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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit: Who's to Blame?

It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

You may have missed it, but last Thursday the UK voted in a referendum and the people have said, 52/48, that they want to leave the European Union. EU membership has been a contentious issue in the UK for decades, and following economic crises and a large influx of immigrants over the last decade, there have been calls to leave, mostly from within the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, had to promise a referendum to keep his revolting party in check.

The 'Remain' camp focused on the benefits of the EU, logically pointing to the studies showing the net positive effect on GDP, jobs, trade, freedom of travel. Their numbers, when presented, were generally considered to be accurate and a fair representation of the costs and benefits of membership. The overall net cost of around 15 billion pounds out of a 1.9 trillion pound economy, or around 0.75% of GDP. Access to a single market of 500 million people, and freedom of movement and working rights in 28 countries was guaranteed as part of this.

While there are real arguments to be made regarding the benefits of the UK leaving the EU, the 'Leave' campaign ignored them concentrated on four main topics:

1) Unelected EU bureaucrats determining UK policy
2) The membership fees can be used for other things in the UK like the National Health Service
3) Immigration was out of control and needed to be stopped
4) The UK economy will be stronger out compared to in

Generally the numbers presented by the Leave camp were derided as fantasy and plain lies, and sure enough following the vote their key figures admitted that the NHS wouldn't be receiving 350 million pounds more a week, nor would immigration fall as a result of leaving the EU, and that a recession is now likely in the UK if not much of the rest of the world.

Their entire campaign was based on lies and an emotive call for the UK to 'take control' and to have its own "Independence Day". There was nothing of actual substance, no plans, no specifics, just promises that everything would be better if we can just get away from the nasty foreigners. To quote Tony Blair's take:

“There are two odd things. One is the desire to shake up the system, even if when you ask what shaking up the system means people aren’t clear; so there’s this populist tide left and right which says ‘the system is broken, and I’m gonna fix it’, and when you say how, they say ‘this country is gonna be so great’.”

There is a laugh in the room. “That is literally what the Brexit case was, by the way,” Blair adds.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove led the 'Leave' campaign, and you can see following their victory that they couldn't possibly be happier about the result.
Or, rather, they look like two men who thought that they could jump on the bandwagon, make political points with the Leave constituency, while knowing that the 'Remain' campaign will win and they'd never have to actually deliver on their promises. Promises they themselves didn't believe in. They're having to face up to the facts that all those 'experts' that Gove dismissed were actually right and 'Project Fear' was not scaremongering but an accurate portrayal of the consequences of Leave.

Come the 'Leave' vote win on Friday, and what does Johnson say? "No need for haste. We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe." regarding invoking Article 50 and starting the exit. They don't just look glum because they know the horrendous problems they've just caused for the UK, the EU, and the world - but because Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, reportedly saying to aides "Why should I do all the hard shit?", and placed the problem of their creation squarely in their laps. It's the one thing in the last few years David Cameron has done that I agree with - Leave need to deal with the consequences of their actions and there's no avoiding it.

Here's the problem with that - there is no plan. They had no idea they would actually have to do the work, that it would happen. Perhaps the single biggest event of the last 60 years for the UK, and no one had a plan. Nothing.

IT WAS a troubling exchange. On live television Faisal Islam, the political editor of SkyNews, was recounting a conversation with a pro-Brexit Conservative MP. “I said to him: ‘Where’s the plan? Can we see the Brexit plan now?’ [The MP replied:] ‘There is no plan. The Leave campaign don’t have a post-Brexit plan…Number 10 should have had a plan.’” The camera cut to Anna Botting, the anchor, horror chasing across her face. For a couple of seconds they were both silent, as the point sunk in. “Don’t know what to say to that, actually,” she replied, looking down at the desk. Then she cut to a commercial break.

So now the country has a lame duck soon to be ex-Prime Minister and a looming leadership election within the Conservative party, with Boris Johnson touted as a favorite. I'm not quite sure why anyone thinks that, as he will be utterly despised by 48% of the electorate, minimum. George Osborne, the pro-Remain Chancellor disappeared from Thursday until Monday, when he made a rather weak speech on Monday to calm the markets, but also ruled himself out of the running for leadership and Prime Minister. Sensible man, it's a poisoned chalice after all.

The mechanism for choosing the new Prime Minister is wholly from within the Conservative Party itself, so the amusing thing is that while "imposition of leaders and laws" from the EU was a big point for the Leave side, the UK will now likely get a Prime Minister it never elected into office.

On the opposition side, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, is now under attack from his own party. Just as leadership from him was needed, his own shadow cabinet mounted a campaign against him - as of now 23 of the 31 cabinet members have left, and there is a move to unseat him as leader of the party. Perhaps the Labour party sense an impending election, and want a different leader, one they feel is more electable - but regardless, at this time of crisis they have made themselves irrelevant as leaders.

Of all the national politicians in the UK, I've seen just one that has acted as a leader and a statesman, and that's Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish Nationalist Party, First Minister of Scotland. She has remained absolutely calm (or at least appeared to), issued clear statements about the situation, reassured the public that while things are uncertain Scotland would continue to be governed well, and that people from the EU are welcome in Scotland. Her statement last Friday seemed to indicate that she knew the impending vacuum of leadership that would exist in the UK.

"The final point I want to make this morning is this one. The Scottish government will be working hard to protect Scotland's interests in the period ahead and in the wake of the referendum result.

"But as we do this, we will not be taking our eye off the ball of the day to day business of government. As Westminster is engulfed in political turmoil and as a vacuum of leadership develops, I want to make clear that Scotland is led by a stable and effective government.

"We are focused on making sure that Scotland's interests are protected but we are also determined to continue our work and further improve our schools, our hospitals and our economy.

"As First Minister, I am focused entirely on governing this country in the interests of all of the people of Scotland. That is my overarching priority."

As good a job as she is doing, the First Minister can only speak for Scotland. It's clear that England has no effective leaders (with the exception of Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, who appears to be fighting hard for his city), no-one with plans, no-one with both authority and the desire to take control and move things forward. It's no easy task - there are no good choices, no 'win-win' solutions. It's a terrible set of choices, all of which have major consequences for the UK. And there should be consequences - multiple governments allowed this situation to arise, multiple warnings were ignored. Something of this magnitude can't be allowed to occur without cost as a warning to future generations that everyone in your country matters, that voting matters.

So, at this time of the greatest crisis the UK has faced since WWII, who is in charge for the UK? The answer is "no one", and that lack of leadership is not so much the effect of the Brexit vote as it is the cause. We're in a world where things have been 'easy' for decades, where stances can be taken not on principal or because they are right or best, but because they advance a politician's career. It's a game to be played, and the consequences are minimal - until they're not.

We need not just a change in leadership, but how we as voters demand accountability from our politicians. I actually believe that most politicians are there trying to do their best for their constituents - they may not be very good, they may hold differing views, but they are trying to do what's right. And then you have the Johnsons and the Goves, who risked national and global economic meltdown to advance their careers. We have to learn to see which of these is which, and swiftly remove those who are disingenuous while supporting those who work for their communities.

We simply cannot afford to tar all politicians with the same brush, to ignore them, and to leave no-one in charge. Someone has to negotiate, to make the laws, to speak for the people. We need them, and it's our responsibility as voters to make sure they are the best we can get, that we research their claims, we understand the reality and if they lie to us, then vote the bastards out.

So to answer the question - "Who's to Blame?":

We all are.


  1. Very helpful analysis -- thank you.

  2. Wonderful quotes from Sturgeon.

    1. Nicola Sturgons quotes are always good. Her problem is when someone points out that she cant back up most of what she says she falls apart.


    2. I know - it's just like the time she said leaving the EU would allow us to spend 350m quid a week on the NHS, shut the borders, and wouldn't harm the economy.

      Oh, wait...