Sunday Opinion

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Britain’s Sad Brexit Self-Abasement

Shakespeare famously wrote of the “sceptered isle” of Britain acting as a moat “against the envy of less happier lands.”

Lately, the less happier lands are winning in a rout.

Britain is suffering a political meltdown as it struggles to make good on a historic vote in 2016 to leave the European Union. The decision for a so-called Brexit was a stirring statement of independence and self-government by a people who have defined themselves down the centuries by their stiff-necked resistance to anyone — whether overweening monarchs or continental tyrants — who would threaten either.

That was before London ran up against the bureaucracy of the would-be European super-state based in Brussels, and before it was led, if that’s the right word, by Tory Prime Minister Theresa May.

Presiding over a divided party, facing a pro-Remain British establishment and negotiating with a hostile EU, May never had an easy task. She has nonetheless not only failed to rise to the occasion but been crushed by it.

She has negotiated abysmally, giving away leverage right at the start when she prematurely invoked Article 50, beginning the process of Britain’s departure with no realistic fallback plan if talks with the EU failed. She ended up with an agreement that would effectively leave Britain within most EU rules, with no means of influencing them anymore. The London Spectator calls the deal “Remain-minus.”

The larger question is whether once the EU has its hooks in a nation-state, will it ever relinquish it? Its officials have treated the Brexit negotiations as an opportunity to teach anyone hoping to follow Britain out of the EU a lesson: Don’t dare try to take back the full measure of your sovereignty, lest we make it as miserable for you as possible. This is the Brezhnev doctrine for Eurocrats.

When in the past countries in Europe have voted the “wrong” way on fundamental EU questions, as Ireland, France and the Netherlands did over the years, they were ignored or made to vote again until they got the right answer. Britain may yet suffer the same pitiful fate. The European Court of Justice just helpfully ruled that Britain can withdraw its Article 50 notification — in other words, forget this whole unpleasant Brexit vote happened.

That’s been the hope of many Remainers in Britain all along, but the case for the EU hasn’t gotten any stronger over the past two years. What does it say about the European project that exit is almost impossible? And if Britain is a political shambles, it’s not as though the most committed advocates of the EU are doing any better. Given the “yellow vest” protests ignited by his idiotic (since delayed) fuel tax, French President Emmanuel Macron can’t even control the streets of Paris on weekends.

May’s strategy seems to be to ride the current impasse as close to the March 29 Brexit deadline as possible, and force the adoption of her lamentable deal for lack of any alternative. In which case, to return to Shakespeare, “That England that was wont to conquer others, Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. (c) 2018 by King Features Synd., Inc.

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Understanding the True Law of the Swamp

What’s interesting about Washington is how the first rule for its leaders has always been to make sure they don’t have to follow many rules. Members of Congress have their “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution, meaning that no matter how they slander someone during their official proceedings, they won’t be held legally accountable. Presidents can’t be criminally prosecuted while in office without first being impeached and removed. What would normally be called “bribes” are “campaign contributions.” Normal standards don’t apply here.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of commandments that must not be violated, at any cost. First and foremost is “Thou shalt not get caught.” That one is obvious: Perps can get away with anything unless it’s found out. There’s also the law that applies to everyone — the Law of Gravity: What (or actually, who) goes up always comes down. What’s unique about Washington is that some fall faster than others.

For example, Donald Trump has flown above behavior that would normally cause anyone else to crash and burn. But now there are indications that even he has started to slow down because the accumulated weight of his conduct might finally have begun to be a drag. Yes, we have heard that one before, but this time even this demagogic Houdini might not be able to escape.

There are glimmers of activity from the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation suggesting that Mueller is compiling a bill of goods against Mr. Trump, who will now have to pay the full price. Michael Flynn has re-emerged as a threat: The former three-star general, then candidate Trump cheerleader and briefly (24 days) White House national security adviser, was busted for being dishonest about his contact with Russian government higher-ups.

Remember, it becomes a sin in Washington only if you get caught. Flynn got caught. He copped a plea with Mueller, admitting that he lied to FBI investigators, and since then has apparently been, uh, “cooperating” with prosecutors.

While President Trump has been able to fast-talk or fast-tweet his way out of one corner after another, sooner or later everything is a corner and anyone is squeezed in, even the Trumpster.

Braggadocio based on outright lies can sustain one only so long. Harsh reality catches up. When the financial markets implode because of administration policies, when his way of doing personal business is fully exposed – and it will be – when the facts seep out about his sleazy side deals with Vladimir Putin and the Saudis, at some point they will become too much for even part of his so-called base, the ones who are not really “deplorable,” and who are becoming uncomfortable realizing they’re consorting with genuine fascists.

Even though he’s elevated by feckless opposition Democrats who are hellbent on self-destruction, some candidate might emerge from their crowd who can dodge all of Donald Trump’s slime and take him down.

If that happens, in “go with the flow” Washington, the cowardly lions of the Republican Party, who have held their noses and timidly played along with and embraced their president, will flee the moment the tides turn against him. He’ll learn another law deeply ingrained in the D.C. jungle: “Loyalty is for suckers.”

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

Categories: Sunday Opinion

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