Image Credit: Gulf News

Fail. Fail again. Fail worse. Britain is now close to a primal scream: Save us from Brexit any way, by any means! Usher us from this hell! Deliver us from this nightmare! Give us back the country we had before the B-word began bombarding our brains.

Sky News has introduced a pop-up Brexit-free channel where viewers are guaranteed that the dreaded word will not be used. The BBC has added a codicil to its pieces on Brexit: “Confused about what just happened? Or what happens now? Submit your questions.”

For example: “Will this ever end?” Or: “What is the difference between a backstop and a doorstop?” Or: “Does anyone remember why we did this to ourselves?”

“Do or die” has been Johnson’s position. “Get Brexit done” has been his mantra. He is now hung by his own petard. He has failed

- Roger Cohen

A meme doing the rounds depicts a British leader as Immortan Joe from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” under the caption: “The year 2128. The British prime minister, as every year, comes to Brussels and begs for the extension of the Brexit deadline. Nobody remembers where this strange habit came from, but it draws many tourists to the city.”

Britain has devoured itself in a collective frenzy. An old political party, the Conservatives, is hell-bent on delivering something that is likely to break up the United Kingdom and certainly damage its economy. The party equates this outcome with “freedom”. In its leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it perceives a “statesman”. The id has taken over. This has nothing to do with the rational mind.

In a moment of euphoria, quickly dissipated, after Johnson concluded an agreement with the European Union last week, the staunchly Tory Daily Telegraph reported, ‘The path to the Brexit deal was cleared this morning.’

OPN 191017 Boris Johnson-1571309409498
Johnson’s deal is essentially his predecessor Theresa May’s with a few tweaks, none of them improvements Image Credit: AFP

Where is Monty Python when needed?

That Johnson deal has now stalled because the British parliament, having approved it, refused to be railroaded by him into passing within three days the 110-page bill, with hundreds more pages of supporting documents, that would turn it into law and impact the lives of generations of British citizens. This is what’s known as a responsible decision.

As a result, it’s almost certain the deadline of October 31, a few days away, will not be met; and the fate of Brexit tumbles into 2020, assuming the European Union grants an extension.

“Do or die” has been Johnson’s position. “Get Brexit done” has been his mantra. He is now hung by his own petard. He has failed. He sank in the miasma of his own contradictions without even sighting his Normandy Beach.

The prime minister, who has no majority in parliament, always saw Brexit as a means, not an end. It was the means to become prime minister. But now that he has hitched his wagon to that Sisyphean mission, he finds himself cornered.

Johnson’s deal is essentially his predecessor Theresa May’s with a few tweaks, none of them improvements. Its distinct status for Northern Ireland is likely to leave the province de facto (if not de jure) in the European customs union while the rest of the United Kingdom, where 97 per cent of people live, drifts off to become Singapore-on-the-Thames with uncertain access to its huge nearby European market. Uncertainty will persist for many years.

More on Brexit

Britain is stuck. The Conservatives are in government, but they are not in power. The fantasy voted for in 2016 is not the reality of 2019. There was a democratic mandate for Brexit, albeit one based heavily on lies, more than three years ago. That was then. Democracies are exercises in constant reassessment. The core reason nobody has been able to deliver Brexit is it makes no sense.

As a British friend said recently: “I’m just saying if I narrowly decided to order fish at a restaurant that was known for chicken, but said it was happy to offer fish, and so far I’ve been waiting three hours, and two chefs who promised to cook the fish had quit, and the third one is promising to deliver the fish in the next five minutes whether it’s cooked or not, or indeed still alive, and all the waiting staff have spent the last few hours arguing about whether I wanted battered cod, grilled salmon, jellied eels or dolphin kebabs, and if large parts of the restaurant appeared to be on fire, but no one was paying attention to it because they were all arguing about fish, I would quite like, just once, to be asked if I definitely still wanted fish.”

Johnson, having failed, needs to ask the country if it still wants fish. That’s called a general election. As Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said, the issue must be “taken back to the public”. The sooner that happens, the better for poor Brexit-crazed Britain.

— New York Times News Service

Roger Cohen is a noted American journalist, political commentator and author.