The royal mess that is Brexit
I flew back to North Carolina just over a week ago to be greeted by numerous business school friends, all of whom instantly ambushed me with the same question: what the hell has your country done?
Not necessarily what you want to hear after stepping off a transatlantic flight, but a pertinent inquiry nonetheless. My classmates were, of course, referring to the stunning, destabilising outcome of the EU referendum in June and the ghastly turbulence that inevitably followed.
Since I would be at risk of losing my voice by repeating my lengthy and unpracticed soliloquy on the political direction of my homeland, I figure I should write up a few thoughts and push them into the ether.
Firstly, yes, the UK has found itself in a mess of colossal proportions.
In the two months that followed the historical referendum, the entire world has had front row tickets to The Hangover Part IV: The Brexit Edition. I am not being dramatic – it is difficult to overstate the unprecedented turmoil and change that have ruthlessly smacked into the British Isles. To recap on what has been quite a nail-biting movie: our Prime Minister resigned; for the second time in history a female was elevated to the most important political position of the UK; Scotland is threatening to open the can of worms that is Scottish independence; global financial markets have been utterly rattled; the main opposition party, Labour, is going through a civil war in an attempt to select its next leader; regional divides have never been so apparent; the pound sterling has slumped; GDP growth has been revised downwards. Regardless of whether you believe that the UK is better off with or without the EU, it is impossible to deny that the situation has unravelled faster than you can say “God save the Queen”.
But guess what else is in shambles? Oh yeah, the EU.
The EU is deeply fractured in its approach to Brexit – the union has erupted in more disagreements than a primary school playground. Germany is the frustrated schoolteacher trying desperately to stop the whole organisation from self-imploding; France made maverick move by conceding that the UK needs more time before it should trigger Article 50; Italy is upset that the UK is not moving fast enough; Poland and Slovakia are worried that they will be excluded from Post-Brexit planning and are now calling for the European Commission President to stand down; Greece is trying to form some sort of consensus among southern European states; Hungary is holding a referendum of its own in October (albeit on solely migration rather than continued membership). The reality is that the EU has failed to nail down a united approach to the crisis.
So will a Brexit actually happen?
Frankly, I am becoming more and more convinced that a Brexit will never actually occur. The more time that goes by without any meaningful movement on the beginning of negotiations, the more plausible it is that we will never actually leave. The government’s strategy may be to endlessly stall: the reality is, our leaders are trapped between what may be possible and what the British people actually voted for. And, since the economic impact of a Brexit is uncertain, our PM may shy from pulling the trigger on Article 50 in fear of her legacy being coloured by a decision with earth-shattering repercussions.
Even if the government did decide to leave, from a logistical perspective it will not trigger Article 50 until a favourable deal has been secured. Since there is no blueprint on what an exit would, or should, look like, I think I will have a few (more) grey hairs by the time Article 50 is evoked.
Either way, I’m not holding my breath…