Commentary: Brexit a Pandora's box for Britain
The deepening trust deficit in British leadership and the diminished global influence as a result of the Brexit deal deadlock will take much time to bridge and build.
SINGAPORE: The land that brought the world the imagination of Dickens and the innovation of Dyson is in political disarray.
The UK is floundering as it tries to find a way out of the Brexit crisis with its democratic mechanism on overdrive as a voting marathon continues.
Almost three years ago when the referendum delivered a mandate to leave the European Union (EU), Brexiteers called it Britain’s “independence day”. Eurosceptics and right-wing politicians, who rode primarily on anti-immigrant sentiment, held their heads high. Some even called for a public holiday to mark the result.
But since that momentous event, the UK has been struggling to push open the exit door.
While the option had been presented to voters as a straightforward Leave or Remain, the realities of the intertwined complexities and hurdles in leaving the EU after four decades have gradually dawned on Britain over the last two years, since the process to do just that was triggered by Prime Minister Theresa May, the leader steering this ship.
The Mar 29 deadline for the country to leave the Union has been extended - a reprieve made possible by the EU. But the embarrassment for the wantaway member has only become worse.
On Thursday (Mar 28), Ms May offered to quit in a desperate attempt to push through her deal for a second time, even as all other proposals on the table fell short of a majority. But that too didn’t work as it became evident that the captain had lost control with recent polls reflecting public disaffection over her leadership.
So Britain has yet to leave the EU.
But it’s no longer just a question of when and whether Brexit will happen. In trying to gain the necessary political support for a way out, Britain is losing much.
Just days before the prime minister’s sacrificial statement, British media cited a poll published by Sky Data that nine out of 10 Britons saw the leaders’ handling of Brexit as a “national humiliation”.
In February, a survey conducted by NatCen Social Research showed how British attitudes towards Brexit have been changing, raising doubts as to whether the majority still favours Brexit. What also stood out in the findings was an increasing sense of pessimism.
A more recent poll by What UK Thinks showed that the number of people against Brexit has been steadily ahead of those for it since 2018.
The disenchantment is apparent, with British columnists, critics and analysts shooting pointed arrows at politicians over the deadlock and the ineffectual attempts to find a solution. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of central London demanding a second referendum and millions have signed an anti-Brexit petition.
LOST THE PLOT ON ITS FUTURE
In the time that Britain has been preoccupied with formulating an acceptable Brexit deal, its economy has lost almost £40 billion a year, according to the Bank of England. Business investment has also fallen the most in a decade, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said in a recent report. But the economy is just one among many concerns.
Brexit or not, the regional power seems to have lost the plot on its own future, polarising society in the process. If leaving the EU was about taking back control, there’s little to show for at the moment.
While blame has flown in all directions domestically - from the prime minister to parliament, from the Commons to the commoner - Britain’s standing and influence on the international stage continues to take uppercuts with every failed Brexit vote in parliament.
The deadlock fuelled by political intransigence - as May’s pledge to step down highlighted - has not just weakened domestic trust but also tarnished British leadership on the international stage. It’s not necessarily leaving the EU that undermines British standing. Rather, it’s the fact that this monumental foreign policy decision has been left in a state of limbo due to fractious domestic politics that’s hurting British image.
Even if a breakthrough is reached and Brexit takes it course, the entrenched divisions in society, the deepening trust deficit in British leadership and its diminished global influence will take some time to bridge and build.
And if Brexit doesn’t happen, the recovery could take longer.