Amid the messy Brexit divorce, hopes springs eternal for Britain

Amid the messy Brexit divorce, hopes springs eternal for Britain, by Greg Sheridan.

Britain is still a stable society. In Australia, French President Emmanuel Macron cut a stylish figure, but in his absence Paris burned. More than 100 rioters are in custody after violence that seemed both opportunistic and nihilistic. France now faces the long grind of trade union and student opposition to much-needed economic reform.

France’s still powerful railway unions are committed to a summer of strikes. Though there is nearly double-digit unemployment and much higher youth unemployment, protected unionists want to keep their protections. For them, retiring at 50 with a full pension is a question of human rights.

Nicolas Sarkozy tried the same reforms as Macron from the centre right, Francois Hollande from the centre left, and now Macron from the centre. If Macron fails, the next place for France to turn is Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

Bureaucrats ignoring the people:

After several weeks in Europe, it strikes me that European bureaucrats are as impervious to reality and as contemptuous of public opinion as ever. They think they have defeated populism because Angela Merkel scraped back in, in Berlin, and Macron triumphed in Paris. They think these populist revolts throughout Europe are just adolescent growing pains, whereas in reality the EU is not an adolescent but a fully mature beast with an internal cancer it will not acknowledge. …

Brexit subversion:

Those who most hate Brexit want Britain to stay within the EU customs union, and if possible the single market. Dan Hannan, the Conservative member of the European Parliament, told me “leaving and remaining a member of the customs union would be much worse than not leaving at all”. If Britain remains in the customs union, it cannot determine its own trade policy and must abide by all EU rules without even the influence it once had when it was a member of the EU.

Hannan believes the British establishment wants to overturn the result of the referendum, explicitly or by stealth: “There is a pro-EU majority in parliament, in the civil service and in the British establishment. Most of them are savvy enough not to say they’re trying to overturn the referendum vote, though some of them do say that.” …

The customs partnership was the preferred option of the civil service and it had sold this to May. … This is the reverse of the national autonomy Brexit was supposed to deliver. …

The fanatical remainers may yet produce the outcome they claim to fear most, for every single politician I interviewed, right across the spectrum, acknow­ledges that there is a real chance of Britain just crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. …

British politics is beset by a series of contradictions it cannot resolve but must resolve in the Brexit process. Lord Paul Bew, a Northern Irish crossbencher and former professor of politics, says he cannot work out which oddity — the London bourgeoisie voting for the far-left Corbyn as revenge for Brexit, or the northern working class voting Conservative in support for Brexit — will last longer. …

There is another contradiction. To have absolutely frictionless trade and a seamless transition requires something like a customs union or a “Brexit in name only”.

That means no big shock the day after Britain leaves. But to have in five years a Britain that controls its own immigration and its own trade policy, which has national autonomy and is global and self-confident, requires a clear repudiation of a customs union and instead implementing a Brexit in full substance.