Brexit has left Britain exposed to the sort of mockery and pity we once reserved for other countries, argues former Minister for Europe DENIS MACSHANE
Brexit is fast turning Britain into the laughing stock of the democratic world.
In the past, our politicians and journalists liked to mock Latin American or Mediterranean nations for their erratic, eccentric, extravagant politics with comic opera ministers and a deep strand of corruption obvious for all to see. But nothing today matches the tenors and sopranos of Brexit-dominated Westminister as they twist and turn in a wind of their own making, unable to make a decision or offer any way out of the maze they created.
There will be many doctoral theses in the future on the endless U-turns and contradiction on offer from Theresa May, David Davis, Boris Johnson and most other ministers.
The Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech said the UK would amputate itself from Europe on March 29, 2019 with some particularly venomous words for the European Court of Justice.
Then she went to Florence and said ‘oh no, we need a transition period’, and that means living under EU rules, accepting a role for the ECJ and paying enough money so that neither net contributor nor net recipient states are worse off.
Brexit no longer means Brexit, at least not yet. May insists there will no border checks or control in Northern Ireland and yet at the same time the UK will leave the Customs Union, which means there have to be checks unless Ireland is to be the world’s first officially sanctioned contraband state, with smugglers operating across the border with impunity. But she cannot bring herself to tell the truth – that Brexit as desired by UKIP fellow travellers in her cabinet cannot be achieved.
British MPs look down their noses at Italian governments dishing out money to build bridges to nowhere in order to win votes, and mock politicians bribing voters on Greek islands by exempting them from VAT. But there is no corrupt government in recent European history that has so crudely given £1 billion of taxpayers money to prop up their majority.
The DUP has left Northern Ireland in a crisis of non-governability with their refusal to find a new leader to replace a woman publicly exposed for one of the biggest wastes of public money in recent British governance.
Yet everyone who pays tax in Britain has had to fork out to buy the votes of these MPs who, if they existed in any other part of Europe, would be laughed out of public life.
At the same time, no citizen is trusted to see the detailed impact assessments the Government has prepared on the cost of Brexit – the sort of secrecy we might criticise in Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia.
Meanwhile, our foreign secretary is openly derided in a manner never seen in the history of the post. Never in my lifetime has British politics been in such a state of permanent banana republic crisis as over Brexit. It is like a political ebola virus insinuating itself into every cell of the British body politic.
Everyone now sees that Brexit is turning into an economic and political disaster for Britain. The rest of Europe and the world is looking at Britain and seeing the decision to leave Europe as a denial of the legendary, pragmatic common sense of the British.
The hapless PM Theresa May, her deputy and her Chancellor of the Exchequer all said Brexit would be a disaster but now have to stand on their heads, swallow their words, and insist leaving Europe will be wonderful.
The Labour Party has no idea what to do other than lounge on the deckchairs enjoying the sight of the captain and officers of the Good Ship Britannia panicking as they lose steerage, navigation and compass, with no idea of what to do next.
At the Thessaloniki International Symposium on World Affairs recently one of the speakers said that compared to Britain, Greece now looks like a well-governed, stable state compared to the chaos, confusion and political instability of Brexit.
No-one in London appears to know how to get out of the Brexit quagmire. But at least the rest of Europe has learnt that talk about quitting the EU leads to hell not heaven.
Before Brexit there were many anti-EU parties who talked about quitting the EU or holding populist plebiscites on Europe. Now even Marine Le Pen has reversed that line and says France should stay in the EU. Populist parties – the right-wing AfD in Germany or on the left like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain – no longer talk of leaving the EU or the euro as a solution to any of the manifold problems their countries have.
How much longer can this last. How much lower can Britain sink?