Britain and the European Union
Into the endgame
How Parliament should weigh up the Brexit deal
At last, Britain’s game of three-dimensional chess with the European Union is entering its closing phase. On November 14th the two parties published a draft divorce agreement, 585 pages in length. Nearly two-and-a-half years after the British shocked their own government by voting to leave the EU, they are about to discover what Brexit really means.
The game is by no means over. The deal still has to be agreed by the EU and, harder still, by the British Parliament. Several ministers, including the Brexit secretary, resigned in protest; Theresa May could yet be toppled. MPs must grapple with multiple loyalties: to their constituents, their parties and their own beliefs, all of which are likely to have shifted since the referendum. Within weeks they will have to make the biggest decision facing Britain, and one of the biggest for Europe, in generations.
If the country has learned anything since 2016, it is to look before it leaps. Yet, in what well summed up the level of debate on Brexit, hardline Leavers and Remainers alike trashed the deal before they had read a word of it. This makes no sense. The terms of the divorce will take time for MPs and those they represent to digest—and they may well be amended by European leaders before Parliament has its vote. Nor is it clear what would happen in the event that the deal were voted down: more negotiating, a second referendum or crashing out without a deal? But as the crunch vote nears, MPs must consider how to approach this fateful question.
First, forget the past. The cheating that went on during the campaign, the premature triggering of Article 50 and the thin preparations are maddening. But they are questions for the inquiry that will surely one day dissect this national fiasco. The task before Parliament is to decide in a cool-headed way whether adopting the terms on offer is better for the country than rejecting them.