When the UK voted for Brexit,
Without a clear definition of what Brexit meant.
The vote presented no plan, no treaty, no aim, no set of conditions required to be met.
No plan for Brexit existed before the vote. People voted to take a leap into the dark and hope it worked out.
And that's what they got !
then it was generally expected that the pro-Brexit politicians had some idea of how negotiations for a Brexit deal would fare and what the outcome would be.
I have no idea who this "generally" is, but the pro-Brexit camp itself is not a single group with a unified aim. Even within pro-Brexit they had no idea how to do this.
The pro-Brexit camp then (and now) continue to argue they can ignore legally binding obligations to the EU, which is pure fantasy. If that's your negotiating position, then you aren't making a negotiation, you're simply running away.
Now years later, we are at a point where May's got one last deal to offer that very few in the UK like
Business like it more than No-deal Brexit.
And no pro-Brexit group has offered a viable alternative.
What seems extraordinary is that people in the UK actually believe that the EU (a much larger trading block) can be dictated to by the UK. That was always a fantasy. The EU are negotiating from a position of absolute strength because the UK wants access to EU markets and the EU always had all the aces in this card game in that sense.
The Brexit lie was based on the nonsensical idea that the EU needed the UK more than the UK needs the EU. That will always be false. Even outside the EU, the UK still needs the EU and cannot possibly dictate to it.
And once the UK declared it was leaving, it lost all political power inside the EU. No one inside the EU cared what the UK wanted at that point. Inside the EU the UK had more power politically than outside.
The major stumbling block was this very problem.
The UK never had an internally united set of goals to negotiate about. When the UK went to negotiate it presented ideas which were only politically acceptable to groups in the UK. Almost none of it's first one and half year's worth of ideas were ever going to be acceptable to the EU, as they amounted to requiring the EU to grant access to markets without any payback for the EU. The early proposals, based on political expedience at home, were just wasted time. UK proposals shifted all over the place with arbitrary "red lines" that had nothing to do with realistic negotiation.
On the other hand the EU position has hardly changed at all (negotiating from strength lets you do this). The EU has been consistent. The UK has not.
and if it's not accepted, nobody knows what is going to happen.
No Deal Brexit is what will happen. The EU has stated clearly and repeatedly that it won't renegotiate. They can do this because, while no Deal Brexit is inconvenient in the short term, the EU is big enough to cope. The UK leaves ? Fine. The rest of the EU will happily function without it.
Also bare in mind that the EU at this stage regard the UK as a bit of a nuisance politically. I doubt the EU would take the UK back. Update : Since this was written the ECJ (dang lawyers) has ruled that the UK can unilaterally undo Brexit and return to it's status as a full member of the EU if it does so before a Brexit agreement is passed. However that does not mean the UK hasn't generated a lot of anger from EU countries over Brexit, so politically the UK will have a lot of work to do to regain respect if it abandons Brexit.
So again the EU position is fine with No Deal. It's not ideal, but it's better than more uncertainty.
The UK has no strategy for what happens if they reject the current deal. This is consistent with the UK's position all along : no consistent strategy or goals.
The default position is basically that WTO rules would apply if there is a No Deal scenario. WTO rules are, quite simply, a nightmare. They offer nothing more than a slightly better than "every man for himself" set of trade rules. And the US under Trump would throw even those rules away (and is actively trying to). So the prospects for WTO trading are not good.
How did it come to this? Why have the negotiations been so difficult?
The UK never had an internally agreed single set of goals.
It's like having a divorce and then starting arguments about who gets the dog, cat, kids, money, property, etc. The UK's only stated goal when it started was to leave the EU. It has never been able to present a unified position. Well in any divorce if you come to the table with no plan or goals other than leave, that's all you get. You won't get any of the good stuff.
Very early on (essentially from day one) the EU was more united in it's position on Brexit than I can ever recall it being on any other subject. The EU hasn't had internal arguments at all about how to handle Brexit. So the EU always had a well defined set of goals and total internal unity.
Disunity and vague conflicting goals got the UK to this point.
Frankly I think May has done well to salvage what she has out of this mess.