The story that May’s deal, sprinkled with magic codicils, could be transformed from a dud to diamond was dishonest. The Brexit ultras of the European Research Group put on a show of legal piety, convening a “star chamber” of jurists to evaluate the EU’s offer. They borrowed the nomenclature from Tudor England, not because the historical analogy is appropriate but as a stylistic affectation, lending bogus gravitas to what is, in reality, a conclave of veteran Eurosceptics who were always going to say what decades of prejudice had primed them to say: that Brussels has not given enough; that the sovereignty of Albion is affronted.
I do not recall the high priests of Brexit being so interested in legal nicety when arguing that Britain should quit the EU without a deal, reneging on financial commitments already made under the December 2017 “joint report”, and hang the consequences for Ireland and its border. In the referendum, leave campaigners were hardly fastidious in explaining the technical implications of ending UK-EU treaties. They didn’t even feel bound by domestic electoral law, as subsequent investigations have established.
Britain did once cultivate a sober, lawyerly and realistic strain of Euroscepticism. The perspective it brought to EU affairs, the laconic distance from continental flights of federalism, was often appreciated by fellow member states. It was a valued part of the cultural mix. But that trait has been submerged in a torrent of romantic nationalism that sweeps rational query aside and dismisses practical objections as deficient patriotism.
Every difficulty encountered in Brexit negotiations over the past two years was foreseeable. Most flowed from the same essential miscalculation: the wildly implausible expectation that a bloc of 27 nations, each knowing the value of unity and solidarity, would be the weaker party in negotiations. [Continue reading…]