Globe, Uncategorized, United Kingdom

Britannia in her labyrinth

Neither ‘rule’ nor ‘cool’. Not even Brexit. The best label for the ever pompous United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is failure. Failed. Foundered. Impotent.


Pablo Sapag M.


It is obvious that the current state of affairs stems from the outlandish referendum of 23rd June 2016, on whether the United Kingdom would remain in or leave the European Union it had joined in 1973.

Attempting to bin 43 years of history (not to mention numerous preceding years of membership negotiations), in addition to the sheer breadth of legislation and far-reaching changes brought about by a simple yes or no, is not only reductionist, narcissistic and childish but somewhat anti-democratic.

Complex situations merit equally robust, carefully-worked, deep and nuanced political responses. Yes or no on a bit of paper, with barely any preliminary discussion on each and every consequence of one decision or the other, in no way allows for such a challenge to be addressed.

For one thing, a plebiscite tends to be the resort of dictators, to hold on to power or garner apparent, temporary support and acclamation for one of their controversial measures.

Moreover, in the case of the United Kingdom -which does not have a written constitution to guide a result that however unexpected was always possible- the mess is not only intolerable but above all irresolvable.

From thereon in: total chaos. The resignation of the inane David Cameron, who frivously called a referendum as nothing more than a petty vote-winning ploy. The coming to power of Theresa May, no less vacuous and disposable than the irreverent comedy figures who, in the face of foretold failure, recklessly throw in the towel. Like her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

Theresa May – Caricature Wikimedia Commons

Or the man tasked with negotiating an orderly exit from the EU, one David Davis; who turned up to Brussels meetings without any paperwork and with his hands in his pockets, to the astonishment of his European counterpart. At least he wasn’t fooling anyone. The British didn’t have anything prepared. And they still don’t.

After reaching a withdrawal agreement at the end of November 2018 that was painful but at least somewhat orderly, May, who was negotiating in Brussels but unable to control her own Conservative Party members, didn’t dare submit this deal to a vote in Parliament. Instead she tried to get more from the EU, especially concerning the thorny issue of the status of Northern Ireland.

If there is a return to the hard border with the Republic of Ireland, as is obvious and required if the United Kingdom leaves the EU, it could spell a return of the troubles in Ulster. What’s more, a bad deal would further encourage Scotland’s desire to leave a union that is no longer functioning.

And it is not functioning because in the United Kingdom, neither legislation, nor proceedings, nor the political class are up to the great challenge that -through their arrogance- the British have got themselves into.

The Labour party is no better. Although he talked of defending immigrants, contributing to a more balanced world and the like, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was never capable of running an educational, direct campaign against Brexit. Now he doesn’t dare to reverse it either. In a purely tactical move, he tables a censure motion against the Prime Minister, but not the government. A calculated gesture to the electorate, but without consequences for the issue at hand, namely Brexit.

To justify his desire to go ahead with this strategic decision for which, however, there was and is no strategy whatsoever, Corbyn and his supporters, like good Brits, hide behind who knows what supposed principles. An exclusively British, sacrosanct democratic tradition, which could prevent the scrapping of Brexit through another referendum or parliamentary mechanisms as democratic as the initial consultation.

All in a country without a constitution, yet -let’s not forget- with a State religion. Supposed principles that, in the face of such a state of emergency, are much more difficult to identify than the usual interests, past and present. From Iraq to Afghanistan, by way of Saudi Arabia and the Falklands, there the British interests are obvious, loud and clear. The principles, according to and for what.

The most ironic thing about the whole bizarre process is that the last card the British hold to undo the mess they have created, is to resort to a resolution of the European Court of Justice!

This court has decided that an EU member state can unilaterally rescind a previously agreed withdrawal at any point before the date established for the exit to take effect. For Brexit, this date is 29th March 2019.

There is little time remaining, although in reality that’s irrelevant.

The consequences of Brexit are already visible. One only need look at how the number of universities participating in the European academic exchange programme, Erasmus, has plummeted, disadvantaging thousands of students and lecturers.

Or worse still, how racist and xenophobic attacks have multiplied, and the deportations and loss of rights of those who arrived in the United Kingdom from the Caribbean, as members of the grandiose Commonwealth, decades ago.

In any case, and for those who still don’t see it because neither education nor human rights are their priority, there is the collapse of the once sacred, sainted pound sterling; whilst the City, where so many make their living, loses its shine and speculative splendour.

What is really relevant, is that these two and a half years have left exposed the profound weakness of British institutions, the economy and the social model. It was equivocally believed that after the Second World War it cost Britannia less than others -Spain or Turkey, for example- to overcome the loss of her colonial empire.

Firstly, due to the so-called “special relationship” she established with the United States after the Suez fiasco in 1956, when alongside the State of Israel and the similarly imperialist French, she got herself into a neo-colonial adventure of disastrous consequences.

And then because she found in the European Economic Community -today the EU- the other lifeline for her inevitable post imperial decline. Because let’s not kid ourselves.

Whatever May said, whilst dancing in Africa to the rhythm of the promises of free trade, and as India remembers every now and then, the Commonwealth is as irrelevant as the Ibero-American Community of Nations or the International Organisation of La Francophonie. Little pills, designed by the former colonial powers to calm the anxious symptoms of discontent -what the French call malaise– of those who have lived more centuries with the empire than without it, and who in losing it feel so insignificant. Perhaps because in reality that is what they are.

Brexit is just a symptom of the end of the empire. The definitive knock out to Britannia rules the waves.

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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