Rohac on Brexit
Dalibor Rohac’s columns on Brexit are a must-read. The new one is no exception. In the Washington Post, Dalibor argues that enough is enough, and both the EU and the UK share an interest, now, to go for a Brexit agreement as soon as possible. This is the gist of his argument:
Both the E.U. and the U.K. face many urgent matters, including conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, a looming economic downturn, rising authoritarianism in member states such as Hungary, and long-term challenges posed by an ailing transatlantic partnership and the rise of China. European leaders can’t afford to squander any more time and energy on a country that has its own political priorities.
The U.K. is a distraction. If the British want to focus on defining their post-European future — let them. Europe has already shown ample patience and goodwill: The U.K. was originally supposed to leave on March 29 and has been since granted two extensions. At British request, the withdrawal agreement was renegotiated. The clock has run out.
As for the British, it’s already clear that Brexit entails politically brutal choices. Faced with unpalatable alternatives, British parliamentarians will always prefer to kick the can down the road rather than settling on a clear plan forward. But that’s their problem, not the E.U.’s.
Yet it seems to me that Dalibor is kind of assuming an identity here between the needs of the politicians and those of their constituents. Perhaps the latter are happy to pay the price of this prolonged uncertainty. But why is he assuming the standstill is bad for the politicians? Insofar as Brexit is keeping attention away from economic policies or other internal affairs, it could actually be good for European leaders. When a few months ago the leader of the Italian Northern League, Matteo Salvini, tried to call for an early election in October (he failed at such parliamentary maneuver, but he is still going strong in the country), my first thought was that one of his reasons was somehow to shield himself behind Brexit. He would have campaigned on a relatively Euroskeptic platform, but whatever bad turns the stock market may have taken (as a likely consequence of the markets’ distrust for the policies he’d have promised to his voters) could well be blamed on such momentous events outside his control.
Distractions are a very powerful weapon in politics. Insofar as the English ruling class is concerned, Brexit has already shattered its reputation and jeopardized political parties’ internal cohesion. Perhaps somebody would like to pull the trigger as soon as possible, to see how the world of politics will stabilize and change afterwards. But others may prefer this limbo.