The Brexit process offers a lesson — that the price of hyper-nationalism can be high. In 2016, a British referendum decided by a very narrow vote to cut its 46-year old ties with the European Union. The usual balderdash was trotted out by the “Leave” side — British pride, and Britain managing its own economy and institutions, and not allowing decisions made in Europe. But the economic price of leaving looked ultra-high- European markets blocked, Britons earning in Europe having to return, and others.
All of this led to very messy politics. There came to be deep divisions within the two main political parties over Brexit. The House of Commons has repeatedly rejected the deal negotiated with the EU by Prime Minister Theresa May late last year on the terms of departure. The British Parliament has also rejected a no-deal Brexit, meaning it wants that Britain should institutionally continue to do business with the Europeans, but avoid political ties — such as common laws relating to human rights, or the environment.
Many on the “Leave” side are apparently having a change of heart after understanding the full consequences of a no-deal Brexit. The Parliament has shown PM May her place, by rejecting her formula. But it has not offered an alternative. Ms May’s desperate pleadings with the EU leaders earlier this week have won the UK reprieve until October 31. In the time until then, Britain can come up with a new formula for departure, or cancel the idea of Brexit itself. But that might call for a fresh referendum to reverse the 2016 expression of “popular sovereignty”. Letting each citizen vote on grand policy evidently has its pitfalls.