Divorces are messy things, particularly once the decision is made and reality sets in that things may not be so straightforward. This is exactly what the United Kingdom faces as it plans and negotiates its separation from the E.U. following the Brexit vote. To complicate matters further, the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that Parliament must give approval before secession can commence.
Not only that, but more recently Lady Brenda Hale, deputy president of the court, has said that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government may need to comprehensively replace existing E.U. legislation before it can even begin to execute Brexit, a curve ball that would seriously delay the process. The Court has set a December 6 date for hearing the government’s appeal.
While some have cheered the decision as a silver bullet for Brexit, this will not change the course that May has charted for the Brexit process whatsoever. The U.K. will continue its path to full separation from the E.U. thanks to the prime minister’s steely leadership. It is simply a matter of when.
Nonetheless, May, who has shown great toughness and focus since being sworn into office last July, faces a rocky path forward. Not only is she facing uncertain terrain in working with her European counterparts, but she is trying to hold off political forces who would like to cause partisan mischief and bring her government down in this process.
Despite her earlier anti-Brexit sentiments, she is clearly committed to following the will of the people. Not since Margaret Thatcher was at the helm, quite frankly, has there been such fierce determination to hold the line on such a consequential and historic moment for the U.K. She is of the mind that the faster the break, the better. Absorbing an immediate shock is better than dragging out the consequences over time.
For now, the prime minister is keeping her negotiating cards close to the vest. To openly discuss her approach to the future U.K.-E.U. relationship would be an act of political suicide. Not only would it let the E.U. know her hand, but it would provide her partisan adversaries with unnecessary leverage. Behind the scenes of No. 10 Downing Street, steely nerves and a strict cone of silence on approaches to secession are the order of the day. And so, Brexit takes a detour for now until the Supreme Court comes out with a decision on the government’s appeal.
In the time since Brexit was passed, hard economic realities have set in. The British pound has dropped by 18% and will continue it is expected to decline into 2017. Manufacturers of high tech equipment, consumer goods and even basic food stuffs have been forced to raise prices to absorb inflation. In addition, jobs are being lost, and eminent think tanks estimate that 80,000 to 100,000 more Brits will lose their jobs over the next few years.
The economic setbacks are not confined to just the U.K. Tariff–free goods and traditional supply lines, carefully built during the 40 years of U.K. membership in the E.U., will soon be a thing of the past. Some estimate that the cost of tariffs alone to E.U. consumers will add around $15 billion while U.K. consumers will face an additional $5 billion.
At the same time that the future does show signs of a difficult final divorce, the most dire predictions of a free fall in the U.K. economy post-Brexit have not found traction. Somehow traditional British pluck seems to have prevailed just as it will when Article 50 is finally triggered and the tough decisions will need to be made. The tugs and pulls of a working democracy with all its balances of power and electoral surprises keep the future in suspense. If the Government loses its appeal, it will simply add time to the clock in resolving legal steps. It will not permanently derail Brexit.
And so with all the prevailing drama, should it be any other way? To paraphrase Britain’s Winston Churchill in his own address before the House of Commons just after World War II, democracy is indeed the worst form of government … with the exception of all the rest.
James P. Moore, Jr. is managing director of the Business, Society, and Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business.