Brexit Is Dead A Wave of Anger Crashes over Britain

Europe used to have a fearful respect of the Tories. But those days have long since passed. Now, the weakened party may have accidentally killed off Brexit -- a pet project that most party leaders didn't want in the first place.

British Prime Minister Theresa May
REUTERS

British Prime Minister Theresa May


Once upon a time, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, the Tories filled all of Europe with trepidation. French President François Mitterrand complained to his psychologist that he was plagued by nightmares caused by the British leader and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, as unclassified British documents revealed in late 2016, once preferred to chow down on a cream pie in Salzburg than meet with the British prime minister.

Many in the UK thought a bit of fear was a good thing. Fear sounded like respect and influence -- and, more than anything, like good deals. But now, after two catastrophic elections in less than a year, that is over. Completely.

"The country looks ridiculous," the Financial Times -- not exactly a leftist mouthpiece -- wrote recently. Indeed, the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher has turned into a gaggle of high rollers and unwitting clowns.

First came Boris Johnson, who vociferously supported Brexit last year to show his boss, Prime Minister David Cameron, what an outstanding orator he was even though he, Johnson, didn't really want Brexit. They both went all in, and the country lost.

And now we have Theresa May, who didn't really want Brexit either, but decided after last summer's referendum to throw her support behind leaving the European Union if it meant that she could become prime minister.

"The lady's not for turning," is one of the more famous quotes uttered by Margaret Thatcher. But her heirs currently leading the Tories are now turning so quickly that many observers aren't just getting dizzy. They are becoming nauseous.

Incompetently Cool and Calculating

Great Britain may be an island, but economically it is the most interconnected country in Europe: The financial center in London, the country's carmakers, what's left of British industry and even the country's infrastructure. France delivers electricity, water sanitation facilities in southern England belong to Germans and large airports such as Heathrow are owned by Spaniards. One quarter of the doctors who keep afloat the NHS -- Britain's comparatively deficient health care system -- come from the Continent.

The promise of Brexit was steeped in ideology from the very beginning, a fairy tale based on dark chauvinism. The Spanish Armada, Napoleon, Hitler and now the Polish plumbers who allegedly push down wages -- when in reality they ensured that, after decades of lukewarmly dripping showers, the country's bathrooms gradually returned to functionality. Brexit was never a particularly good idea. Now, following the most recent election, Brexit is defunct. That, at least, is what a member of Theresa May's cabinet intimated last weekend. "In practical terms, Brexit is dead," an unnamed minister told the Financial Times.

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If she weren't so incompetently cool and calculating, one could almost pity Theresa May. Even as her supposed allies begin sharpening their knives at home, Brexit negotiations are set to begin in Brussels next week. And she also has to find time for a bit of begging at the door of a former party to the civil conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), so that she can have them sign a coalition agreement. Anything at all would be fine, as long as she can continue to govern.

It won't be a hard Brexit. The best case is a soft Brexit, which would mean that the UK could remain a part of the common market, but that the government would have to accept immigration from Europe and regulations from Brussels -- without having a vote in the EU. To paraphrase May, this would indeed be a bad deal, but still better than no deal at all -- the scenario she threatened when she still had a comfortable majority in the House of Commons.

Investors hate nothing more than uncertainty, but that is exactly what experts are predicting for Britain in the coming years. Uncertainty combined with stunted growth, less trade, higher taxes and worse national health care.

As things look now, last week's election was only the first wave of anger that is currently breaking over the country. The worse the times get, the more powerful it will become. And in a few years, it is almost certain that there will be a government interested in rejoining the EU. Which is possible, but the conditions offered are almost sure to be worse.

Correction: Due to an editing error, we initially identified the Democratic Unionist Party as the Ulster Unionist Party. We regret the mistake and have now corrected it.

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turnipseed 06/16/2017
1. The British Conservative Party
Why the surprise at the hollowness of the Tories. Except for Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill (who was also a Liberal much of the time) the Tories in the last one hundred years have been loathsome. They were the chief supporters of appeasement of Hitler, often very supportive of the Nazis as a way of fighting the Communism they feared above all. They have little to be proud of.
distrak 06/16/2017
2. Unfair press
Very arrogant attitude here. Of course, Germans enjoy it when England has problems, and England may enjoy it when Germany has problems. If not for Germany's bootlicking, pandering press the world would really know how stupid Merkel's open invitation to a million muslim men really is, and how much social and economic pain this idiocy is going to cause (and is causing) German (and EU) taxpayers and citizens. First, it was "wir schafen das" then bubbling positive stories about "Syrian success stories" when hordes of illegal migrants from N. Africa are running drugs outside the Frankfurt Train station. No-Go Zone? Absolutely. And no stories about how poorly the government has handled deporting failed asylum seekers. You are too intent on working this "new leader of the free world" lie, and finding ways to trash Trump, and whinging about the end of this Paris Accord--which was nothing but a lot of hot air, promises no-one (not even Germany) was going to keep, and would involved the US giving billions of dollars to China and India to pay for its past transgressions. And Obama signed up for this. At the very least, England has a political system where voters CAN have an impact and incompetent people are kicked out of government. Was anyone even reprimanded after Amri's murder spree and subsequent world tour. That he was killed by a Italian security guard in training who had never fired his weapon before, and the thousands of German special operations police couldn't even find him, and he was allowed to travel around Germany for months breaking the law was just pathetic and embarrassing. Or should have been, if the press--YOU Spiegel--were doing their job.
major_tom3 06/16/2017
3. Brexit is now undead
I find the scathing tone of this article about my country a little hard to stomach, but mostly because its analysis is basically correct. Actually, to say that Brexit was always ideological is, if anything, too generous. Brexit was sold to us with nostalgia about a greatness that never was. Repeatedly we were told that we 'hold all the cards,' that we could be great once more if only "Europe" wasn't holding us back. All this reminds me of nothing so much as those ridiculous British war films we were brought up on where the plucky Brits single-handedly outwit and defeat the Nazis with effortless superiority. The post-war generation of politicians sold us a self-serving Escape-From-Colditz fantasy. However, I wish I could agree with your assertion that Brexit is dead. Far from it. Pretty much everyone in the UK, including die-hard remainers (like me), accepts that to overturn the result of the referendum would be an affront to democracy, regardless of the way it was conducted. Making the best of a bad decision explains Theresa May's embrace of Brexit, though not her particular approach. Brexit is a zombie that just can't be killed. Similarly, I doubt if any government in the next couple of decades will seek to re-join the EU, for the same reason. There will be deals and accommodations, no doubt. Finally, I don't think many people are that angry about Brexit, though I wish they were. If they are angry about anything, it's austerity.
Newspeak 06/16/2017
4. ...
The Brits don't get it. Brexit is not longer a question of them. Surely there are many, that felt sorrow, when the UK decided for Brexit, and it would be better, if the UK would remain, but then the UK offended the EU one time after another and now the EU has the best chance to skip every UK privilege and end every UK nuisance. And that is, what they will do. Throw them out. Because they know, if the EU is successful and the UK in its own is not, then the UK will plea again for being a member, but now under the same conditions like anyone else. What the Brits should realize is, that the Empire is gone, Thatcher is gone, and no one is keen to have someone in his club who does not accept realities but always wants to have a special treatment. These times are over for sure.
nick_valentine 06/22/2017
5. UK being held hostage - Help!
You might look at the UK from across the Channel or North Sea and see a country that has lost its collective mind and is now acting like a drunken bully. Yes, i can see why you might think that - but that's not what's really going on here. The truth is far darker. It's not unlike what happened to Germany in the 1930s - that a country reeling from divisions and hardships (seven years of austerity) was looking for change - ANY change. The basic impulse here is not "Leave the EU", it's "Leave England" - a rejection of a country that has become increasngly cruel and unfair to its own people. That impulse was exploited by a comparatively small band of extreme English nationalists, exploited by a minority of Tory ideologues, cynical press barons and financial/media manipulators like Arron Banks and Dominic Cummings who made reckless promises and told shameless lies. Together they have manipulated the minority rage and majority distress into a narrow referendum win that is now being ruthlessly leveraged for political hegemony and gain. So now the vast majority of good, sensible and friendly British people are effectively being held as hostages by a bigoted minority, hysterical tabloid press and old-fashioned electoral system. We are captives aboard an aircraft that is being piloted recklessly by panicked or delusional Tory politicians into the ground. We need the EU to rescue us - but I fear they won't. Rather the EU is ushering UK quietly but firmly to the door so it can continue its stupid drunken bralws out in the street, before any more furniture gets smashed. Difficult to blame you - this is realpolitik after all. But it's such a shame. The BBC ust stated a new series called 'Hospital' - see the first programmes to see how an NHS team dealt with the Westmister terrorist attack. There you'lll see what Britian is REALLY like - a wonderfully multiracial country filled with experties, professionalism and compassion and quiet good humour. Most of us WANT to be good Europeans - our politicians won't let us.
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