IN June 1914, a shot rang out in Sarajevo, killing the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Fired by a young Serb, it set in place events that quickly escalated into the First World War. As Brexit negotiations reconvene there’s no possibility of them collapsing and leading to war. That won’t happen no matter how hard a Brexit may follow. However, a chain of events can follow and attitudes can harden, both of which occurred that summer more than a century ago.

Tony Blair recently commented that it might still be possible to pull back from the brink on Brexit. In that, he’s right and like him I share that hope. The EU may well be willing to cede some ground on free movement and the UK could reconsider its position, given the growing evidence of severe economic harm.

However, a chain of events can be set in place that can then result in actions following that no-one really wants to happen, but all seem powerless to stop. Moreover, it can lead to attitudes hardening on both sides, requiring leaders of courage and principle to step and defuse the situation. They, now as then, may be lacking either side of the Channel.

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That certainly occurred in the summer of 1914. Storm clouds had been brewing for many years but confrontation had been averted. The fatal shot still need not have led to global conflict. But Germany failed to rein in its ally and likewise Russia. Attitudes hardened on both sides and confidence of success was equally high amongst all. A series of events then followed with historic alliances leading to the conflict quickly escalating into a world war.

Though no shot has been fired now, the triggering of Article 50 has set events in motion which we must pull back from to avert severe problems for both the UK and EU. If they aren’t then calamity can occur. However, attitudes are hardening and a sense of righteousness in their own cause and a belief in ultimate victory prevail on both sides.

Having triggered Article 50 it’s for the UK to pull back from the brink. However, its hard to see how that might be achieved despite the wishes of Mr Blair and many others, myself included. The Tory Cabinet is divided between soft and hard Brexiters, though the EU seems to recognise only a Brexit. There’s no voice calling for a reappraisal and that’s unlikely to change given the enmity not just within the Tory Party, but the Cabinet.

The principle opposition in the Labour Party seems simply to echo the rhetoric and policy of the Conservative Government, despite the doubts of many members and voters. Jeremy Corbyn was almost as duplicitous during the Brexit referendum as Theresa May, paying lip service to policy and being muted in campaigning. That has since been followed by a marked absence of detail on their position with the latest interpretation from Shadow Business Secretary Rachel Reeves appearing to be a swallowing of Boris Johnson dogma: “brexit means Brexit” and “have your cake and eat it” were spouted. It’s akin to the jingoistic false patriotism of the Labour leadership in 1914; arrant nonsense and only irritating, if not hardening EU views. But, with both the Liberal Democrats and the devolved governments marginalised, it’s hard to see where the leadership in the UK that will required to pull back from the brink can come from.

Equally, it takes two to tango and the EU will require to moderate its position. It gave little when David Cameron went seeking concessions before the referendum. Barely a fig leaf was provided to him. Whether more could have been offered or would have been successful in swinging the vote can only be speculated on. Will its negotiators offer more under duress than through diplomacy?

The EU needs to maintain internal discipline to quell any further secessionist attempts and therefore will be keen to avoid offering too many concessions. Its actions towards Greece show that it can be not just ruthless but brutal. Soft and hard Brexit could be supplanted by a brutal Brexit.

If anything, the EU position has hardened. Some of it has no doubt been driven by the attitude of the UK which has been far from respectful, preferring arrogance and bombast to diplomacy. Moreover, the recent election result has weakened the UK Government, obscuring just what it wants in its negotiations, whilst strengthening the position of the EU. Will anyone be prepared to make overtures and offer concessions? Perhaps, but its hard to see who would do it and what they might offer which would be sufficient.

And so, we’re left being a victim of events that few really want but none seem capable of stopping. Let’s hope that avoiding mutually assured destruction prevails but action is required..