The Harder Brexit Gets, the More Necessary It Seems

The costs of the split in 2019 will be high — but it might be now or never.

By Clive Crook and cross-posted from Bloomberg View

Nobody was surprised that the European Union’s leaders refused to move the Brexit talks forward at last week’s summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk talked of progress and suggested there’d be more at the next gathering in December, but this speck of encouragement shouldn’t obscure the bigger picture. The process is moving too slowly, and with each passing week, the chances of a chaotic U.K. departure from the EU grow.

 The closer this calamity comes into view, the more certain it seems that Britain has miscalculated — and the more I’m coming round to the view that the U.K. was right to want a divorce.

In the debate about Britain and Europe, I’ve been a reluctant Remainer. The U.K. has been an ill-fitting member of the EU all along. As the union integrates further over the coming years — which it probably must, if it’s to succeed — Britain’s discomfort was bound to grow. The U.K. did need a fundamentally new relationship with the rest of the EU.

But the government should have worked to create this new status — a kind of associate membership — from a position of strength inside the union. Its approach to the creation of the euro could have been the model: Be a nuisance, refuse to go along, and win special dispensation. Instead, by giving notice to quit the union altogether, on an EU-determined timetable, the U.K. surrendered most of its bargaining power. That huge tactical error is going to cost.

The stalemate in the exit negotiations is proof. At the same time, though, it draws attention to those very aspects of the European project that most concern so many Brits — not just the 52 percent who voted to quit (despite endless dire warnings) but also an unknown number of reluctant Remainers like myself.

The difficulty of disentangling EU law from U.K. law, and putting the U.K.’s international commitments back on a sovereign-country basis, is becoming all too clear. The threat of enormous disruption is real. Yet the scale and complexity of this task also show how deeply and broadly the EU has penetrated British governance. Few would argue that Europe’s system of democratic accountability has developed to a commensurate degree. So the harder it is to exit, the more glaring the union’s “democratic deficit” seems

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