What’s going on with Brexit, you ask? It’s been strange over here, and it’s getting stranger.
First the prime minister set up a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Why? Because he wanted to shut up the anti-EU wing of his party, the Conservatives. Clever move, Dave.
Then the whole thing went wrong, the Conservative Party dissolved into an internal arm wrestling match, and the country voted to leave the EU. Clever Dave announced that he’ll resign as soon as someone in his party wins the arm-wrestling match, which is now about who gets to replace him.
Then the MPs who belong to the Labour Party, who you’d think would be out celebrating the Conservative-on-Conservative war, called for a vote of no confidence in their own leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who they’ve hated from the time he was elected because he’s from the left wing of their party and they’re not. They blame him for not making a stronger case for staying in the EU.
Corbyn, who was elected by a large majority of the party membership, refused to resign. The Labour Party dissolved into an internal arm wrestling match. Actually, it started when Corbyn was first elected, but it’s gotten worse now.
In the meantime, the Scottish National Party announced that it will demand a second referendum on Scottish independence. Most of Scotland voted to stay in the EU and now they want to leave the UK so they can.
Then they read the small print on something or other and announced that the Scottish Parliament has the power to stop the UK’s exit.
Who knew that? Apparently no one.
A petition calling for a second referendum got so many signatures that the government web site that was hosting it broke down. In almost no time, it had several million signatures. Then a bunch of them turned out to be bogus. Still, that leaves a hell of a lot that aren’t.
It turns out that the petition was started by someone who supported the Leave campaign but didn’t expect it to win. It was hijacked, he said, by Remain supporters.
Well, yes, dear. both sides of that sword were sharpened.
Dave—who, you remember, is resigning—says he won’t make the formal moves that will trigger the British exit. He’ll leave it to his successor. But the EU is calling on the UK to get on with it and end the uncertainty. They’re not in a good mood about all this, and they’d like the UK out of the room, please. The sight of us is bringing back ugly memories. But no one can trigger the Leave process except the country that wants to leave and that country–us–is stalling.
One of the promises of the Leave campaign was that if Britain left, it would save so much money that it could spend £350 million a week on the NHS, which is seriously underfunded at the moment. A few days after the vote, however, all references to that disappeared from the campaign’s website. The top Leave campaigners have all developed amnesia and don’t seem to remember saying that.
Meanwhile, the pound’s fallen to either a 30-year low or a 31-year low, depending on when you turned on your radio. The stock markets have gotten hives.
Polish immigrants reported being handed leaflets telling them to leave now. Assorted other incidents of harassment against Muslims, Poles, and in one incident foreigners in general have been reported, although in that particular incident there may not have actually been any foreigners present. A man in the supermarket started yelling about foreigners and questioning people about where they were from.
Keep in mind that when I say harassment of Muslims and Poles and foreigners, what I really mean is people who might be Muslims or Poles or foreigners, because it’s not always easy to tell. The same thing happens when people start pushing gays around: A few extra people who aren’t gay always get swept in because someone thinks they might be.
It’s hard to tell who to hate these days, you know? This may actually be good, because it reminds people who aren’t in any of those categories what it’s like to be the target of that kind of venom. Some very ugly forces have been unleashed in this campaign.
A lot of the Leave campaign was about “taking our country back.” Who from? It was a kind of fill-in-the-blank slogan. From whoever you think took it from you. For some people, that was an urban elite, because this was a heavily anti-elitist campaign—run by an urban elite who hope to take power from a different urban elite. For other people, it was foreigners, or Muslims, or Poles, or Eastern Europeans in general, or Asians or Africans, or people whose ancestors were Asian or African. It took some of the ugliest threads of the culture and brought them out into the open. Suddenly they felt respectable. Want to yell at foreigners in the supermarket? Want to yell at a young Muslim woman on the bus? The country just told you you could.
It didn’t, but never mind. A certain number of people feel like it did.
The part of the Leave camp that I’m sympathetic to is made up of people whose lives have been bulldozed by globalization. Steady jobs disappeared, industries have moved abroad, and people are left broke and lost and angry. They want to take their country back too. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get it. Not this way.
According to a Guardian article, the Bank of America and Pimco, which I never heard of before, are “warning their clients that the gulf between rich and poor could add to the anti-establishment backlash,” and they consider the Brexit vote part of that.
The queen, by the way, is due for an automatic £2.8 million raise in pay unless the formula that calculates what taxpayers owe her is changed. That’s not related to leaving the EU, but I thought I’d toss it in anyway.
Here in Cornwall, where money’s tight and the EU has invested a lot and where the vote leaned heavily toward Leave, the Cornwall Council turned to the national government asking if they’d match that investment. Part of the Leave campaign’s promise was that once the UK didn’t have to pour money into the EU, it could be spent here.
To which I can only say, don’t count on it. The NHS won’t be getting any £350 million a week. If Cornwall gets any equivalent of the EU investment, I’ll be surprised, she said in a massive display of understatement.
One of the main Leave campaigners, Boris Johnson, wrote in the Telegraph that, basically, nothing good will change and only the bad things—the British involvement with the EU’s bureaucracy—will drop away.
And no one will get colds or flu again, ever.
I’m paraphrasing heavily, but I think I’ve caught the spirit of the column.
Commentators are starting to comment that the Leave campaigners don’t have a plan. We might have been wise to ask them about that a bit earlier, although I doubt it would have changed the vote.
I haven’t written about the referendum until now because it was hard to find anything funny about it. Now, though? It’s still not funny, but the situation’s weird enough to give me something to work with.
I apologize for not giving you links. There are too many. I’m overwhelmed. And in no time they’ll be outdated. In fact, I’m publishing this before my usual Friday deadline because it’ll be out of date otherwise.
Fasten your seatbelts, kids. I don’t know if it’s going to be bumpy, but it’s going to get very, very strange. E.A. posted a photo on Facebook of a man holding a sign that says, “Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to hold a referendum with the same people who came up with ‘Boaty McBoatface.’ “