FOR three years now, Brexit has been sucking the oxygen out of daily life and politics in Britain.
And it’s not just politics: the media and dinner party conversations are almost entirely dominated by the imminent British pullout from the European Union. To an outsider like this columnist, Brexit has become boring beyond words.
This slow-motion train crash, with politicians squabbling for control, is an entirely self-inflicted disaster with huge implications for Britain as well as for the EU. And it will certainly impact the global economy.
Ever since the 2016 referendum that saw 51 per cent of those who voted deciding that Britain would be better off outside the successful European trading bloc, the bickering between them and Remainers has taken on an increasingly shrill tone. Families have been divided, and political parties split as the Oct 31 deadline approaches.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his determination to drag Britain out of the EU by this date. On their side, the Remainers have mounted a campaign to somehow force another referendum as, according to them, the one held in 2016 was based on falsehoods spread by Johnson and his cohorts.
This slow-motion crash is entirely self-inflicted.
Should this happen, civil unrest could well result. Currently, the outlook is for a no-deal Brexit that would trigger economic turmoil. With long-established supply chains ruptured, factories would run out of parts and supermarkets face shortages of agricultural products. Container trucks that drive through customs barriers without any checks could, after Oct 31, form miles-long queues as they are inspected.
To minimise the effects of this scenario, factories, supermarkets and homes have been stockpiling essentials. Families have stored three billion pounds worth of food. Hospitals have stocked up medicines, but it’s only a matter of time when these run out.
Over the last couple of years, people have asked me on my travels if the Brits had gone mad. After all, the EU, for all its faults, has promoted decades of prosperity; and after centuries, Europe has been free of major wars, barring the Serbian conflict.
So why did most Brits decide to pull out? Firstly, many Leavers had little idea about the implications of Brexit. They were swayed by Johnson’s lies, and one memorable falsehood was how the National Health Service would be given an extra £350 million a week, equivalent to Britain’s contribution to the EU. This figure is rubbish as it does not deduct the amount Britain receives from Brussels for agricultural subsidies and development grants in areas like science and the arts.
Immigration was a key driver in the referendum. So when Johnson warned that “70m Turks were poised to flood into the UK after Turkey joined the EU”, many in Britain believed him. Never mind that Turkey had been knocking at the EU’s door for decades without success, and membership remains as distant as ever.
The presence of millions of East Europeans currently living and working in Britain has awakened a high degree of xenophobia, and the mantra of ‘take back control of our borders’ has resonated widely. The EU guarantees the freedom of movement for citizens of member countries, and East Europeans have entered the UK in large numbers. Brits complain their presence has deprived locals of subsidised housing, school places and medical care.
Amid all this turmoil, one would have expected the Labour Party to thrive. Not so. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is increasingly unpopular, even within his own party. His ambivalence over Brexit has driven his most ardent supporters to distraction. Instead of leading a vigorous anti-Brexit campaign, he has flip-flopped constantly, infuriating his young fans, many of whom have left Labour as a result.
The main beneficiaries of the confusion in the Labour Party are the Liberal Democrats who have been rock solid in their opposition to Brexit. As a result, they are now attracting Remainers from Labour. Meanwhile, Nigel Farrage, the architect of the whole mess and leader of the Brexit Party, is an attractive alternative to hard-line ‘Brexit at any cost’ Conservatives.
In the midst of this chaos, Corbyn has been pressing his demand for fresh elections. He has proposed that anti-Brexit MPs should back his threatened no-confidence move against Johnson, and once the prime minister has been unseated, Corbyn could be caretaker prime minister until the next election was held before Oct 31.
The problem with this scenario is that it has few takers, and until a score or so Tory members go along, Corbyn just doesn’t have the numbers he needs. Also, recent polls show that he remains very unpopular among voters.
This fluid situation is made more volatile by dire predictions about the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Disappointment waits to mug those Brits who yearn for the days when Britannia ruled the waves. As the old saying goes: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”
Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2019