parliament’s inability to agree on any form of Brexit; astonished at a government whose Brexit deal has been defeated in Parliament not once, not twice but three times. Astonished by hard-core Brexiteers who voted against Theresa May’s negotiated deal with the EU, because for them it was “too soft” of a Brexit, only to see the UK remain in the EU. Astonished by a Labour opposition which itself has not put forward a credible departure plan, instead focusing on the need for a new customs union with the EU, but one in which the UK would still have a say on new trade deals (such an arrangement exists, it is called EU membership).
In this age of uncertainty, politics in the UK is both incredibly frustrating and incredibly funny. It is frustrating, because all the lies of the Leave campaign have been exposed – Turkey did not join the EU in the last three years, and will not do so in the foreseeable future. There is no additional money for the National Health Service (NHS) as promised on a big red bus, and negotiations with the EU did not yield “the easiest deal in history”. Liam Fox, Brexiteer and International Trade Secretary in Theresa May’s cabinet promised 40 of the over 60 trade agreements that the EU has with other countries would be copied and applied one-to-one to the UK once Brexit comes in March 2019. When the time came, only eight agreements had been transferred and agreed upon, with countries such as Switzerland and the Faroe Islands. Brexit is also frustrating, because there is no way out in sight. Party politics, societal divisions and deep cleavages divide the country. The whole debate and the political process will leave behind a country that is more polarized, more racist and more self-obsessed, in many respects it has also revealed the worst of Britain.
But it is not all gloom and doom. Brexit is also incredibly funny. It is funny, because politicians are making fools of themselves, parties are falling apart and the British Parliament is actually acting as a Parliament, a forum for debate and key decisions, and not a mere rubber stamp for government policy. We have a former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab who during his tenure seemed to find out that the UK is an island when he stated in an interview “I did not know how important the route between Dover and Calais is for our trade.” We have a transport secretary who gave a contract for additional ferry services to a company with no ferries. I have an office colleague, who was asked via Email if she wants to stand as an MEP for one of the big parties, which are now scrambling to prepare for European elections. This is fun. It is entertaining. It is politics at its finest.
Brexit would be a fantastic and brilliant comedy if it was not so serious. If it was not about the lives and futures of millions of peoples. So, as the UK government now openly prepares for participation in the EU parliament election, the UK will continue to send MEPs to Brussels, more than three years after voting to leave the EU. This is just one more irony in the Brexit saga.
|Soeren Keil, PhD is Reader in Politics and International Relations and Director of the Centre for European Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University (CEFEUS). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org