By Michael L Jarvis, London UK
A call by the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, that the UK should revoke Article 50 to leave the European Union is worthy of attention.
Mr Picardo has said that the fact a decision on whether to grant an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period is in the hands of the EU should serve as a warning.
It’s one of the rare occasions in which a leader of a British Overseas Territory has directly intervened to voice a position on the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Britain’s Overseas Territories (OTs), barring Gibraltar, have in the main been standing on the Brexit sidelines as observers to the unfolding drama between the ‘mother country’ and the European Union (EU).
Gibraltar was the only which had a vote in the 2016 referendum, due to its contiguous EU mainland border with Spain, and long-standing Spanish territorial claims which have been a feature of the Brexit negotiations.
But now Chief Minister Picardo has taken the bold step of directly inserting himself into other aspects of the Brexit debacle…and with good reason.
Like the other OTs, Gibraltar too will be affected by the break-up but potentially much more so.
The UK and the EU are embroiled in a tense, though not quite yet acrimonious, divorce which holds long-term implications for the OTs - as any divorce would for children of the partners who are splitting up.
There is acrimony but it’s more within the UK, especially at the political level and filtering down through the masses.
The country is woefully divided over this issue.
The same split that determined the outcome of the 2016 referendum (52% to 48%) is now evident almost to the same degree with fractures in parliament and amongst the people.
The country is caught in a Brexit bind and is now relying on the good graces of the EU to allow it an exit of the least friction.
That hope is becoming more and more difficult as intransigence, intractability and political opportunism seem to be the order of the day at all levels of the UK body politic.
Divisions within the government, the ruling Conservative Party, and the official opposition Labour Party have dragged the country down a dark alley of an almost irreversible stalemate.
Recovery from this is going to be long and difficult and it will require leadership beyond the limitations of the calibre now being exhibited.
For the OTs, mere voiceless spectators to this charade, it’s a wait and see game.
Whichever way Brexit falls will impact the OTs, and at this stage, the outlook - despite commitments from the UK - is not encouraging, especially economically.
Projections of a post-Brexit UK tend to reflect the views and expected fortunes of who’s making the predictions.
Brexiteers see ‘visions of sunlit uplands’, Remainers agonise over economic uncertainty.
Somewhere between is a glimmer of rationality that in the current and immediate future global economic climate, things for the UK and more likely to get worse before they get better.
In the main, it’s a game of wait-and-see.
And that is equally the position of the OTs; a matter of wait and see - and cheer team-UK from the sidelines without quite having a say.
Brexit, like cricket, seems to be a game of uncertainties.
But that’s where the comparisons end, for, unlike cricket, Brexit’s uncertainties are anything but glorious.
And to a large degree, they are both games.
Plus, unlike cricket, especially the Ashes series between England and Australia, it’s not a simple matter of planning for the next series.
The difference with Brexit is that the political brinkmanship evidenced all through the process by British governments - under Cameron and May - have been unnecessarily and dangerously risky for the country.
Mrs May especially, while understandably repeatedly pledging to uphold British democracy in the outcome of the referendum - as unpalatable and unexpected as it might have been for her - has demonstrated an inability to be flexible, or an unbending commitment to being set in her ways.
The mess has not been created by the EU despite some emerging suggestions that the current stalemate is due to the EU via it’s Brexit negotiating arm, in the European Commission.
There has in fact been some flexibility on the part of the EU which is facing the prospect of losing a top net budget contributor, who a major internal trading partner (the EU is the UK’s biggest trading partner).
And there’s a plethora of other important and long-standing arrangements with must be unravelled even before trade negotiations start.
Brexit is the UK’s biggest and most far-reaching political decision in a generation and it holds implications for generations to come.
Unless, as seen by some top European Union officials, a new generation of British leaders will seek to rejoin the EU.
But before that, Britain must complete its self-inflicted messy process of leaving the EU.
The UK is seeking an extension of Article 50 under which it had previously agreed - negotiated even - with the EU to leave on March 29th.
Many dates are being tossed around after Prime Minister Theresa May’s hardline stance on her ‘red lines’ became increasingly blurred in the face of mounting political pressure at home - in her own cabinet, party and in parliament.
As the clichéd saying goes: ‘however the cookie crumbles, at the end of the day, we are all in this together’.
It could very well mean, that in spite of the conclusion of the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee’s report that it has not seen an appetite for it, a way will have to be found for the OTs to have a voice in this matter as ultimately, they are also affected.
In divorce proceedings, even the children have a voice as their future too is at stake.
The coming week will be crucial…as will the weeks after that.
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