A lot of people whom I share much with politically are still calling for a compromise on Brexit; where we leave the EU, yet retain something of the old regime, mostly in the name of keeping the economy from crashing. I respect this in principle. We voted to Leave in 2016 and not carrying out Brexit will have political consequences; best to try and find a settlement that brings the country back together if possible.
Except, I think it is now too late for such a thing. The time for this would have been 2016, or at the very latest the summer of 2017, after the general election. May should have called for some version of Norway as the backstop back then. Her avoiding this is a large part of where we are now, which is a point at which I think we will either have a very hard Brexit or we don’t leave the EU at all. Given the former only works if you aren’t prime minister at the time, I have come to believe the latter is much more likely, as have most Remainers, even those who a year ago were fairly resigned to Brexit happening.
I remember back in 2012 and 2013, speaking at events or at least attending them on the topic of Europe. There were always small crowds at EU events back then; no one really cared all that much about Britain’s relationship with the EU. The Eurosceptics were a small but plucky band (in both Labour and the Conservative parties) and the vocal Europhiles were just as minuscule in number. One of the questions I used to like to bring up at these events was: what if we leave the EU and dare I say it, a new arrangement becomes more difficult to agree with the EU than imagined by Eurosceptics, then what? Surely that means dropping out of the EU with only WTO rules to fall back on? This notion was always laughed at by Eurosceptics; the very height of Europhile scaremongering. That would never happen, obviously. If we couldn’t agree something unique with the EU, we would just become Norway. Of course we would! The very idea that you could even mention this WTO silliness is just further proof that the Europhiles want to scare us all into staying in the terrible set up at any cost.
Now, the Leavers have seemingly taken up the WTO idea themselves, and in many instances, as the preferred option. Norway is no longer talked about as a great possibility but rather as “not Brexit at all”. In fact, anything that isn’t a total crash out is now considered not really Brexit.
That’s why compromise is now impossible – it’s all gone too far. If the Brexiteers won’t consider any Brexit other than the most extreme one, why should Remainers bang the drum for Norway? If the mainstream Leaver consensus was, “Let’s be Norway. We leave the political project without any economic pain”, I would be on their side, actually. Their argument would be that they won the referendum and are simply asking for the most reasonable way to go about honouring that. Remainers would seem hysterical and most of the more reasonable ones would be peeling off and saying we should go for Norway as well. The polls would be about 70-30 Leave, I think, if this were the case. Instead, the polls are getting steadily more Remain all the time.
If one side considers anything but ultra Brexit an unacceptable national humiliation and the other side looks at that and figures they might as well go for the whole enchilada, there is no compromise there to be had. One side needs to win, completely, even if it takes ten or fifteen years to play out. It’s too late for anything else.