May 3, 2019
BY JOE LEARY
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Britain’s long, boring, argumentative journey toward separation from Europe will be remembered for centuries. It will not be a proud moment in its history.
So far the process has been a mess. Massive egos, with their own agendas, have interrupted discussions and negotiations. British leaders have tried to set the terms of their leaving and the European leaders are not responding to the British demands.
The British public, of which 51 percent voted on June 23, 2016, to leave Europe, had little understanding of what they were doing. The conservative party felt the whole idea was preposterous and did almost nothing to educate the voters. Practically everyone throughout the world was shocked with the outcome.
David Cameron, the prime minister at the time, resigned and Theresa May was voted in as his replacement. She immediately announced that she would lead Britain out of Europe as soon as possible. This was a surprise because she was a “remainer” during the election. But what is frequently left unmentioned is that, in another surprise, her home district voted by some 60 percent to leave Europe. This must have had an impact on her thinking.
She has received much criticism for not managing the situation more expertly, but her constant, forceful efforts should receive much admiration. Her Parliament has rarely supported her in the three years she has been prime minister, mostly because Europe has refused to agree to all that the various British factions have demanded.
There are several loud politicians in Parliament who are trying to oust May. First in line is a character named Boris Johnson, a former mayor of London. He is the leading candidate to replace May and, according to a recent poll, he now has 30 percent of the conservative party pledged to vote for him.
The most serious impediment to successful negotiations with Europe is how the border with the Republic of Ireland, which is staying in the EU, will be treated. This is yet another example of the horrendous decision in 1922 to partition Ireland in service of the differences in religion. Thousands of good people have died as a result of it, and once again Britain itself is compromised.
The Unionist Party in Northern Ireland is supporting a “hard” border system with soldiers, guard towers, and anything else needed to emphasize its separateness. They are refusing to participate in a local government set up by the “Good Friday” agreement and are being as difficult as possible so they can remain in power.
With all the conflicting and fiercely aggressive ideas, with everyone refusing to give an inch, the situation might remind us of our own Civil War during which some 750,000 Americans died when so many in the South refused to give up slavery. The nationalist fervor in Britain seems to inflame the “leavers” to battle at an uncompromising level.
Right now, after many missed deadlines and the world’s disgust with no form of agreement in view, the European Union has extended the next date for Britain’s decision to October 31 this year. There is no doubt that Britain’s reputation has been damaged. Late night television programs in France and Germany are full of mocking and laughter at British politicians inability to find agreement on much of anything. Let us hope that the different points of view come together. No one should want bitter feelings to disturb Europe after so many years of good will.