The Brexit Puzzle by David Runciman in LRB

Writing in London Review of Books, David Runciman, Professor of politics at the University of Cambridge, presents the Brexit puzzle: “Are we stuck because we are so divided or are we so divided because we are stuck? The various political mechanisms we have for getting out of this impasse seem inadequate to the task of bridging so many fundamental differences of opinion, yet those differences are being exacerbated by the mechanisms at work”. To this puzzle, Runciman provides a neat solution: “We are divided because we are stuck as much as we are stuck because we are divided”.

Runciman argues that for progress on Brexit “to happen, one of the three options (May’s deal, no deal, second referendum) would need to fall away, forcing at least one side to choose between compromise and intransigence. But that is the reason it is proving so hard to whittle three down to two, because it would force at least one side to compromise.”

Why and how a political situation has emerged where each group avoids compromise at all costs. Does ‘Brexit represent the limit of what is politically possible? Perhaps. Even so, it still matters whether we think the limit was set by the end itself – leaving the EU – or by the means we have employed for achieving it.’

If Brexit proves impossible, this perhaps provides a hint to all the countries that “you are not as sovereign as you might like to think”. But, the second implication is that it hints at the “political overreach of voting public when offered a direct say in the future of the country”.

Runciman argues that leaving the EU should not have been difficult if political situation in Britain was different: If Theresa May had moral and political majority, for example. However, lack of majority for Theresa May, as well as the varieties of position on Brexit are effects of the inadequacy of the political system in Britain.

Runciman argues that the “referendum result, whatever the merits of the case, has exposed the limits of our institutional arrangements. It is not that parliamentary government has failed. Or that plebiscitary democracy has failed. But this way of trying to combine parliamentary government with plebiscitary democracy has failed”

Therefore, Runciman suggests that what is required for now is acceptance of a ‘miserable compromise’. So to ‘‘get on with reforming the democracy we have, so that the next compromise is a better one.”

Runciman makes interesting points in his articles. For the long term health of Britain, the ‘next compromise’ that Runciman mentions, should address the inadequacies of political institutions but should also deal with economic inequalities that rattle large sections of society in Britain. Only then, the next compromise will be a better compromise. .


Note: Link to the article: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v41/n01/david-runciman/which-way-to-the-exit

“Which way to the exit?” David Runciman.