Fabius’ Delight: When Everyone (If Only in the UK) Benefits by Delaying Brexit

The famed strategy of the Roman general Fabius to defeat Hannibal, the North African general trying to conquer Rome in the 3rd century BC, was simply to wait for Hannibal to get within easy range of his troops and then defeat him by continual guerrilla warfare. So even though Rome and Hannibal’s homeland Carthage (now in Tunisia) were formally at war, one side – Hannibal’s – was doing all the heavy lifting. This was also the strategy that worked during the American Revolution, which is why the commanding general George Washington was nicknamed the ‘American Fabius’. And of course, in the UK we have got the Fabian movement which helped to found the Labour Party in the early 20th century. Its strategy was about playing a long game of propaganda (they invented the ‘think tank’) and small local victories to eventually acquire power for socialist ends by peaceful means.

Now let’s look at Brexit. Suppose you don’t want Brexit to happen at all – No Brexit, even after the referendum. (I put myself in this category.) Then you want to do everything possible to obstruct it, be it through a second referendum, a requirement that the terms of Brexit be confirmed by Parliament or a high court challenge to the constitutionality of the Brexit process.

Now suppose you’re for Soft Brexit. You’ll probably be in favour of some if not all of the previous obstructionist moves. But in addition, you’ll want to let the very prospect of Brexit to unfold over several rounds of economic indicators to demonstrate the precariousness of the UK situation. The longer this delay lasts, the stronger case for the UK to remain in the single market, even if it means ditching border controls.

But now say you’re for Hard Brexit. In that case, you’d want to wait until the French and Germans have their general elections in 2017, by which time a much more Brexit-friendly regime is likely to be in place in France and whatever pressure within the German political ranks there has been to ‘punish’ the UK for leaving the EU would be mitigated by an expected rise in right-wing nationalist support there. So the longer the UK waits, the easier it might be to negotiate terms that permit free trade with the EU and allow for border controls. Of course, that scenario might also spell the beginning of the end of the European Union, as other member nations seek similar arrangements. But then, I doubt Hard Brexiteers will be losing sleep over that!

But the lesson is clear: Fabius regit!


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