London — The European Union is the new Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Any hopes that the British government might actually go ahead and achieve Brexit, after more voters supported it than have ever voted for anything in the entire history of this formerly great country, were pretty well dashed this week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a spectacular series of defeats in the House of Commons, capped by the utterly humiliating departure of his own brother Jo, a Remainer, who quit both his brother’s government and his seat in the Commons rather than be an ally for the Brexit Johnson has repeatedly promised would occur, “do or die,” on October 31. Jo Johnson said he was putting “the national interest” ahead of party and family.
After many in his own party deserted him, and, more to the point, deserted the country, by joining the pro-EU coalition in Parliament, a bill set to become law on Monday will require Johnson to go on bended knee to the EU to seek a second extension. After that outcome is secured, a general election looms.
In proving that it is terrified of a no-deal Brexit, Parliament has effectively stripped the United Kingdom of all its negotiating leverage and made it probable that nothing like a clean break with the EU will occur. What Britain will wind up with will evidently either be continued EU membership or some sort of sham Brexit like the one that was repeatedly rejected when Theresa May tried to sell it to the Commons.
How about this idea? “A simple referendum will solve Brexit,” Tony Blair writes in an op-ed in the Evening Standard. Hang on, I thought there already was one. But no, you see, that referendum delivered the wrong result. Britain checked out of the EU in 2016, but it can never be allowed to leave.
After the massive bipartisan effort known as Project Fear, backed almost unanimously by the media, failed to scare the British public into voting Remain in 2016, the British public should be asked to vote again, says Blair. There is now an even more massive bipartisan effort, led by an even more nearly unanimous media (the Daily Mail has switched sides to the Remain cause), to scare the voters about the prospects of a no-deal Brexit, which few really want, but the threat of which cannot be discarded if any serious negotiation is to be held with the EU. If no-deal is off the table, the EU holds all the cards. Blair, deeply desirous that his own country be subjected to whatever the EU dictates, is urging the U.K. to hold a “No, but seriously, you really don’t want Brexit, do you?” referendum.
Blair wants a second referendum because he fears that if Johnson should hold a general election and win a clear majority — and the Conservatives are well ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, according to the latest polling — he might actually shove Brexit through. And Brexit cannot be allowed to happen because Brexit would not be normal. “The 2017 election,” Blair writes, “should warn us against confusing a normal election with the not-normal but enormous issue of Brexit.” You might counter that, in the thousand-year history of Britain, it’s fairly not-normal for the country to surrender its sovereignty over everything from criminal justice to immigration policy to regulatory minutiae. You might also argue that it’s fairly not-normal for a great country to simply ignore what its own voters clearly ordered because the elites don’t like it.
Ah, but there you’d be wrong! Christopher Caldwell pores over the anti-democratic European playbook in a superb essay in the Claremont Review of Books. In EU-land, it’s perfectly normal for referenda to be ignored. In 1992, voters in Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty, then they voted the proper way in 1993. Irish voters rejected the EU Treaty of Nice in 2001, then in 2002 were ushered back to the polls, when they voted in accordance with EU wishes. After Ireland rejected the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008, the voters returned to the polls to deliver the EU-desired result in 2009. “These do-overs had become a Europe-wide symbol of contempt for voters,” Caldwell writes. “And that is why Parliament voted overwhelmingly in March 2017 to validate the referendum, activate the E.U.’s Article 50, and fix the date for British withdrawal.” That date was March 29, 2019, which turned out not to be all that fixed after all. The currently mooted terms would delay Brexit at least another 90 days past October 31, pushing the saga into 2020.
If the EU would provide Johnson with some modicum of face-saving as he pleads for a slightly more genuine Brexit than the one Theresa May proposed, in which Britain would effectively have become a vassal of the EU, the matter could be ended. With his own countrymen and members of his own party sabotaging him at every turn, however, Johnson’s “do or die” promise today looks every bit as hollow as May’s declaration that “Brexit means Brexit.”