To many, the Brexit debate in the UK Parliament and media feels confusing, chaotic, even off-topic and demagogic. I argue that the issues of the debate are real. Leaving the EU (or not) requires resolving the question “what do we stand for”, a question that is open and not directly related to Brexit at all. Finding one’s own path is more difficult than having it plotted by others – but it is also more rewarding.
Those who do not appreciate the size of the task will indeed find the debate in the UK chaotic. In a panel discussion on Channel 4 TV, Sabine Weyand, deputy to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, expresses her frustration at the rejection of the Brexit treaty by Parliament. She stresses the good will of the EU regarding any workable solution for the Irish border, present or future. Why will the UK [Parliament] not accept a solution that it [the UK government] has itself drafted and is free to improve on? Why does the UK discussion [to her] feel strangely “uninhibited by what is actually in the Brexit contract”, as Mrs Weyand ironically phrases it?
It is clear that the May cabinet and the EU have negotiated a deal in good faith, a deal that will work and that is within the bounds of what is acceptable to both sides in a technocratic sense.
This does not mean however that the question of whether to accept the deal or not has become any easier for Parliament. An answer indeed does require a profound deliberation about sovereignty, the unity of the country and a vision for the economy. Only then can costs be weighed against benefits. That most of the debate in the UK has focussed on these questions rather than the fine-print of the deal is not only understandable but necessary. This truth seems to completely pass Mrs Meyand by. Her side, the EU side, does not change course. The UK does.
How to bring order to the chaos? What the UK needs now is a tangible vision of a positive future. With its academic excellence, financial infrastructure, diversified economy and worldwide connections and as a home of freedom and self-determination, all elements are there for the picking.