About Brexit almost everything has been said. The UK political parties are completely dug in, with their positions a million times rehearsed. The deadlock is complete and not easily fixed, since the huge internal party-political divisions have been painfully manifest from the start. None of the factions seems to be willing to move an inch. On the contrary, everybody seems to become increasingly entrenched.
No outside comment seems to matter either. Economists of all denominations have issued their estimates of the impact of various Brexit scenarios, mostly judged to be deleterious to the British and EU economies. Business and labor organizations have joined the ranks in expressing their anxieties. But none of this is of any avail. Brexiteers keep insisting on the ‘The-People-Have-Spoken’ mantra, a statement which of course is true, but never meant to silence for ever anybody who wishes to argue for a more dynamic democratic model of ‘rethinking’ and ‘revisiting’ complex decisions like moving a complete nation out of decades of multilateral collaboration.
Dynamic democracy, with ever-deepening insight into complex matters? No such luck.
Meanwhile, a whole media industry thrives on the soap opera-like elements of it all. The news- and information value of Brexit talkshows these days is rapidly diminishing, but the show must go on. Every day a cliffhanger has to be concocted. It can be called truly amazing, how a limited number of arguments can be repeated over and over again in a tediously slow Westminster chess game, while ordinary people, businesses and regular citizens everywhere are left in the role of mere spectators, wondering what the next day may bring. So what about ‘democracy’? In what way are ‘the people’s wishes’ really respected? And who are ‘the people’?
The bitter reality is that two years have passed in which an army of lawyers, top-level civil servants and KPMG consultants have worked overtime as negotiators and advisors and embarked on the unprecedented exercise of disentangling over 40 years of international cooperation and find alternative legal frames. Nobody has dared to issue overall figures, but the cost of preparing for ‘Brexit eventualities’ runs into the billions. Who benefits? No answer.
We all know that policial processes can be messy and expensive… but this particular political drama has incurred opportunity costs which are immense. According to Brexiteers – invoking ‘the people’ – we are not supposed to point this out too much, since the UK is supposed to gain sovereignty and huge profits in the end. We are not supposed to say that the billions of euros and pounds already sunk into the swampy grounds of Brexit could have been spent better somewhere else, with more relevance to the 500+ million UK and European citizens and their daily lives.
Very urgent programs, which might have gone a long way in addressing some of the fundamentals of today’s unrest have being delayed or overshadowed by all the tumult around Brexit. Money has not been spent on real and urgent reforms in the European region: reforms regarding future employability of our youth, social security, health, climate, technical innovation, addressing security anew or coordinating migration. Instead, billions of pounds and euros have gone to contingency measures, from securing airports to procuring ‘fridges’ meant to keep the vaccines – stuck in corners due to the new borders – cool.
After two years, it there still a way in which European citizens could put a stop to this circus? Who can break the deadlock with some authority? Don’t get me wrong: Justice does need to be done to all those who have justifiable problems with the status quo in Europe and who thought Brexit would improve matters. But justice also needs to be done to all those who think international collaboration is in the end a better answer than retreating into nostalgic nationalism. Who can still steer us towards a new sense of common future for our region, together?
We need an exit from Brexit, but we also need an exit from simple Remain. We need real reforms, which move ‘beyond’.
Who can bring this about? ‘We the people’, perhaps… again.
Godelieve van Heteren, 22-01-2018