Everything You Need to Know about Brexit

Quick, before the Conservative Party announces our new Blusterer in Chief, here’s everything you need to know about Brexit and how we got tot his point:

Brexit starts in 2015, when David Cameron, as Britain’s prime minister and the leader of the Conservative Party, makes an election promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. This is smart politics. Isn’t Davey a clever boy? After the election, he’ll be back in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and they’ll veto the referendum and that means he won’t have to throw himself, his party, and his country, out the fifth-story window labeled Brexit. But he’ll have shut up the Leave voices in his own party, the Leave voices in the U.K. Independence Party, and the Labour voices rumbling at him from the far side of the House of Commons and saying things he doesn’t pay attention to but that get on his nerves anyway.

Irrelevant photo to give you some relief from an otherwise grim picture: a field with corn marigolds.

Then the election’s held and his party wins a majority. Who knew so many people liked him?

Wave bye-bye to the nice coalition, Davey, because it’s going away.

Davey edges close enough to that fifth-story window and looks down. It’s a long way to the ground.

What’s a clever politician to do? He schedules the referendum and tells the country that it’s safer, stronger, and much better looking in Europe, so it should vote Remain. He promises to limit immigration by widening the Channel and to make the sky a tasteful and long-lasting shade of blue using paint from Farrow and Ball, which is what people with any kind of taste at all buy.

Remain loses. Britain will be leaving the E.U.

Why does Britain vote Leave? Because leaving will make Britain great again. Because it will let Parliament take back control. Because Rupert Murdoch said it was a good idea. Because Facebook is fun.

Davey resigns the leadership of his party and with it the prime ministership, and he retreats to a shed in his backyard, which being British he calls his garden.

What he calls a shed is nicer than some people’s apartments. Which he’d call flats.

He starts writing a book. He waits for someone to ask what it’s about but no one does. They’re focused on the window he left open. Several prominent Conservatives are writhing on the floor in front of it, trying to stab each other. The winner will get to lead the party and find a way from window to ground. One that doesn’t break bones. Or that does. The referendum didn’t say that no bones could be broken.

Theresa May emerges as leader of the party, largely because no one thought she was worth stabbing.

What, the press asks her while the other contenders lie bleeding at her feet, is Brexit going to mean.

“Brexit,” she says, “means Brexit.”

Yes, but what does it mean?

It means Brexit.


Negotiations between Britain and the E.U. begin. The E.U. negotiators spread papers and studies and printouts on the table. The British negotiators set Etch-a-Sketch pads in front of them.

Time passes. Terri May calls an election, which will prove that, um, remind me, what will it prove? That the country backs her. That’s it.

That’s probably it. Also because it will increase her majority in Parliament.

She loses her majority and is held in place (the place in question being 10 Downing Street) only by duct tape and a small Protestant party from Northern Ireland.

A lot of time passes. According to the rules of the game, only so much time can pass before Britain has to go out that window, whether the two sides have managed to build a ladder or not.

An agreement is announced.

Everyone hates the agreement. Even the people who support the agreement hate the agreement. Britain’s negotiator resigns because he hates the agreement he negotiated.

Britain’s Parliament also hates the agreement, so Theresa May goes back to Europe to change the part of the agreement that talks about the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It’s the only part of the agreement she can let herself think about.

The E.U. says it’s tired of talking to Britain.

Britain is also tired of talking to Britain. The Conservative Party can’t agree on what it thinks Brexit should be. It can’t agree on whether Brexit should happen. A group of backbenchers ask, “Wouldn’t it be simpler if we just closed the window?”

No one listens to them.

The Labour Party also can’t agree on what Brexit should be or whether it should happen, although it does agree that Brexit shouldn’t be what Theresa May negotiated. If that sounds like it’s more united than the Conservatives, it’s not. It can’t agree on whether it’s a socialist party, whether its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, should be its leader, or whether it’s doing enough–or anything–to combat anti-Semitism in its ranks.

It also can’t agree on the definition of anti-Semitism.

It does agree that the Conservative Party is anti-Muslim, but no one wants to talk about that so it wanders around mumbling to itself that it’s not anti-Semitic, really it’s not, but no one’s listening.

The Liberal Democrats agree that Brexit’s bad. Unfortunately, after their coalition with Davey, only three of them are left in the Commons.

Or maybe that’s twelve. Or eight. Does it matter?

The Scottish National Party is united: Brexit is bad. The Green Party’s also united, but it only has one MP, which isn’t enough for a decent split.

MPs leave the Labour Party.

MPs leave the Conservative Party.

They form a group that isn’t a party and fend off arguments about what they’d stand for if they did become a party by discussing the weather. Then they do become a party, adopting the name of an online petition group that they’re not associated with. They pass a resolution about the weather.

The online petition group objects.

Theresa May promises Parliament a meaningful vote on Brexit.

She promises Parliament a later meaningful vote on Brexit. But before that can happen, she has to go to Europe to negotiate an even better deal than the existing deal even though the E.U. has said there’s nothing left to negotiate. Many people–which is to say, me and possibly one other person–suspect she goes in and out of offices asking if they have any coffee made. She’s too English to ask if they’ll make some just for her.

When they do have some on hand, she sips it slowly while reading a magazine, since no one will talk to her. She drinks it black, because no one asks if she’d like milk.

If she drinks enough coffee, time will run out. Hickory, dickory, dock, Terri May ran out the clock. Parliament will look out the window and vote for her ladder because it’s five floors down and no one else has made so much as a rope out of torn sheets.

She lets the House of Commons vote on the deal she’s negotiated and it loses. She moves all the commas three words to the right and lets it vote again. Why? Because three is an important number in fairy tales. Three wishes. Three chances. Three brothers.

Hell, it’s as good as anything else going on.

It still loses.

To see if it can’t find a rational way out of the crisis, the House of Commons asks itself a series of questions: Should we leave the EU without a deal? Should we hold a second referendum? Should we drag Britain 50 miles to the west and whenever we pass the E.U. in the Channel pretend we don’t see it?

No proposal wins a majority. TV newscasters are mandated to use the phrase no one knows how this will play out at least once in every program. They use the phrase constitutional crisis almost as often.

Why is it a constitutional crisis? Because Britain has an unwritten constitution. This means that no one really knows what’s in it. It may prevent Theresa May from making herself the country’s second Lord Protector (Oliver Cromwell was the first) but it will be years before anyone’s read through enough papers to know for sure.

Isn’t this fun? We’re watching history being made.

Terri May promises to resign and dance the rhumba the length of Downing Street if the Commons will only pass her deal. She promises to delete every comma in the agreement. By hand. In glittery green ink.

Water floods into the House of Commons during a Brexit debate. A group climate-change protesters take off most of their clothes show the MPs their backsides.

All the possible jokes about both incidents have already been made.

Theresa May goes back to Brussels and drinks the Kool-Aid.

No, sorry, that was Jonestown and an American reference, not a British one. She drinks more coffee and is granted another extension. It expires on Halloween of 2019. All the possible jokes about that have been made that too.

A person can drink so much coffee and eventually Theresa May resigns, leaving the Conservative Party to search for a new leader. Every Conservative MP announces his or her candidacy. Every third one confesses to having used drugs. The ones who haven’t used them express regret at having misread the spirit of their age.

In the interest of democracy, several of the candidates promise to suspend Parliament so they can fulfill the will of the people.

After a series of elimination votes, the two candidates are Boris Johnson and Not Boris Johnson, but they seem to have agreed that Boris will win and Not Boris will have a nice job in his cabinet.

What happens next? Nothing good, I suspect, but that’s history for you: It’s one damn thing after another.

A very British sex scandal

I wasn’t going to write about this. Notes isn’t a political blog. And it isn’t a sex blog. But then it occurred to me that what we have here is a particularly British political scandal and—well, I’ve talked myself out of posting this several times, and then talked myself back into it. But it looks like I am going to post it, so I’ll paste an, um, awkward position warning on it and leave it up to you whether to read on.

C’mon, how many of you are really going to stop there?

Since we're on a tacky subject, I thought I'd toss in a photo of tacky stuff on sale in Swannage last summer. Do you really want to read on?

Since we’re on a tacky subject, I thought I’d toss in a photo of tacky stuff on sale in Swannage last summer.

Our story begins before the British 2010 election, when Lord Ashcroft—who probably has a first name but doesn’t need to use it because, good lord, he’s a lord—gave some money to the Conservative Party. And when I say “some,” I mean something in the neighborhood of £8 million. (“As you do,” as people here like to say when you couldn’t even remotely.) But when the Conservatives came close enough to winning the election to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, didn’t offer Ashcroft the kind of post he (that’s Ashcroft) believed he (that’s Cameron) had promised him (that’s Ashcroft again).

Well, the good lord isn’t a good enemy to have, because he started work on a biography of Cameron, and bits and pieces are now being leaked to the press. I’m coming late to this story, so when I say “now” I mean last week, but that’s close enough between friends, right? One of them claims that Cameron had sex with a pig.

Well, simulated sex. And the pig was dead at the time, for which I’m grateful. I’m sure the pig would have been as well if it had been in any condition to register an opinion. The exact description is that he put “a private part of his anatomy” in the pig’s mouth.

And then ran for office? Well, yes but not right away. This happened when he was still a student at Oxford, a university that as far as I can tell gathers up not only the most brilliant students but also the hopelessly over-privileged ones, and the folks in that second category apparently can’t find anything better to do with themselves than join bizarre clubs that—well, put it this way: If daddy and mommy didn’t have so much money they’d find their asses in jail for carrying on that way but since daddy and mommy do they not only get away with it, they think it’s their right.

That business about jail? That’s not about the pig, it’s about the vandalism one of the clubs is known for.

Then they go on to run the country and look smug on television. And lecture the rest of us on how to behave.

Now that this is leaking out, #piggate is all over Twitter. I mean, who can resist? The real scandals in our lives—the financial shenanigans, the political dittos, the backroom deals that bring the two categories together? Most of us can’t make heads or tails of them, even when they bring down the economy or bankrupt a country or two. But a sex scandal? Oh, hell yes. We’ll read every inch of type about that.

I’ve given you one link to a newspaper article, but they’re endless. If you want more, you’re on your own. In the U.K., all you have to do is google Cameron and pig. In other countries, you may need to add U.K.

Now I’m not claiming that no American politician ever got up to some kind of antics, sexual or otherwise, in college or afterward, but I’m guessing they never joined a (n allegedly) secret society whose initiation ceremony involved simulated sex with a dead pig. It puts the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to shame for its lack of imagination. The adage in American politics used to be that you never wanted to get caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. Which tells you (a) how much times have changed and (b) how boring American sex scandals are.

Please tell me if I’m wrong about that. Or tell me anything else that seems appropriate. Or, given the topic here, inappropriate. The world’s a far stranger place than most of us imagine.