Logically speaking, the thing that sticks out is that official Britain seems committed to leaving the European Union on March 29, deal or no deal, based solely on a 52% vote in a referendum that is not technically binding. So setting aside the question of whether that is remotely sane, let’s assume that this is going to happen no matter what. Let’s further accept that the EU deal that was voted down 2-1 tonight is in fact the best deal the UK can get, and the alternative is to leave with no deal. At this point, there’s nothing left to argue about. Britain is going to crash out of the EU on March 29.
So now what?
You can make a case for pulling the plug on Brexit based on the notion that this isn’t what people thought they were getting. That’s entirely plausible – you could make a good case that a hard no-deal Brexit with all its consequences is far too grave a circumstance to let go on the basis of a single 52% referendum vote. But the deal that’s presently on offer can almost certainly not be improved upon. It’s not that Theresa May screwed up – her performance has been manifestly disastrous, but that’s only marginally on her and mostly on the fact that there is no way to do this well. The Brexiteer fantasy of “everything we want and nothing we don’t” is not on offer, and the people fighting on those grounds are out of their mind. That said, there was nothing that said May had to trigger Article 50 before a deal was in place; the March 29 deadline didn’t have to be there and the looming cliff was chosen, not imposed.
And if Britain goes off that cliff, that’s it. There’s no going back. You can’t expect to rejoin the EU at some future date with the arrangements that existed previously. Best case scenario is a Norway-type arrangement where you have all the rules and none of the power to shape them. More likely is an obligation to come back with hat in hand and accept full membership, complete with the Euro replacing the pound and no rebates on the common agriculture protocol. But right now, you have to think that No Deal is going to win, simply because that’s on autopilot and requires nothing. It would take an affirmative vote to accomplish anything, and nobody can agree on an affirmative path – the deal is unacceptable, bailing out of Brexit altogether is unacceptable (?), so follow the rails until you run off ‘em.
I don’t think Cold War begins to cover it. This is a Cold Invasion, ongoing for years, of a type that wasn’t possible before the advent of the Internet and wasn’t conceivable when there were still societal standards around news, truth and the norms of the democratic process. We let the “choose your own reality” types undermine our existence until it only took a social media push to bring the whole edifice to its knees.
The tough bit is learning how to plow through the next day despite a constant fog of existential despair. And the day after that. And the day after that. And while you can do it, you end up having to circumscribe the world around you and narrow your focus and not think of other people or think of the future or think about the bigger issues. Which is what they wanted to begin with. So the question we keep coming back to – if you can’t come up with a path to victory, how do you at least stave off defeat without giving them what they want?