There were two striking and very contrasting items of news at the beginning of this week – the successful rescue operation from the caves in Thailand and the unravelling of the Prime Minister’s latest plans for the Brexit negotiations. Whilst the former offers a perfect illustration of clear thinking and co-operative action, the latter shows what happens when neither of these ingredients is present.
As with the successful rescue in 2010 of 33 miners trapped 700 metres underground in Chile, so the remarkable rescue of the boys’ football team and their coach from flooded caves, has gripped our attention. Perhaps it is a primeval fear of being trapped or simply the sheer knowledge that there are people whose lives could be ebbing away almost in front of us, but I suspect that we all found ourselves more caught up than we expected in their fate.
The rescue operation was a triumph of courage, clear thinking, co-operation and probably luck as well. The vulnerable boys strapped to an adult diver in an almost marsupial fashion was symbolic of the profoundest kind of care and protection one human could offer to another. No wonder we were delighted and amazed by all that took place; it was an illustration, was it not, of the best that humans can do for each other.
At much the same time news was emerging of the resignation of first David Davies and then Boris Johnson as they realised that they could not support the Brexit compromise agreed just a few days earlier.
Of course the challenges of extricating a country from a political and economic system which has shaped us for over forty years are complex and of course rescuing people from danger is a different matter, but I can’t help thinking that these two events cast light on each other.
The Brexit negotiations have been hampered by an inability to agree on what the goal of the talks should be. To say that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ is to concede an ambiguity that doesn’t disguise the lack of a clear and achievable end result. Precisely because there isn’t such clarity, so different groups end up arguing about what it is they are trying to achieve before any practical attempts even begin. Accordingly, the Government’s negotiating position is characterised by rivalry rather than co-operation. Furthermore, the complexities of the issues are such that it is not clear that there is any course of action that would command agreement in the House of Commons. It feels like a perilous moment for our country.
In contrast the ‘exit strategy’ for extricating people trapped in a cave could not be simpler and the levels of co-operation that ensued could not have been greater. The ‘Common Good’ was plain and visible for all to see.
It leaves me wondering if such a ‘Common Good’ could be found for both Britain and the European Union. Before this can happen, however, a new language needs to be found; a language which respects differing views rather than demonises them and above all an approach that allows all parties to see compromise as a strength rather than a weakness.