The UK is in the midst of an extremely serious political and constitutional crisis. Under populist pressure, the oldest parliamentary democracy, with no written Constitution has witnessed the literal collapse of its political life and traditions. The 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union masked another on governance and alternation between the two main parties, i.e. the Conservatives and Labour. The British firstly said “no”. Initially consultative, this referendum has become the inevitable symbol of the divisions in a society which has suffered, like all others, globalisation, uncertainty, inequality and new expectations on the part of its citizens. Only the British can find their way out of gridlock by stating what they want, if they in fact know what that is. Overcoming division will be difficult, painful and slow. The price to pay for this folly will be high.
This situation has not been the cause of glee to the Europeans. They know that our futures are linked, our economies interwoven, and our interests interlocked. Legitimately they have protected their interests, but they have done so whilst also taking our partners across the Channel into account.
No one has wanted to punish the British, who we might think deserved it, especially since over the 46 years of life together in the Union they have been difficult, selfish, unreliable and self-interested partners. The specialists of blocking and enemies from within, they have never managed to exhaust European patience.
The Europeans have protected Winston Churchill’s legacy, the true advocate of the continent’s peaceful unification that was designed to break from its destructive past. Europe is not an empire and does not use force. Sometimes it is accused of this, but its main quality is that it is organised to overcome differences and appease potential tension amongst populations.
This is what it will do again, despite the presence of a British government whose strange, impolite, rude leaders, whose practices are more akin to those of street thugs than good diplomacy amongst allies.
Beyond the words of a barely credible Prime Minister, beyond this sect of extremist ideologists, who have taken the Conservative Party, the UK and then Europe hostage, there is a fantastic ally and a kindred population of immense quality. Our long-term interests command us to have enough sense for two.
The European Union will not give in to Boris Johnson’s every whim, who might yet lead his country into breaching its own laws and to the edge of the abyss, but who above all wants to win the elections. Before that, in the meantime or after 31st October, the Union will remain open to talks and is ready for an agreement, but not under just any conditions. In this stand-off that the British Prime Minister would like to turn into a drama to the bitter end, the Union is defending peace in Ireland, European and British citizens’ rights and the integrity of what it has achieved, i.e. a large regulated market that is protected from excesses. It will not accept a deceitful offshore market on its borders, but it will do everything it can to achieve an agreement to structure our relations with the UK, whatever its situation. Beyond the provocation and attitude, the Europeans and the British can still come to agreement and we can even expect it.