Brexit: A Nasty Little Future
How the forces of populism are driving Britain to fragmentation and tyranny
Back in 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum. The choice was between two polar opposites: leave the European Union or remain in the European Union. No details were provided of what the implications of leaving would be, nor was any nuance permitted. It was a binary choice and everyone old enough to vote could have their say in true democratic fashion.
No informed intelligent person believed for a moment that Brexit would triumph. There was no reason at all for the UK to abandon a highly successful economic union that also had created a framework for human rights largely based on UK input and that was contributing massively to UK economic success. But as we all know, very few people are intelligent and well-informed. The Brexiteers won the day by a narrow margin and the UK committed itself to a program of self-destruction accompanied by lots of patriotic flag-waving and heartwarming racism.
How did the British get themselves into such a mess?
For most of the 20th century the UK Conservative (Tory) Party was devoted to stasis and then to managing decline. The ineptitude of Tory leaders made World War II inevitable, and that war bankrupted the already-shaky UK economy. Instead of being able to continue to asset-strip the dominions of the British Empire, the UK found itself in a position where very soon it would have to contribute to the economic well-being of some of those dominions. Worse yet, the UK was in massive debt to the USA. And so within a few short years the UK ran as fast as it could from its colonial obligations, leaving dozens of countries to flounder amid ethnic violence and economic turmoil. Then the Suez crisis made it plain that the post-war UK was very much a second-rate power and could henceforth not do anything of importance without first obtaining the blessing of the USA. The dollar became the world’s reserve currency, replacing Sterling and largely replacing gold.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the Tory Party, during its occasional spells in power, saw its role as overseeing the elegant management of inevitable decline into third-rate mediocrity. But as the country collapsed under the combined weight of Soviet-inspired union activism, managerial incompetence, and general apathy, something unexpected occurred: Margaret Thatcher, a lower-middle-class anomaly in the Tory Party, became Leader and then Prime Minister and thereafter embarked on a series of reforms that enabled the UK somewhat to recover its economic vigor. And although Thatcher delighted in battling the Europeans for “her” money, she knew perfectly well that the UK economy depended enormously on being a part of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). She never dreamed for a second that the UK should try to go it alone.
So the UK recovered somewhat and after Thatcher was defenestrated the Tory Party returned to its habitual posture of bumbling along and attempting to maintain some sort of vague stasis. Then the UK Labour Party came to power with Tony Blair as Prime Minister and he followed the same general course only with a much greater flair for spin and puffery. The idea was that as long as no one rocked the boat, life would keep getting gradually better. And thanks to the EU enabling more and more trade and prosperity and opportunities, life did indeed keep getting gradually better.
But then the Tory Party regained power and this time the Leader was a self-satisfied traditional Tory: David Cameron. He came from the classic Tory background of upper-middle-class privilege. He attended the right schools and university, was selected by the Tory Party for a safe (e.g. uncontested) seat in Parliament, and rose through the ranks because others of his sort saw him as “a good chap.” Cameron had never had to exert himself in any way at any point in his life. Good things were handed to him on a silver platter.
Which meant that he had no backbone and therefore no ability to stand and fight.
So when a tiny minority of Tory Members of Parliament (MPs) kept banging on about how Britain should leave the European Union and re-create the Empire and be glorious once more, Cameron was entirely unable to slap them down. He was afraid of those noisy neanderthal-like politicians with their country estates and their weekend grouse shooting parties. As a way of avoiding conflict Cameron hit upon what seemed to him to be a splendid idea: he’d call a national referendum to settle the question of whether or not the UK should remain in the EU. That way, the country could vote to remain in Europe and the noisy tub-thumpers of the Tory back-benches would see that their cause was hopeless, all without Cameron having to stand up to them himself.
It never occurred to Cameron that enough British people would be stupid and ignorant and racist enough to vote for Brexit. Anyone with half a brain and even a sliver of understanding would see how catastrophic Brexit would be. But as Cameron discovered, a very significant percentage of any population knows very little and understands even less. The Brexiteers, cynical opportunists all, began to pump out simple-minded soundbites and slogans that greatly appealed to those of limited intellect. The Brexiteers likewise never dreamed that they’d succeed — they merely saw their efforts as a means to achieve greater influence and power through endless media exposure. In fact Boris Johnson knew that Brexit would be an utter disaster; he envisaged becoming Prime Minister after the failure of Brexit because he would then be able to present himself as “the man who can heal the Tory Party.”
And so the UK set itself on a one-way path to self-destruction. Every single one of the claims made by the Brexiteers was a lie, and thus the Brexit process was a shambles. None of the Brexit promises came true and all of the things the Remain side had said were shown to be correct. But as is the way of things, people who voted for Brexit merely ignored reality and doubled down on their conviction that waving Union flags and shouting stupid slogans was the cleverest bravest thing to do in the whole wide world.
Fast-forward to today. Now that the UK has left the European Union (“taken back control” in the simple-minded formulation of the Brexiteers) and the Tory Party has an unassailable majority in the English Parliament, the shape of the future has become plain for all to see.
As predicted, the British military will continue to shrink dramatically — in contrast to the spurious claims made by Brexiteers. From a strength of 1,200 battle tanks in 2000 the UK will attempt to maintain 120 tanks by 2027. The Air Force and Navy are likewise being further reduced. The UK economy is projected to shrink by at least 4% due to Brexit (this is the government’s own highly optimistic best-case scenario) which translates into 2,500,000 jobs gone. British people no longer have the automatic right to travel and work and reside across the European Union. British banks, which contributed a huge proportion of UK tax revenues thanks to the formerly strong position of the City of London in financial services, are moving staff elsewhere in an attempt to retain some small portion of markets they used to dominate. As a consequence, billions of UK Pounds of tax revenues have evaporated.
But this is the good news. The bad news is much, much worse.
Despite in general being very stupid and vacuous people, politicians do have one minor talent: an ability to see which way the wind is blowing and the desire to take advantage of it. The Tory Party has been given an enormous gift and is now making every use possible of an unexpected but extremely welcome present. Thanks to endless media sensationalism, ordinary people imagine that SARS-COV-2 presents a serious threat to their existence. Convinced by a torrent of irresponsible reportage, ordinary people think they are at risk of death from a virus that in reality even in the very worst-hit nations kills less than 0.25% of the population, of whom 98% are the very old, the very sick, and the obese. Better yet, if only doctors could refrain from thrusting patients into induced coma and then shoving them onto ventilators, the mortality rate would be less than 0.05% as ventilators are known to be a major cause of mortality even among perfectly healthy individuals.
But doctors are people too, so they can’t help doing things they know to be harmful. It’s what they were trained to do, it’s what politicians expect them to do, and it’s what the media demands they do — regardless of the harm it causes. Yet even with doctors killing an estimated 80% of covid-19 patients, the fact is that the coronavirus kills hardly anyone. More than ten times as many people die each week from lifestyle-induced ailments than from SARS-COV-2, but we don’t notice these deaths because the media doesn’t sensationalize them. Thus ordinary people en mass were driven into fearful panic and politicians scrambled to respond in order to minimize loss of votes.
So much, so obvious. This phenomenon has been seen the world over.
The British twist is what makes things interesting. Somewhat late in the day (because, as we noted above, politicians are rarely blessed with anything approaching a functioning intellect) the Tory Party has realized that SARS-COV-2 can be used to excuse all the harm created by Brexit. Fewer food items on supermarket shelves? Not Brexit, my dear! No, it’s all because of coronavirus! Thousands of small businesses driven to bankruptcy? Not Brexit, my dear! It’s all because of coronavirus!
Thus it has become in the Tory Party’s best interest to keep the covid-19 fear throbbing in the timorous hearts of the public as a glorious way to avoid responsibility for wrecking the UK economy and destroying the prospects of millions of young people. Better still, the fear of covid-19 generated by the media has created a golden opportunity for the Tory Party to criminalize anything that could embarrass them. In the last few days the Tory Party has passed legislation that criminalizes, with a penalty of ten years in jail, any public activity it deems to have the potential to cause public disarray. In other words, if a single person stands on a street corner and talks loudly about how the Tory Party is wrecking the nation they can be arrested, tried, found guilty, and sent to jail for ten years.
But that’s really not enough. Now the Tory Party is passing legislation that criminalizes any attempt to leave the country “without adequate reason.” A first time fine of UK Pounds 5,000 (around $6,800) will be levied on any individual who attempts to leave the UK by any means without official sanction.
Let’s pause a moment to allow this to sink in. The UK has just joined an august list of nations that have criminalized any attempt to leave. The UK is now in the same rank as North Korea, the former Soviet Union, and… well, that’s it, actually. For the first time since 2007 when Putin began to crack down on independent Russian news organizations, Russian media is reporting the truth: Russians now have far more human rights than British citizens.
As Russian state media gleefully stated last night: “We see in all its hypocrisy the West, lecturing other countries on human rights while mocking them at home. What freedoms do the British have now? No freedom to come together in groups, no freedom to make public protest, no freedom to leave their prison nation!”
In order to maximize its chances of clinging onto power indefinitely, the government has stated that it will be “many years” before current restrictions are eased. Citing the fear of “a wave of infection washing up on our shores” Boris Johnson is using coronapanic as a hammer to attack everything that threatens him politically. The Scots want independence? How irresponsible in the middle of an existential threat like covid-19!! Some people are angry about Brexit destroying their jobs? How absurd when we know it’s all due to the totally unforeseen coronavirus!! Anyone wanting to protest against the criminalization of normal behavior? They are clearly a threat to public safety and must be incarcerated!!
The UK has now become to all intents and purposes an authoritarian State.
With luck the Scots will force their way to independence and break free of this appalling tyranny. The Northern Irish will almost certainly unite with Eire by the end of the next decade. But the English and the Welsh face a very bleak, squalid, and unpleasant little future.
Which is condign, because they voted overwhelmingly for it.