A year ago, I bet a pint of Guinness with an old friend that Britain would never leave the European Union. I’m beginning to think I just might collect. My point, then and now, was that as the degree of likely damage sank in, British voters would come to their senses.
Both major parties, in their own ways, colluded to prevent that salutary outcome, but history sometimes has its own logic. Last week, the European Court of Justice, the EU’s supreme court, surprised nearly everyone by ruling that if the Brits changed their minds, no problem, they can stay in. That removed the main obstacle to a do-over of the ill-considered 2016 referendum, in which British voters, by a narrow margin of 52-48, opted to leave, after one of the most dishonest campaigns ever.
Then on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May, who gambled that she could cobble together a version of Brexit that would retain the benefits of EU membership while technically leaving, counted votes and realized that she was on the verge of a historic humiliation in the planned House of Commons vote. So she postponed the vote, perhaps indefinitely.
What now? Almost anything is possible. The Tories could dump May, but they are hopelessly split and have no obvious successor. If the result is a new election, the Tories will almost lose seats.
The opposition Labour Party stands to gain, except that party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a longtime Euroskeptic and can’t bring himself to be the spokesman for staying in.
Yet, the Brits invented the phrase ‘muddle through’, and they do it better than anyone. I’ll bet a second pint of Guinness that, one way or another, Britain finds its way to a second referendum, and the citizenry votes by a wide margin to put this nightmare behind them. Then the two dysfunctional parties can have an election to determine who inherits what was almost a far worse mess.