Britain’s Moderate Mutiny Is Overdue

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- All too late, the British political system seems to be awakening to the insoluble crises posed by Brexit. With negotiations stalled and no obvious solution at hand, both main parties are on the verge of historic break-ups. Squint and you just might see some reasons for optimism.

This week, 11 legislators — three from the Tories and eight from Labour — revolted from their parties to form a new centrist bloc, known as the Independent Group. As the mild name suggests, their broader agenda is one of moderation, modesty and vague broad-mindedness. They object to simmering fanaticism among their erstwhile colleagues, and share a sense that the larger system is broken, adrift and careening toward disaster.

Not coincidentally, they also oppose Brexit.

Perhaps that shouldn’t count as such a brave stance at this point, but here we are. Nearly three years since the referendum that set Britain’s departure from the European Union in motion, there’s no consensus on what Brexit should mean, no majority for any available break-up deal, and no agreement on what the U.K.’s future relationship with Europe should look like. Without compromise, a crisis of some kind looks increasingly likely as the exit date of March 29 approaches.

A primary impediment to a deal is that no one can speak honestly about Brexit. Both parties are split on the matter, and both are led by walking contradictions. In Prime Minister Theresa May, the Tories have a remainer who is singularly dedicated to leaving and dismissive of compromise. In Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has a lifelong euroskeptic who rejects the only Brexit deal on offer yet can’t specify any plausible alternatives.

Into this puzzling void, a voting bloc that could say what it means would be welcome. It could start with a few plain truths: The Brexit process has been a disaster, leaving the EU without a deal would be grotesquely irresponsible, and progress begins by ending the charade immediately by delaying the Article 50 process and starting anew.

Promisingly, many of the apostates have been outspoken supporters of a second referendum, which remains the most responsible path out of this whole misguided project. A coherent faction in Parliament that could forthrightly defend the idea has been sorely missing.

Of course, this is leaping ahead of things. Eleven legislators out of 650 is hardly a revolution. And so far, members of the new group have been thoroughly discreet about their goals; in fact, they’ve said little at all about Brexit. What they have done, though, is take a stand on behalf of sanity and restraint. These days, that counts as progress.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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