Britain’s culture of confrontation

PARIS — Having exhausted all the unreasonable alternatives, Britain may just be on the brink of an 11th-hour outbreak of common sense.

Don’t count on it.

Four days after the bells of “Independence Day” were meant to have chimed, and a week before European Union leaders meet to decide whether to call time on British procrastination and pull the plug on the U.K.’s membership, the prime minister of her majesty’s government finally deigned to consult the leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition about how to avert a national disaster.

A Brexit compromise — the nightmare of purists on both sides of the interminable national nervous breakdown over Europe — is belatedly being explored. Instead of driving a petrified U.K. headlong over the cliff of a no-deal Brexit next week, Prime Minister Theresa May has chosen to probe for common ground with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a closer long-term relationship with the EU than most of her Conservative Party wants.

But just how sincere either side is in this last-ditch show of statesmanship remains to be seen. Although the contours of a compromise remain fuzzy, the mere possibility of a Brexit halfway house is provoking a partisan outcry on both sides.

The U.K.’s political culture is one of tribal confrontation, not consensus or consultation.

The fact that May resorted to seeking an understanding only as an absolute last resort after nearly three years of ignoring the opposition shows how, contrary to its widespread international image as the home of moderation rather than ideology, Britain is in fact historically far more often a seething pit of adversarial combat with a winner-takes-all electoral system.

 »