Brexit: Could Britain’s Bid for Freedom End in Tragedy?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The rejection by Britain’s parliament of Prime Minister Johnson’s deal in respect of Brexit makes us wonder whether the denouement to this drama could end up like the last scene of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” That involved the desperate flight to escape East Germany by Richard Burton and his disillusioned girlfriend. Inches from freedom, they are gunned down at the Berlin Wall.
It’s not our intention here to draw a moral equivalency between the European Union and the Soviet Bloc. (Or to predict gunfire.) Only to remark on how harrowing the desperate effort of the doughty Brits to escape Europe has become. And to acknowledge, in the wake of today’s developments, in which the Remainers in parliament were seen in all their cynicism, that it may yet end tragically for our heroes.
On the deal that Parliament has just brushed aside, our own sentiments align with those of our Brexit diarist, Stephen MacLean. He’s a clear-eyed conservative. He reckons the deal Mr. Johnson brought to Parliament this week was fatally flawed in that, on trade and taxes, among other issues, it would leave Britain with — to use David Cameron’s long ago phrase — an “illusion of sovereignty.”
It’s an important point. Mr. MacLean has looked at the text of the proposed agreement and discovered that the Irish backstop is but the tip of an iceberg of problems. He sees, say, the migration and fisheries language as containing a commitment to achieve a compromise to be adjudicated solely by the European Court. No free American would countenance such a thing for even a nanosecond.
Plus, too, the proposed pact in theory seems to suggest Britain could develop an “independent trade policy.” It goes on, though, to undermine that hope, saying that the Parties should uphold the common high standards in areas of “state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environment, climate change, and relevant tax matters.”
Yet the whole point of Brexit was to get out of the blasted common high standards. They were killing Britain. The draft would bind Britain and Europe to “the principles of good governance in the area of taxation and to the curbing of harmful tax practices,” while maintaining “environmental, social and employment standards at the current high levels provided by the existing common standards.”
Watch your wallet, we say. Can any honest Remainer suggest that this kind of language is for what the voters asked when, in June 2016, they decided Britain would leave Europe? Remember, Mr. MacLean points out, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been fretting that an independent Britain would join America and China among the EU’s global competitors.
So how, he asks, can there be doubt that the intention of the Europeans now is to “cripple Britain’s ability to implement regulatory and tax reforms to encourage entrepreneurship and generate economic growth?” Says the Disraeli-Macdonald Institute: “If such independence was not at the core of the Brexit debate, the whole campaign for freedom is rendered a farce.”
Exactly. So one way to look at the defeat Mr. Johnson has just suffered is as a blessing in disguise — a chance to tell the European kleptocrats that Conservatives will now wait for the moment to take this issue to the British people in a campaign for a new parliament. That may take a while, or it may happen quickly, but in our view, the challenge will be to craft a common platform between the Tories and Nigel Farage.
Their relationship, to the degree that it has existed at all, has been strained as Mr. Johnson went off to pursue the kind of deal that Theresa May sought. Good for Mr. Farage — he’s already written himself into history. It’s well to remember, though, that Mr. Farage couldn’t have won the Brexit referendum based on carping about immigration and European socialism alone.
No, the victory of three years ago was clinched by illuminating the promise of independence. No one made that part of the case better than Mr. Johnson. It strikes us Yanks, who have been rooting for Brexit since the 1980s, that the highest priority now is for Messrs. Johnson and Farage to find a modus vivendi to fight the next parliamentary election together. Otherwise, we fear, Britain’s desperate bid for freedom will end in tragedy, just like in the movie.