Problems on hold
I have been keenly observing the political scene in the UK during the past year, especially what concerns the country’s decision to exit the European Union, a move that has been famously labelled ‘Brexit’. The decision defied all odds, and came against the expectations of the then Prime Minister David Cameron who was himself a strong supporter of the UK remaining in the EU. Convinced that the majority of Britons wished to remain part of the EU, and seeking a strong mandate in his negotiations with EU member States on special provisions for Britain, he embarked on a poorly calculated venture by conducting a public referendum in the UK on whether or not to remain in the EU. The stunning result was that 52 per cent of the electorate voted for Brexit. Mr Cameron had no option but to resign, ending thus his political career. He declared that the will of voters should be respected, and he was not the captain to guide the ship into the Brexit port.
Democracy dictates that a majority vote must be respected, even if that majority is only a trifle over 50 per cent. In the case of Brexit, Mr Cameron’s political venture ended his political career and exposed his country to a series of painful repercussions, but it had to be abided by. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair described the Brexit vote as a protest vote rather than one of self-determination. He said the majority who voted for Brexit were expressing discontent, worry and objection to the Middle East refugee influx into the EU, and the pressure on Britain as a EU member to host a share of these refugees. Britons rejected to be forced into accepting that option; they felt the refugees stood to jeopardise the UK labour market, and threatened to bring within their ranks extremists and terrorists into the UK. Obviously, however, the majority did not appreciate the enormity of the Brexit aftermath regarding the economy, nor did they imagine the waves of division and internal conflict the Brexit decision would bring on.
Before going into the question of whether the Brexit negotiations currently taking place between the UK and the EU will lead to a tough, difficult divorce or a smooth separation, it is important to analyse the Brexit vote since it stands to negatively impact the UK people themselves. The majority of voters in England and Wales voted to exit the EU, but those in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay on. This spelt the threat of separatist tendencies within the UK. Those who voted for Brexit were mainly the older sector of the electorate, whereas the younger people voted to remain in the EU. This triggered angry opposition waves by the young who protested that the older generation was drawing a future the price of which the young generation will have to pay.
The referendum result moved the reins of power from the hands of David Cameron to Theresa May who was Home Secretary in Mr Cameron’s Cabinet. Ms May rode on a resonant reputation of strength and firmness that promised she would be a second ‘iron lady’, following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who was the UK’s first female Prime Minister back in the 1980s. Despite Theresa May’s strength and her pledge that she would carry out the will of the British people in achieving a firm divorce from the EU even if it had to be tough, political arrogance got the better of her. As Mr Cameron did before her, she ventured on a political gamble by calling for early parliamentary elections, feeling secure she would garner a majority that would give her a strong mandate in the tough negotiations she anticipated with the EU. Again, she was in for a nasty surprise: she came out with a slender majority that was far less than the one her Conservative Party had held before the election. She thus had to give up arrogance and obstinacy and make sacrifices and concessions that compelled her to shift her position from insisting on a tough Brexit to compromising for a soft one.
This is not the end of the story. Even though Britain is up to its ears into the Brexit negotiations, internal political conflicts abound, reflecting sizeable remorse on the decision to divorce the EU. There is talk about various moderate scenarios that can achieve Brexit in form, to respect the will of the people, while at the same time ensuring a smooth transition that would maintain free trade agreements and other forms of attachment between the UK and Europe.
I see the recent declarations by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as tantamount to an apology by Britons for the disastrous referendum. Khan, a member of the Labour Party, said he did not exclude the possibility of the rise of a trend inside the Labour Party that would call for the UK to stay part of the EU. He even expects this concept to be placed on the electoral agenda of the party which would then call for early elections. If the Labour Party wins, Khan expects it to call for another referendum on whether the UK should exit the EU or remain part of it. The Mayor of London said this would not be a denial of the will of the people, manifested in the previous referendum, but would be the democratic path that would rectify the results of a disastrous referendum.
6 August 2017