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Save Britannia

These are troubling times for the British people and their political leaders as they have failed to come to grips with the extremely complex challenge of negotiating a withdrawal from the EU.

The UK took time to join the European Economic Community (EEC). Over time, the British weren’t too enthusiastic about the ECC’s political and monetary consolidation, and its further growth to 28 members. The UK had declined to join the Eurozone or the Schengen visa regime in order to keep its sovereignty intact.

The large-scale continuous arrival of labour from recent EU members created a backlash, leading to calls to leave the EU. Having voted to do so in a referendum in 2016, the UK now wants to leave the EU on its terms, never mind if it has worked out an accord with the other union members on quitting. The so-called Brexit deal has since been overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Commons.

British Prime Minister Theresa May barely survived a vote of no-confidence and has taken up the task of renegotiating with Brussels. If all that sounds extraordinary, think of the amendments that she has been handed to vindicate British honour by changing some important provisions of the agreement. To put it mildly, the Brits are lost.

The guests at a diplomatic reception in Islamabad, which was hosted last month by Romanian ambassador Nicolae Goia to mark his country’s assumption of the EU Council’s rotating presidency, felt a touch of melancholy as the host expressed sadness over the impending exit of Britain from the union.

The stark inevitability of the choice expressed by a majority of British voters in 2016 is hitting home as the countdown to March 29 has accelerated. An island nation, which ruled vast areas of the globe by dint of cleverness and bravery, and later lorded over the world order as the closest ally of the US, is fearful of losing its place. It scorned the EU, but now feels the pangs of losing its status of a major EU member and all the benefits of being part of a union of 500 million Europeans. By losing Britain, the EU too would be diminished in terms of its population as well as its political and economic reality.

Two events over the past few days have brought out the fissures within the body politic: the humiliating defeat of the prime minister’s exit plan, followed by the consolation prize of defeating the vote of no-confidence. The populace doesn’t know what could come next, which has turned the symbolic British lion into a jumpy cat that is running all over.

The situation is so dire that Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch had to break her reserve to call for sanity. Thus spoke the Queen: “As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view, coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture”. Her Majesty’s exceptional intervention was directed at the British people and more so at their feuding politicians on how to proceed on Brexit in a cohesive manner rather than making demands to suit their narrow interests.

EU members are hardly amused by Britain’s antics. They are, however, ready to give the British PM a patient hearing. There is apparently no way that Theresa May can convince the EU’s institutional heads to undo the previously-agreed deal. Are we then heading towards a situation without Brexit? After two years of prevarication and procrastination on the part of the British leadership, anything is possible.

The probability of no agreement is causing great anxiety. Game plans to overcome turbulence arising from the shortage of food items imported from the EU have been reported. If such crises do occur, the responsibility of failure would squarely lie with the political players. It is worrying that the British democracy, one of the world’s oldest and highly-respected democracies, is incapable of resolving an existential issue like Brexit.

The 2016 referendum, which led to a narrow victory for the ‘leave’ vote to quit the EU, looks like a huge gamble in hindsight. The supporters of Brexit didn’t think through its consequences. They realise, like the ‘remain’ voters, that Britain would be a net loser. Those wishing to add new provisions or change old ones, such as border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic that remains in the EU, are further complicating matters.

The fact is that the political class in Britain has been reluctant to accept the burden of their decisions. It is a bit disconcerting that British politicians should now be expecting other EU members to bail them out of what appears like a huge mess. If the British entry into the EEC was problematic, so will be its departure. The EU has never gone through the exercise of a member leaving the union. In fact, it has only received applications for membership and been admired across the globe as a model if not the mother of all regional organisation.

Britain out of the EU may sound to some like a brave new world. But in creating that world, the British political system has been mauled and diminished to the extent that the queen had to issue a call for compromise. On re-reading the queen’s carefully-selected words, we cannot fail to note their universal value for the mother of parliamentary democracies or for fledgling systems like ours, where parliament is used to hurl abuses rather than legislate for the welfare of the people.

Email: saeed.saeedk@gmail.com

M Saeed Khalid, "Save Britannia," The News. 2019-02-02.
Keywords: Political science , Political process , Political parties , Political leaders , Political issues , Economic issues , Economic growth , Economic policy , Politicians , Politics , Economy , Democracy , Queen Elizabeth II , UK , EU , EEC

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