SOMETIMES you just have to lie back and think of England. But how can one think of England without thinking of Shakespeare? And when you think of Shakespeare, how can you ignore Macbeth, his most Scottish of plays, and in particular the line: “we but teach bloody instructions, which being taught, return to plague the inventor”.
Finally, how can one think of that line in the context of Brexit and not consider the dramatic irony that a power, famous for dividing and ruling, stands divided by its own ruling?
That irony certainly isn’t lost on those of us who live in the much-partitioned parts of the world, with jokes like ‘the real Brexit was in 1947’ doing the rounds along with snide offers to repay colonial favours by helping divide up what’s left of the Empire with neat little lines and the quintessential disputed areas. Somewhere in an otherworldly bungalow, Mountbatten’s ghost is likely shuddering at all this schadenfreude.
Of course, this is less a partition than a parting of ways, but one that carries with it the promise of partitions to come. While the petition to declare London as an independent city-state is only semi-serious, Scotland is another matter entirely.
The Scots overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU and are now considering another referendum on whether to remain in the UK. In that great glen in the sky, William Wallace is probably raising a toast.
Scotland brings us back to Macbeth, and in particular the dismissal by his wife: “stand not upon the order of your going, but be gone”. There’s a sliver of that in the statement by the EU leadership for the UK to leave the union “as soon as possible, however painful that process may be.”
Brexit carries with it the promise of future partitions.
Then there’s the theatre of the absurd as a terribly hung-over UK woke as if after a midsummer night’s dream. It is there in David Cameron resigning due to a defeat in a referendum he did not even need to call. It is found in the tragicomic fact that hours after the referendum result came in, the top two googled questions in the UK were ‘what does it mean to leave the EU?’ and ‘what is the EU?’
Then there’s the family, ripe for lampooning on reality TV, who all voted to leave but who are ‘disappointed’ because now — and only now —“the facts are coming in”.
Facts didn’t stand much chance here anyway, with the Brexit camp playing on fears and shouting false promises loudly and often enough for them to be taken as the truth. Just take the strutting and fretting Nigel Farage, who immediately backtracked on his campaign pledge that leaving the EU would free up £350 million to be spent on the National Health Service — a promise that was emblazoned on his campaign bus and which he now calls a ‘mistake’.
Then there’s the media coverage which, according to a detailed Reuters study, was “heavily skewed in favour of Brexit” and you have a coup that Goebbels might have nodded at with approval.
He would also no doubt be amused that the UK had inflicted on itself what it had fought two wars against Germany to avoid: a united Europe with England on the outside. This scenario has been England’s strategic nightmare for centuries, preventing it from coming to pass the foremost plank of its continental policy — the pursuit of which occupied its greatest minds and claimed an even greater number of lives.
Over at the Kremlin, glasses must be clinking as Czar Putin toasts the first real splintering of the Western Alliance that has thwarted Russia’s ambitions for nearly a century now. After all, the EU was the political manifestation of European unity, just as Nato is the manifestation of its US-backed military might — and Nato was created to keep the Russian empire’s Soviet incarnation in check. Ironically, this moment comes mere weeks after Putin’s poking fun at how “200 Russian fans could beat several thousands of the British” in clashes during the Euro cup. Well, in football terms, this was England playing England with England losing thanks to an own goal.
There will be joy among the autocratic and generally anti-democratic the world over, who have already latched on to the vote as proof that giving people a say in how they are ruled is a silly idea, really.
There will be similar cheer in militant camps and right-wing party headquarters alike, a shared delight at the apparent dismantling of what they see as a corrupt and decadent construct.
Granted that referendums are always about more than what’s printed on the ballot paper. This was also a protest vote, a vote of fear, anger and — quite possibly — ignorance; granted that this may end in a reforming of the EU and perhaps even the eventual return of the UK. But before that happens, Lady Britannia will have to wake and realise that the handsome prince she dallied with the night before is, in fact, a fool with a donkey’s head.
The writer is a journalist.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2016