It’s hard to credit that two millennia of proud British history are about to end like this. (‘Proud’ in the sense that Brits have usually taken pride in it; unjustifiably in many instances, I’ll grant.) Almost everyone in the wider world now looks upon us as a pathetic joke, a Humpty Dumpty in pieces at the foot of his wall, having betrayed the best bits of our history (openness, generosity, progress, parliamentary democracy), and headed for – what? Friendless isolation? An unregulated bargain basement for trade? An imaginary new ‘world role’? A client state of the chlorinated USA? Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for incomers? The break-up of the United Kingdom? A freakshow of stereotypical English eccentrics? The socially reactionary country the Brexiteers (or their leaders) seem bent on? Fascism with a Bertie-Wooster face?
I guess that Italy might have looked a bit like this after the Roman Empire fell. (I don’t know; I’m an expert on only one empire.) I really thought that, with Britain’s having accepted her own empire’s ‘decline and fall’ after 1945 with relative dignity – her re-entry into Europe was part of that – she had escaped this kind of fate. It now seems I was mistaken.
It has all gone horribly wrong; and for largely fortuitous reasons: a failing economic system (not the fault of the EU), a fundamentally undemocratic electoral system, a criminally deceitful press, the onward march of ‘late stage’ capitalism, American and Russian interference, the continued influence of the grotesquely misnamed ‘public’ schools in our politics, cheating and corruption on so many levels (including in the 2017 referendum), widespread stupidity and ignorance, a TV-fuelled culture of personality, anti-intellectualism and disregard of expertise, popular distrust generally, political apathy, complacency on the ‘pro-European’ side – and in Europe itself; all contributing to the current ominous situation in which we find ourselves as a nation. (On all this, see https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/; and some of my other blogs around that time.)
Is this how it ends? Of course we ‘Remainers’ may be wrong, and the picture will improve gloriously after March 29, when we are due to leave: our Brussels shackles thrown off, other markets flocking to compensate for those we are about to lose, all those foreign immigrants – or at least the poor ones – turned away, our passports going back to being blue, our three-pin plugs protected (that’s one reason given for Brexit); and we return to being a proud people, like the ones who ‘alone’ kept Hitler at bay.
Or, alternatively, the simple vulnerability of our projected isolation will become clear: people will change their minds, and be given a second democratic vote to express this; and we’ll come out of the nightmare, bruised by the experience of this dreadful contest, and with enough Brexit irreconcilables remaining to prolong the bad feeling – perhaps even to provoke a kind of civil war – afterwards, and even more mistrusted by our Continental neighbours; but still able, hopefully, to mend bridges and concentrate on the real difficulties of our situation – inequalities, an unrepresentative political system, a rogue press, Eton College, and an increasingly destructive, and self-destructive, economic system. Could a Labour government fix these?
We’ll find out at the end of March. I’m not too sanguine. What we’re going through now feels far too much like death throes. What an embarrassing end to centuries of uneven, and not always admirable, but never quite so risible, history! (You can even see it in the leading Brexiteers’ faces (below): Duncan Smith, Gove, Farage, Johnson. These aren’t serious men.)