Britain enters the ‘Greek fallacy’ phase of Brexit

  • British MPs are demanding that Theresa May’s Brexit deal be renegotiated or be put to a second referendum.
  • Greece tried to do exactly this during the Greek debt crisis, in 2015.
  • It didn’t work. The EU ignored it.
  • The EU isn’t a democracy. It’s a system of laws and rules that are designed to not be changed.
  • Absent a cast-iron offer to respect a second referendum, Britain’s choice is simple: take it or leave it.

LONDON – Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to put her Brexit deal to parliament at the start of next month. Now that members of parliament have seen the details of it, they are rebelling. Many hate it. For the hardcore Leavers, it keeps Britain too closely tied to Europe’s customs rules. For pro-Europe Remainers, including moderate MPs in the opposition Labour party, the ties aren’t close enough.

Many of them are demanding the deal be renegotiated. Some of May’s own cabinet think she should go back to Brussels and get a new deal. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on November 19 that “You’ve got to go back and negotiate something else.”

Some MPs are pushing for a second Brexit referendum. Now that we have more details on just how bad Brexit might be, they say, the public should be given a chance to reconsider.

This is the “Greek fallacy” stage of Brexit.

“Brits [have] fallen for Greek fallacy that [a] domestic vote gives you stronger position in Brussels.”

“Brits [have] fallen for Greek fallacy that [a] domestic vote gives you stronger position in Brussels. Other countries have voters too,” tweeted Duncan Robinson, the Brussels correspondent for the Financial Times, in 2017, when he saw that Britain was becoming delusional about its ability to negotiate with the EU.

Britain can have a second referendum. The Conservatives can topple Theresa May. Labour could win a new general election, and demand new talks.

It will make no difference.

The reality may well be that the EU won’t change a word.

No matter what happens, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier will likely say, that’s the deal. The Article 50 clock runs out on March 29. Don’t forget to sign it on your way out the door.

The Greeks had five different votes – and the EU ignored them all

We know this because it has happened before. During the Greek debt crisis, in which Greece threatened to default on its debts to the EU and leave the eurozone, the country had four national elections and one referendum, each one giving the country a “mandate” to secure a better deal for Greece.

The 2015 referendum, on the single issue of whether Greece should accept the EU’s bailout or not, soundly rejected the deal. Many thought that vote would force the EU to change course, or forgive part of Greece’s debt. I certainly believed that on the night of the triumphant Greek vote in 2015.

But Brussels didn’t blink.

The terms of the deal were not changed.

Greece is still paying off those debts today.

Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has written about his experience of trying and failing to persuade the EU that a country with a gross domestic product of only €175 billion ($US200 billion), and zero growth, isn’t able to pay debts of €368 billion ($US420 billion).

Brussels doesn’t care about elections inside individual countries. In fact, its officials work actively to suppress or negate them, Varoufakis believes.

That’s not because they are inherently evil. It’s because of the way the EU is structured.

The EU is a very difficult body to negotiate with

The Union consists of 28 countries (Britain plus 27 others) who all have their own democratic mandates. To pass any new laws or enter into any trade deals is very difficult, with a “super-qualified majority” of the EU council required to agree any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

The EU, therefore, exists mostly as a system of rules, policies, and laws that are incredibly difficult to be changed or broken. There is no way to negotiate with a body that cannot change its mind if just one of its 28 members won’t go along.

Since the UK referendum on the EU in 2016, many politicians have taken the line that if only Britain is insistent enough, the country will get its way with Brussels. Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, the arch-Leaver, suggested earlier this month that May would be successful if she showed more “backbone.”

The danger is that the “Greek fallacy” becomes a “British delusion”

She can show as much backbone as she wants. Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator rather underestimated the matter when he said last week: “There is not a lot of room for manoeuvre to say, ‘OK, let’s start again‘.”

The danger is that the “Greek fallacy” becomes a “British delusion.” I began arguing for a second referendum a year ago. But the EU has no interest, and little ability, to be bound by the result.

Absent a cast-iron promise from all 27 EU members that they will give the UK time to process the result of such a vote – and right now that doesn’t exist – Britain’s choice may be a simple one: Take it or leave it.