With the Brexit bill achieving royal assent, pundits and politicians on both sides of the spectrum must now confront the unknown.
Despite voting Remain, I can’t help but hope that Theresa May pulls out all the stops when she triggers Article 50 this month. I want the whole shebang: red, white and blue fireworks, free roasts from the pub and a quick jolly over the channel for a sneak attack on France. Great Britain is back, and this time it’s going to be an intensely long and boring legal process, fraught with arguments as relevant to everyday life as knowing pi to three hundred digits. Might as well have some fun where you can.
The Lords have done their job well, of course. They made their argument, got told to sod off, then passed the bill without a fuss. Whilst I’m glad the unelected house has not got the power to overrule Parliament (especially on a bill that passed as smoothly as the Brexit bill) you can’t help but wonder if this is also an act of self-preservation from the Lords. Constitutionally, Britain is being torn up – who’s to say the second chamber won’t be next?
After all, an unhappiness with the “establishment” was a driver in the Brexit vote, and even though that term is as useful as a feather paperweight there is no denying that an unelected chamber packed to the brim with political picks is the very definition of “establishment”. They wouldn’t do well in the V for Vendetta universe, for one.
Those who expected May to display a sense of patience that would put a monk to shame and hold off on triggering Article 50 are about to be proven wrong. Their hope was as wonderful as it was divorced from reality. May is not one to pussyfoot around doing something, even if it’s not quite feasible. Whether it’s attempting to ban all psychoactive substances or aggressively trying to catch bad guys with mass surveillance techniques that hardly work, there are bulls in china shops with a greater sense of caution than the Prime Minister seems to have.
In fact, the only major task as home secretary she didn’t manage to throw something together for was her attempt to cut net migration down – but seeing as her time at the Home Office was marked by perennial failure that was always likely. She was just lucky that everything around her was collapsing.
It’s still a tough situation for May. On the one hand, she must continue to “talk up” Britain, much like the parent of an unexceptional child trying to get their little darling in to a nice primary school. On the other hand, she must face up to the reality of the situation and eventually start prioritising trade over a petulant and combative group of voters and party members buoyed by the vote. This is one of the problems with having a bunch of rich kids in charge: they get what they want but expect everyone else to sort out the hard parts before they get a go.
Brexit will not be an apocalyptic event. Brimstone and fire won’t come raining down when Article 50 is officially triggered. But this does not mean it will be harmless. A lack of economic confidence is an insidiously harmful issue; it permeates the health of a country with the efficiency of ricin and pollutes the market like an amateur EDM track (or a skilfully produced EDM track) pollutes your radio. It isn’t quite a slow burner, but doesn’t have the effervescence of a roman candle or the last embers of a dying star. It is more of a black hole: lots of unintended, interesting things happen because of it but, on the whole, it’s a fairly draining experience.
And so, we go, lolloping on to our post-European adventure with the direction of a broken compass and just as much usefulness to the world. All we know for sure is that we are on a crash course to the unknown. We could end up washed ashore on paradise, with monkey butlers and idyllic afternoons aplenty. Or, more likely, we’ll be left bobbing around in the high seas of the global economy, clinging on for dear life and having our own Jack and Rose moment.
Of course, whoever you think the UK is in this situation probably reflects your views on the whole debate; are we the brave Jack, being cast adrift in the tumultuous and far-from-tropical Atlantic Ocean, reluctantly left by a Europe who loves us but we always thought we were too different to? Or are we Rose: cutting off something we have grown rather fond of to survive, because it was beginning to weigh us down?
As the date of no return inches ever-closer, these hypothetical questions do begin to have a grounding in reality. Much like Newton’s laws don’t seem overtly relevant to daily life until you find yourself falling off a building, the intricacies of Brexit are likely to grow in importance over the next two years. Diving in head first is fantastic advice for deep pool dives and spinal-cord injuries, but there is no doubt it doesn’t quite have the same benefits when it is the strategy for leaving a political and economic union. May’s combination of hubris and desperation to avoid the balkanisation of Conservative support will have negative consequences for the country – we’ll just have to wait and see what they are.