Brexit: From Dear God What Happened, to Dear God What Next

So. The unthinkable has happened. As we glumly watch the markets plummet, the hate speech blossom and the political leaders trip over themselves trying to flee the havoc, it’s difficult to resist the urge to collectively grab half of the British population and shake them while screaming that one line from Planet of the Apes:

Honestly, I’ve been trying to write this article for some time now, but every day there is some new dramatic revelation to deal with.

Shall we start from the beginning? Actually I ought to start this piece with a disclaimer – I’m not British, nor am I living in the UK. In fact I’m the only writer on this blog who isn’t, at the moment, but I believe my fellow authors are still attempting to rebuild their lives in the post-apocalyptic hellscape of #Brexit.

It’s been a week since the Brits took to the polls to vote on a question that has been contentious and divisive from pretty much the birth of the European Union: should the UK be part of the EU, or not? Back in February The Economist gave a pretty good overview of the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU, but in essence it boils down to a few major points.

The first is that the UK, although not a founding member of the EU, has played a crucial role in its development since even before it joined in 1973, with Winston Churchill named as one of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the EU. Perhaps the most quintessential example of Britain’s early relations with the Union is Margaret Thatcher, who spent the mid to late 1970s campaigning vigorously for the UK to be part of a closer European Union, only to turn around once in office as Prime Minister in the 1980s and decry the political and economic disadvantages the UK was suffering as a result of the EU. Her resistance to EU governance precipitated the end of her leadership, and her views on Europe became progressively more critical as the decades passed. Thatcher’s legacy in Britain, while hugely divisive, is undeniable – and many are citing it as a direct influence on the outcome of this referendum. The irony, of course, is that the working class – the demographic that hated Thatcher most passionately – has ended up championing the same side of the debate.

There’s rather a lot of irony in this whole situation, to be honest.

The second major point is that the UK has been perhaps the most reluctant major player in the EU for some time. Thatcher played a huge role in the development of the single market (primarily in securing Britain rebates in said market), but the UK opted out of two of the most crucial tenets of the Union: the Schengen Agreement, which we’ve discussed before, and the common currency or ‘Eurozone’. All Member States of the EU are obliged to be part of the common currency (eventually) and the free movement agreement, although Denmark also opted out of the currency and Ireland joined the UK in rejecting Schengen in the interests of maintaining their pre-existing free movement agreements. Basically the UK is the kid who’ll come to your birthday party, but he’ll sit in the corner and refuse to play musical chairs or wear a party hat, and then will insist on deciding how the cake should be cut.

number2525204252520birthday252520cake2525202525285252529_thumb25255b725255d

“You better not be giving my piece to those immigrants!” [x]

In the wake of the financial crisis that shook the Eurozone and sent corresponding waves through the UK (who helped bail out Portugal and Ireland, but not – contrary to popular belief – Greece), an already shaky faith in the EU was further damaged by the ascension of the UK Independence Party, or UKIP, who are part of a larger pantheon of exceptionally awful hard-right political parties on the rise across Europe.

It was in this political climate that British Prime Minister David Cameron pressed the big red button that will end the world. Struggling with divisions within his own Conservative party, Cameron took a gamble that won him the election last year: he promised the Eurosceptics of the UK that there would be a referendum on British membership of the EU if he was re-elected Prime Minister.

He was giving a decision that would normally be left to Parliament, advised by experts and lobby groups and whoever else, to the population itself. The problem, of course, is that the European Union and particularly the UK’s membership of it are extremely complex topics that a large percentage of the population don’t understand. It’s the problem that has led to so much frustration and anger about the EU in the first place, and it’s also the problem that led to so many people voting Leave without understanding what they were voting for or what the consequences would be.

To be fair, anyone who tells you they know for sure what the consequences of the referendum will be at this stage is straight up lying. There are no certainties. This is uncharted land, and we of Europe are stumbling through it with a compass made of twigs, leaves and a depressing combination of cynicism and naivety.

Here’s what did happen, though, in the immediate aftermath. Cameron jumped ship faster than a rat leaving the Titanic, if that rat had somehow also steered the ship directly into the iceberg. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and key campaigner for the pro-Brexit camp, backpedalled just as hard as he could on some of the key pledges that were made to the British people during the campaign, along with a number of Tory MPs. The British pound plummeted, dragging several European markets with it, and international financial markets freaked all the freaking way out, shedding 2 trillion USD worldwide. Scotland, which had based its decision NOT to leave the UK two years ago in no small part on its desire to stay part of the EU, and voted strongly for Remain, deployed Nicola Sturgeon to start kicking ass and taking names. And Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, delivered ice-cold shade directly to Nigel Farage’s face:

So for the moment, chaos reigns. It is perhaps the biggest crisis the UK has faced for many decades, and nobody wants to take responsibility for it. Will Boris Johnson be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom? Will England be left alone as Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Wales decide they’d rather be part of the other Union, actually? Can the UK ever be friends with Europe again?

EU Summit in Brussels

“No.”[x]

European policymakers are now left with an unenviable choice. Britain’s exit from the EU comes only one short year after the same debate in Greece threatened to destabilise the entire bloc. They will have to act decisively in order to prevent the fallout from ripping the European Union into very small angry pieces in the coming months and years. Do they extend a hand to help mitigate the damage the referendum result is likely to do to the British economy and society, and particularly to the most vulnerable people in the country? Or do they demonstrate exactly why leaving the EU is a very bad idea, and make an example of Britain’s impending misery?

It’s an extremely dangerous situation. Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France are already taking as much advantage of the situation as possible in order to further the far-right Eurosceptic movement in their own countries. These movements are vehemently xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic, and they expose Europe to the dangers of division and isolationism that lead to conflict.

Meanwhile, racist and xenophobic outbursts have been reported all over the UK in the wake of the referendum as the dregs of society are emboldened by what they see as a validation of their hatred. Economic recession will hit the poorest in society hardest, and it’s a very real possibility at this stage. What’s more, the burden of repairing the longer-lasting consequences will fall to the youth, who above all other demographics overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU.

It’s also not clear what the UK’s role on the world stage will be in the future. When the UK joined the European Union, the British Empire was still a thing. Thanks to its colonial past, England has been a hub for international exchange of goods, finance, business and culture for centuries.

Uh, thanks, colonialism?

But now it’s facing the possibility of being entirely alone, without advantage or unity. What does the future hold for an isolated UK? For an isolated England?

The future probably doesn’t hold a second referendum, despite that petition going around (which, hilariously, was actually set up by a pessimistic Leave voter before the results were announced). Perhaps Scotland will try and block the UK’s exit, but to be frank, the dangers of going against the outcome of the referendum at this stage really need to be considered. Commitments were made, and the democratic process yielded this result, even if it is an extremely terrible decision made by an under-informed public and influenced by a line-up of people who will not be treated well by the history books. If the UK government decides to renege on its commitment, there will be a lot of extremely angry extremely hard-right people across the country, fuelled by self-righteous fury. We are only five years distant from the riots in 2011 that swept through the country like a rabid feral cat – they were driven by rage against inequality, and in the end a lot of the rage behind the Leave campaign stems from a similar, though disastrously misdirected, place.

It’s also not clear how the rest of the world is going to be affected, once the rush of tweets and think-pieces (including mine) dies down. Many are looking westward in abject fear of the US election in November and the prospect of Trump riding the rising wave of right-wing populist into the White House. But I’m done prophesying doom for today, so I’ll let Samantha Bee explore that one:

 

CB

[Header image source: https://pixabay.com/en/brexit-exit-united-kingdom-england-1481024/]

The Primary Objective

As the field of candidates begins to narrow in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, it’s worth sparing a thought for those forced to withdraw. Far from spending  the next four years in the White House, many of them will soon be consigned to the undignified rank of tough-pub-quiz-question, showing the same levels of name-recognition that garnered them such low poll ratings in the first place. For every Jeb Bush that will probably continue to have a role in public life, there’ll be many Bobby Jindals who it’s difficult to believe ever thought he was presidential. But lest we forget those who sacrificed their careers at the altar of vanity and power, here are five past candidates who, for better or worse, stayed in the public eye after their presidential ambitions were squashed.


2012 – Herman Cain

herman-cain

A former businessman with no political experience. A man whose anti-Mulsim remarks were met with disdain. A candidate enjoying a surprise early poll lead. Remind you of anyone? While Herman Cain’s greatest contribution to politics may end up being his use as a comparison to Trump (at least until that all stopped being quite so funny) his legacy to comedy was much greater. The former Godfather’s Pizza boss briefly ran in 2000, but it was in 2012 that Cain made his mark. His central economic policy was to rip us the US tax code and replace it with his snappily titled 9-9-9 tax policy; a flat 9% rate of tax for personal income, business transactions and federal sales. The clever sound-bite failed to stack up as a workable policy and was widely ridiculed. A bizarre ad in which his campaign chief blew smoke into the camera before Cain grinned slowly while a power ballad played in the background did nothing to alleviate this and led to merciless and endless parody.

These days he tries to convince people that chimps believe in God and spams his mailing list with erectile dysfunction remedies.


2004/2008 – John Edwards

john-edwards

As an inexperienced first-term senator Edwards never looked likely to win the 2004 Democratic nomination, but showed enough promise that he was marked out for big things in the future. John Kerry even saw fit to offer him the Vice Presidential nomination that year. In 2008, Edwards’ campaign was hard-fought but ultimately drowned out by the epic clash which emerged between Senators Obama and Clinton. Edwards’ failure to secure the nomination wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to him that year, as his less-than-honourable personal life caught up with him. He initially denied allegations that he had had an affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter and fathered a child with her. Whilst he later admitted the affair, he continued to disown the child until 2010, something unlikely to earn him any “world’s greatest dad” mugs in Father’s Days to come. One former aide later accused Edwards of convincing him to admit paternity in order to cover up the deception. All of which was made worse by the fact that it happened at a time when his wife, herself a respected attorney, author and activist was dying of cancer. She lived just long enough to see him finally admit paternity of his lovechild and to write a scathing book about their relationship. Now firmly entrenched as American politics’ bastard-in-chief, John Edwards was indicted on charges of misusing up to $1 million of campaign funds to cover up his affair. He was acquitted of one charge and five others were dismissed due to mistrial. He’s now managed to slide his way back into the courtroom by returning to practising law.


2000 – John McCain

Before, anyone gets smug and says “but surely McCain won the Republican nomination?” yes, that is true of 2008 John McCain but a much younger, sexier John McCain had a first crack of the whip eight years previously.

John_McCain

Younger, sexier.

A Vietnam veteran who spent time as a POW in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison, McCain was elected Congressman for Arizona in 1983, upgrading to Senator four years later. By 2000 he was a well-respected if sometimes unpredictable member of the GOP, known to reach across the aisle on matters of principle. He teamed up with fellow Senator and veteran John Kerry to declare that there were no secret prisoners still being held in Vietnam, something many veterans still believed and for which some never forgave him. On paper his experience and backstory was in obvious contrast to Presidential scion George W. Bush, whose rowdy and alcoholic youth and perceived inability to speak in coherent English were potential stumbling blocks to his nomination. As his challenge to the establishment-backed Bush grew stronger, McCain became the victim of an anonymous poison-pen campaign. As the New York Times later recalled:

“Literature began to pepper the windshields of cars at political events suggesting that Mr. McCain had committed treason while a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, that he was mentally unstable after years in a P.O.W. camp, that he was the homosexual candidate and that Mrs. McCain, who had admitted to abusing prescription drugs years earlier, was an addict.”

McCain lost the South Carolina primary soon afterwards and his candidacy never recovered. In 2004, he was often mentioned as a Vice Presidential candidate for Democrat John Kerry as part of a unity ticket, but nothing ever came of it. By 2008 McCain’s time had finally come and he won the Republican nomination. With a deeply unpopular incumbent Republican President, McCain had an uphill battle on his hands, one only made harder by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. In contrast to the rancour during this year’s Primary season, during which Donald Trump offered the supreme diss of “I like people who weren’t captured,” McCain at least attempted to make the vote about policy, valiantly attempting to talk down a supporter who railed against Obama as an Arab.

Less edifying was his channelling of the Beach Boys to advocate bombing Iran.

Since his defeat he’s returned to the Senate when he’s become chair of the Armed Services Committee.


1992 – Ralph Nader

ralph-nader

The only person other than John McCain to eventually make it onto the ballot for the Presidential election, Nader first challenged as a write-in Democrat in 1992. A strong left-winger and environmentalist, he was the Green Party candidate in 1996 and again in 2000, when he may have inadvertently been very influential in the race. The closeness of George W. Bush’s win over Al Gore led some to suggest that Nader’s siphoning (however small) of the liberal vote cost Gore the election. Somewhat ironically of course, Al Gore would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent global warming. For his part Nader refused to give up his presidential ambitions (or perhaps just hoped to influence the debate) by running again as an independent in 2004 and 2008.


1988/1992 – David Duke

david-duke

A candidate for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and the Republicans in 1992, David Duke is the sort of name you don’t want (but I now have) in your search history. A white supremacist, vocal anti-Semite and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Duke was notorious as far back as his student days for parading around Louisiana State University campus in a Nazi uniform. Not content with the number of K’s in his organisation he founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan or KKKK. His unashamed far-right views notwithstanding, he won a seat in the Louisiana state house in 1989, though failed as an effective lawmaker during his single term, due to his inability to get to grips with procedure. Whilst his own bids for President never looked like taking off, he has kept busy in politics, meeting with former BNP leader Nick Griffin and recently endorsing Donald Trump. Trump’s inability to immediately disavow Duke may be one reason his electoral success has shown signs of slowing in recent weeks.

In the 1990s David Duke raised funds from supporters, claiming he was in dire financial straits. This turned out not to be the case, the money mainly being spent on gambling, and Duke was convicted of fraud. More recently, he was detained and eventually asked to leave the Czech Republic because of his record of Holocaust denial, whilst he was deported from Italy in 2013 after it was discovered that Switzerland had issued him with a Schengen-wide travel ban. He received an honorary doctorate from the obscure Ukrainian Interregional Academy of Personnel Management and is now insistent on styling himself Dr. David Duke. Perhaps he just misses being associated with three repeated initials.


So there you have it, every cycle has its own quirks. Who knows, if we survive the coming Trumpocalypse we may one day look back upon Ben Carson’s grain stores or Chris Christie’s huge mistake with fondness.

TF