With full parliamentary approval behind her, British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to invoke Article 50 tomorrow, formally initiating Britain’s Brexit process, at the same time as the Scottish Parliament has just voted to hold a second independence referendum.
This affair has been absurdly protracted, entirely as a result of Theresa May’s own indecision.
The British Brexit referendum took place on 23rd June 2016. Before the referendum former Prime Minister David Cameron said that if the British voted Leave in the referendum, he would invoke Article 50 “the day after”. In the event, he resigned instead. Theresa May became Prime Minister in succession to Cameron on 13th July 2016. She did not however invoke Article 50, or present a bill to parliament to authorise her to do so. For months she hid behind the empty slogan “Brexit means Brexit” to hide her indecision and inactivity. Eventually she let slip that she intended to invoke Article 50 in March 2017, though this wholly arbitrary date seems to have been plucked completely out of the air. In the meantime she completely failed to say what sort of Brexit she was seeking (whether a “hard Brexit” or a “soft Brexit”) until a succession of court decisions finally smoked her out, and obliged her to put a bill to the British parliament.
There is no reason why what is going to happen tomorrow could not have happened months ago, and the completely unnecessary delay has simply caused confusion and bad feeling towards Britain in Europe, whilst giving British opponents of Brexit groundless hopes Brexit might never happen.
To be clear, the only justification for delaying invoking Article 50 would have been if Theresa May had chosen to consult the opposition parties – which in this case means Labour and the Scottish Nationalists – which is what should have happened on an issue of such importance, but which of course was never done. The result is that no common national position on Brexit has been forged and entirely understandably in the circumstances the Scottish Nationalists are now once again talking of secession. Perhaps given the huge differences no common position could have been forged and Scotland would have seceded anyway, but the point is the attempt to consult was never made.
Regardless, the final plunge is now about to be taken. It has been done in the worst way possible, but the always inevitable result of the outcome of the Brexit referendum is now finally about to materialise. Whether there will still be a United Kingdom of Great Britain at the end of that process must be open to doubt.