The Brexit precedent

June 24, 2016

Brexit is being viewed — hailed by some, feared by others — as a genuinely historic event that will be seen as marking a milestone in the development (or breakdown) of the UK, the EU and the second wave of globalization (the first ended with the First World War).

This assessment is likely to prove valid, because it is true at several levels.

Rule Brittania?

The referendum has probably sounded the death-knell of the United Kingdom — a political entity just over 300 years old. The Union with Scotland (born 1707) has been on life support for some time and barely survived a major cardiac event in 2014. The Scottish Nationalist Party now seems set on leveraging Brexit to call another referendum in Scotland which, given the level of irrationality and outright lunacy now reigning on both sides of the border, it will probably win.

In a worst-case scenario, Scotland will extricate itself from the UK and join the EU just in time to be a member when that ship goes down, leaving Scotland sans England, sans Europe and with very low-priced oil. In the best case, the EU will self-destruct before the UK finishes the formal Brexit process.

The English efforts to conquer Ireland began with Edward I (who also expelled the Jews in 1290), continued with Henry VIII (who didn’t have any Jews around), Cromwell (who let them back in) and on through the Stuarts. The counter effort of the Irish to rid themselves of the English has been underway for some 150 years and its successful conclusion might now be in sight, if the Northern Irish choose to join their Southern brethren — now that they have both largely jettisoned their rival versions of Christianity.

How these processes might play out, no-one has any idea. But that won’t stop them happening, if the peoples are that way minded.

 

The rush for the exit

It is now obvious that the fears that Brexit would trigger a contagion effect were well-founded. That Geert Wilders’ Freedom party in Holland would demand a referendum was obvious, and the Danish nationalist party was also lined up for that — but now Italy’s Northern League is in the game, too, and the list is lengthening.

 

Towering over all the others is Marine le Pen, whose path to the presidency via next May’s election — “unthinkable” etc. as it is to the mainstream — is now made much smoother. If Trump were to win in November, or even do fairly well, a le Pen victory would be much more than conceivable — it would become quite likely.

In the background, not discussed in the mainstream media but very real nonetheless, is the ongoing crumbling of the European banking system. The European Central bank and the national central banks are all working hard to prevent a collapse, whether in Portugal (again), Spain, Italy (increasingly likely) or even Germany (Deutsche Bank is known to be in bad shape, it’s only the biggest in Europe…), but the chances of their failing rise in proportion to the fall in their credibility. With governments increasingly focused on the spreading political crisis, the central banks are more alone and exposed than ever.

But it’s not all a one-way street — there is also the opposite syndrome, namely  the rush for the entrance, better known as mass immigration to the EU from Syria, Iraq and points east and, at the national level, the renewal of negotiations between the EU and Turkey over the latter’s JOINING the EU…did somebody say la-la-land?

 

Populism rules, UK?

The Establishment was sure that Remain would win in the end, because the British are supposed to be sensible people. The idea that a majority would do something self-defeating and stupid, just to make themselves feel better for a while, seemed absurdly…un-British.

However, it was already clear from the Scottish referendum of 2014 that a nation with a strong reputation for solid and sensible behaviour can indulge in an act of collective madness. That is why Cameron is to blame for holding the referendum at all, and so early in this parliament at that. He has done the honourable thing and fallen on his sword (or at least ordered a sword for him to fall on in due course…), an example of fair-play that is unlikely to find many followers among leaders globally.

But the surge of political populism, apparent around the globe in recent years, will be enormously enhanced by the mass lunacy in Britain, which looks like extending to the gutting and self-destruction of both (former) major parties and the wholesale restructuring of the British political landscape.

 

(By the way, don’t say that is unprecedented. Instead read the political history of Britian in the 1840s…)

This example, unfortunately, is very likely to be repeated in many other countries — and to metastasize from political populism to economic populism.

It may be argued that in the case of the United States, the collapse and destruction of the two big parties may actually be desirable, because until that happens the downward spiral of the American socio-economy will be unstoppable. But even so, if the route to that desirable end involves the triumph of Sanders-style or Trump-type populism, then the medicine may be even worse than the disease.

Indeed, it seems fair to say that the American brand of populism — which has deeper roots in American culture than does the British brand in British culture — is potentially far more dangerous not only than Nigel Farage, but even than Marine le Pen and the fascist buffoons in Italy, Austria and Hungary.

I fear we will find out soon enough.

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