Perhaps the best metaphor for Brexit comes from my countryman Neil Gaiman, who wrote a comic series in the late 1980s called Sandman.
There are, in the Sandman mythos, seven eternal beings. Death, Desire, Dreams, Destuction, Destiny, Despair, and Delerium. When a mad occultist attempts to summon and capture Death in order to make humanity immortal, he accidentally captures Dream, instead. The “Sandman” of the title.
For the rest of his life, the occultist demands that Dream do his bidding and Dream – who is immortal – sits patiently and in silence. When the old man inevitably dies, his son inherits the otherworldly prisoner and also begins to exhort him to do as he commands. Or at least to respond in some way. Dream continues to wait, immobile and implacable. Finally, the son, too, passes into old age and Dream seizes a chance to escape his supernatural prison when a guard falls asleep. He decides to punish his captor with an endless cycle of waking nightmares. The now-elderly son is asleep, and wakes from a terrible dream only to realise that he is still in another nightmare, at which point he wakes with a start and then realises he is in yet another horrible dream, and so on and so on for the rest of his life, his physical form never regaining consciousness.
This is the point we have reached with Brexit – an endless series of bad dreams from which we wake, only to find ourselves trapped in another nightmare, in a perpetual loop from which there seems to be no escape. Every time an “important”, “game changing” moment is reached, nothing is resolved and we are plunged back into the same spiral of ineptitude we were supposed to escape.
Whilst an interesting quirk of the Brexit process is that it is both maddening AND tedious, recent events broke down something like this: The European Union – which was understandably unhappy about Britain’s tantrum throwing a spanner in the works – negotiated a deal with British Prime Minister Theresa May. This deal was pretty final, as far as the EU was concerned. Britain was free to leave, but the conditions had been set out and Europe was unwilling to argue the point further.
Theresa May brought this deal back to the UK, and everyone hated it. People who wanted to remain in the EU understandably hated it from the start, but people who wanted to leave the EU were furious that it wasn’t a clean break. The deal was put to a vote in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday night and was rejected. Not just any rejection – I’m talking “I know we’re getting divorced but is it cool if I fuck your sister?” levels of rejection. May’s proposed deal was defeated by the largest margin in British political history.
Theresa May, who had already survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership in November, lost an attempt to pass her deal by a margin that will go down in history. Surely, she was done. There was no possible career option except to resign.
Unlike American politics, where the President is expected to continue unless there are VERY serious reasons to quit, British Prime Ministers work on something of an honors system. (Or, more accurately, an honours system.) If you have been disgraced or shown to be incompetent or even just universally unpopular, it’s perfectly normal to resign your post. Mrs. May herself only became the Prime Minister after the previous incumbent, David Cameron, called the EU Referendum which led to Brexit, in which his side lost. Cameron immediately shrugged and said “Okay, if that’s the way it is, I’m leaving,” and vanished from the stage.
Having been beaten by a record-setting margin, it would normally be expected that Mrs. May would fall on her sword. However, these are not normal circumstances. The simple fact is that being the leader of the British government during the Brexit period is a poisoned chalice, and everyone knows it. There isn’t a single sensible human being who wants to be in charge of the UK right now.
Step forward Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn is roughly analogous to a British Bernie Sanders; a veteran far left politician who gained prominence with the young people in the last five years, and who became leader of the Labour party based on this support. Unfortunately, whilst Corbyn is a morally upstanding human being, he has no idea how to run a country, a political party, a campaign, or an egg-and-spoon race.
Corbyn, who has been the Leader of the Opposition in British parliament for three years now, and tasked with debating Theresa May’s legendarily incompetent government, still can’t get ahead in the polls. He is the political equivalent of a heavyweight fighter facing a flyweight opponent with no arms and a hangover, still somehow failing to land any damaging blows.
Not letting his own incompetence or dismal polling numbers stand in the way, Corbyn (who has also said that he will pursue Brexit if elected, to the collective forehead slap of at least 48% of UK residents) decided to call a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government on Wednesday.
This vote went ahead, and Theresa May and her government won.
To recap: Nobody, including Theresa May’s own party, is happy with May’s Brexit deal. Because of this, she lost a vote on her deal, suffering the largest defeat in history.
Both main political parties are still committed to making Brexit happen, even though the decision to leave the European Union only passed by 1.7% of the vote, the demographics skewed wildly towards the elderly to the point that enough Leave voters have died of old age since the vote was held that the result would now go the other way, and both campaigns for the “Leave” vote have since been found guilty of electoral fraud.
Even under these circumstances, the members of parliament who voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal (ie: nearly all of them) still won’t back a vote of no confidence in her because nobody else wants her job.
The opposition party are so incompetent and disliked that they can’t score any points off this Biblical clusterfuck.
You begin to see what I mean about a nightmare from which you every step leads you into another, similar nightmare.
The logical question is: What next? The truth is that nobody knows, but let’s break down some possibilities.
No Deal: The UK is set to leave the European Union, one way or another, on the 29th of March. This could happen with “no deal,” which means that all trade and customs regulations are scrapped and the UK is cast adrift. This would be catastrophic, as the UK is a small island which currently relies on EU trade for most of its food and medicines, amongst other things. Imagine trying to renegotiate all the rules around, say, insulin. Which companies are allowed to produce it, and to which standards, and who is allowed to ship it, and so on and so on. All of this is currently under the umbrella of EU law. If the UK leaves the EU without a trade deal, there will be no legal precedent for what goes into medicines, who is allowed to ship them, who is in charge of checking that they are medically safe, etc. In the case of something like insulin, it must be refrigerated or it goes bad. It can’t be transported into the UK because the customs agreements that allow international shipping and frieght would be null and void. This means that all diabetics will be well fucked and far from home if No Deal happens. And that’s one medicine for one condition, to say nothing of other important medications, as well as shipments of food etc.
It’s worth pointing out that the government has begun to stockpile food and medicine “just in case.” That the world’s fifth largest economy is reduced to stockpiling food should give you some idea of how badly things are going, but don’t worry: Parliament has refused to fund more stockpiles in the hopes that this will somehow prevent a No Deal. In essence, politicians won’t vote for a Fire Department because it would only give fires an excuse to start.
In essence, Theresa May goes back to Europe and tries to start over. Europe has been very clear that this won’t happen. This is the equivalent of agreeing to a divorce and then saying “Okay, I know we settled it, but what if I just hung on to ONE of the kids?!”
It is beyond futile.
The European Union has been clear that Britain can stop this whole process any time we like. In layman’s terms, we have delivered a letter of resignation, but as it has not yet taken effect we are free to ask that it be torn up. Europe has said that it will oblige.
Despite this seeming like an easy way out of a terrible situation, no politician is willing to commit to cancelling Brexit as a course of action because it will mean losing face, and also risk the anger of the Hard Brexit lobby.
There’s a popular perception that the Hard Brexit crowd is comprised of racist skinheads who will cause civil unrest if they don’t get their way. This isn’t true. The Hard Brexit lobby ALSO features crooked rich people who want to see a No Deal Brexit for the sake of a bonfire of regulations that will strip workers of their rights and the environment of protection. In the coming year, new European Tax Laws will come into force. Some very wealthy men are determined to make Brexit happen. These two facts are probably just a coincidence, like that time John Wilkes Booth fired his gun at the theatre and, coincidentally, Lincoln’s brain exploded just after.
This is probably the most logical option. The initial Brexit referendum was a simple “Yes/No” vote on whether Britain should remain within the EU. It was not legally binding (although everyone has since behaved as though it was) and did not outline any specific plans about what would happen if Britain left.
A narrow victory was achieved – through means that were now proven to be illegal – for the “Leave” campaign, at which point it became obvious that the Leave campaign, some members of which had been agitating for Brexit for decades, had no plan as to what happened next.
Two and a half dragging, frustrated years later and there’s still no plan, except the half-assed one from Theresa May which was just crushed in a vote.
At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that another public vote – one which contains specifics and clear language – might be a good idea, to make sure that the British people still back this idea. As a precedent, consider… y’know… all of Western democracy; we have a vote on who runs the country every few years for the same exact reasons.
In spite of this, many nervous looking Hard Brexit representatives insist that the first “Yes/No” ballot was all the question we ever needed to ask or answer, and that asking any further questions would be to betray the will of the people. Even if the question was, essentially, “What is your will, people?”
It’s utter horseshit, of course, but I should again stress that there are a lot of very wealthy people who want just a little more money, and think they can have it through Brexit. They’re also aware that they’d probably lose a second vote, but that they’ve painted themselves into a corner by spending the last two years talking about “the will of the people” in reference to a 1.7% margin. If they lost a second referendum by 2% or more, they’d be completely without an argument.
No less a monster than Tony Blair has been campaigning for a second referendum, and I’m on his side. That’s how fucked Britain is at the moment: Given the choice between an incompetent Prime Minister that everyone is too scared to replace and a delusional substitute teacher who can’t replace her anyway, I find myself on the side of the slimy, ousted war criminal in his attempts to prevent catastrophe.