My latest piece at DIPLOMAT ponders the mysteries of Brexit:
In honour of Brexit, I have invented a fine new international acronym: WGO.
Not the World Gangster Organisation. Nor the Women Gender Option. Not even (yet) the Western Gulag Office.
WGO stands for the core question that needs to be posed by an intelligent person when looking at any diplomatic problem or negotiation or conundrum. Namely this: what’s going on?
As I type this new Diplomat magazine piece on a rainy Sunday 13 October morning, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is locked in intense negotiations with other EU leaders to try to agree a formula for delivering Brexit (ie the UK’s departure from the European Union). So, at the end of October 2019 will the UK’s hokey-cokey be ‘In or Out’ or wandering around in the waiting-room dismally ‘shaking it all about’?
Spin doctors are a-spinning. Remainers who demanded a Deal are now muttering that any Boris deal will really be a No-Deal. But is a deal to have No-Deal a deal or a no-deal? In the other camp, Brexiteers are warning that Boris will have to make concessions, without telling us what sort or scale of concessions they might be.
Meanwhile, UK government TV ads and motorway signs exhort us to prepare for new arrangements after Brexit, but are coy on what these ‘arrangements’ might be. But why are we in this grotesque situation?
Good question. That duly answered, this:
What’s interesting to me, as it must be to the diplomatic community in London watching these grim gyrations, is just how emotionally divisive they have become for us pragmatic Brits. Family members who never previously talked about EU issues now exchange genuinely bitter barbs amidst mutual incomprehension:
“How could you vote for this horrendous Brexit?”
“Why can’t you see that the horror of these Brexit negotiations shows exactly why we had to leave?”
In my own case, some former close FCO friends and colleagues have officially broken off contact with me for voting for Brexit:
“Sorry, but your views are just too painful for us!”
Another former senior FCO colleague Remainer glares at me:
“Why are you taking away my rights to free movement across Europe?”
I snap back:
“Why do you want foreign former communists in EU courts to decide your rights?”
The sheer intensity of such exchanges is striking. WGO? What’s at stake here?
I get it. I can see why someone might fret in a utilitarian sort of way about the strategic disruption and possible real harm that a bungled Brexit will do to our institutions and economy. But (a) that harm will be all the greater if lots of smart people feverishly try to block any conceivable Brexit outcome, and (b) is it really so ignoble to prefer to your country to be more like (say) Canada than (say) Belgium?
The whole business is like an abusive marriage, where spouse A asks for a divorce on the grounds that spouse B is a bullying control freak, and spouse B then uses every possible ploy to make life as difficult as possible for spouse A, thereby vindicating spouse A’s core argument.
When I inspect my flabber I find it completely gasted at the sight of so many Westminster Parliament MPs vaingloriously using every possible political and procedural ploy to thwart different Brexit options, merely so that they can remain useless rubber-stamps for EU edicts coming their way from Brussels. Have they no self-respect? Seems not.
Brexit is, of course, part of a wider drama of institutional instability and uncertainty. Dissolving borders. Uncontrolled migration. Invisible cyber warfare. Drones. Trade wars. Populism. Putin. Erdogan. Trump! Aaaaargh!
For many people, the European Union seems to be a sort of psychological security blanket under which like-minded gentle Europeans can snuggle up against all these nasty dark stormy forces. After all, why should we Brits be so arrogant as to demand to decide for ourselves how to respond to these dangerous times? Respect the collective will! Always be ‘umble, Uriah!
My first 2016 Brexit piece here recalled the FCO Leadership Conference back in the mid-2000s addressed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the ensuing Q and A our then Ambassador in Paris warned the Prime Minister that current British policies were going down badly in Paris. Tony Blair said something very subtle:
“Well, at some point you have to make an almost aesthetic choice about what you’re trying to do and what you are.”
Indeed. THAT is what is ‘going on’ here.
In such desperate situations it’s always good to end with a quote from the Ambassador of Tajikistan:
Let’s finish with the wise and witty speech by Tajikistan’s Ambassador in London, HE Mr Masud Khalifazoda, at the reception marking Tajikistan’s National Day in September. The Ambassador explains WGO:
“British people really are quite nice! Calm. Sensible. Positive. Helpful! Above all? British people are REASONABLE.
My diplomatic problem now? Explaining this to my capital!
Every day I send them full reports. How the calm, sensible, positive, helpful, reasonable Brits are dealing with Brexit.
No-one in Dushanbe believes me!”