Thoughts from a small island on the brink of collapse

Thoughts from a small island on the brink of collapse

I am rattled about Brexit. I know that’s not ‘news’ – everyone is getting rattled. The Brexit think pieces have switched from political updates and potential options to articles explaining how Brexit is going to tank both the UK and global economy and how businesses are putting their no deal contingency plans into motion.

A no deal Brexit might actually happen. There have been many points over the past few months where I naïvely believed that there might be a second referendum, at any one of the multiple no confidence votes, the trashing of the PM’s deal or the resignations of MPs in droves. But no, we’re still here, hurtling towards no deal because it’s not a hard enough Brexit for the Brexiteers and it’s way too hard for the Remainers.

The inability to form a consensus or enact an overall decision is frightening because if we do nothing, if we are unable to decide, then no deal is the automatic outcome. Not more time, not a delay, not an admission that Brexit is an unsolvable Rubik’s cube – time has run out and we are shit out of luck.

All these articles about food and medicine shortages make me want to run out to Asda and stock up on dried pasta and paracetamol, on the off chance that there is a huge problem with the agricultural supply chain. We’ve lived through such a time of relative prosperity – bar the recession – that actual food shortages feel like a paranoid impossibility. But couldn’t that be the hubris of people who’ve overestimated their own value?

We’re this tiny little country that is still resting on the laurels of once owning a significant portion of world (an ‘achievement’ that necessitated the abuse, slaughter and enslavement of many so it’s very much not something to be proud of). We used to be powerful. We used to be an empire. Now, we’ve massively overstated our relevancy and bargaining power, evidenced by the years of ineffectual Brexit negotiations. It’s hard to negotiate for anything when you have no real leverage, when you are so obviously screwing yourself more than anyone else.

It’s hard when you’re anchored in the here and now to remember that everything is transient. Nothing lasts forever. Countries enjoying peacetime, economic prosperity and global influence can look very different one year to the next. The UK is not invincible, far from it, and there’s no reason that a massive political change like Brexit couldn’t be the tipping point into major social and economic hardship (as if the near decade of austerity hasn’t done that already).

The doomsday forecasts are in, about a horrific overnight recession, the currency plummeting in value and decades of time spent repairing the damage.

I immediately think about the Leave voters. How many have changed their minds? What did they think they were voting for? Why did they think that? Did the politicians espousing the benefits of leaving the EU believe what they were saying? What incentive would they have to not be telling the truth, as any terrible outcome affects them along with their constituents (albeit to a lesser degree)?

Is this what democracy was designed to achieve?

On some level, I have to believe that almost no one voted for this, even the Leave voters. Regardless of whether or not it was misguided, I assume that many Leave voters truly believed that such a move would benefit the UK (other than the xenophobes who just don’t want a Slovakian guy working in Tesco, without sparing a thought to where the bulk of our crucial, talented NHS staff come from or how we get most of our food and medicine). I listened to a podcast asking a Leave voter about their decision and its rationale (after the referendum but before things got really fucked up) and he said that, “I think the EU is majorly dysfunctional – in a way I’m bemused that people want to stay a part of it.”

His reasons centred about economics, policy and regulation. Does he still feel the same way? What did he envision? Does he still believe that a more prosperous UK is somewhere around the corner?

On a broader level, this is what happens when you jump in too fast to something you know nothing about. It’s like marrying your amazing new boyfriend after only a few weeks, before discovering that he’s really a psycho who never washes up and sets your clothes on fire and eats all your food and takes all your ibuprofen and makes your friends leave the country. It’s like that but when you were only 52% convinced that marrying him was the right decision in the first place. On balance, it could have gone completely the other way.

That might not be as useful a metaphor as I think it is, but whatever.

Does anyone think this – the actual, real, current situation rather than Brexit as an ephemeral idea – is good?! I am genuinely curious. Does anyone who voted Leave think this version of Brexit (the reality version) is positive? Is anyone excited for the brave new world of medicine shortages and economic ruin that is apparently waiting for us on the other side of March 29th?

This post is full of questions more than anything else. It’s weird realising that you are living in a moment that will be a key part of British history for as long as records go on. When people look back and say, “what were you thinking?” we’ll just have to shrug and say, “I don’t know,” or “when it came down to it, there was no way out of it.”

The political instability at the moment also raises bigger questions about having both the courage and the means to say, “we were wrong. This is a mistake.” I know many people don’t feel that all this blundering is a mistake – though for the life of me, no matter how much I try, I can’t understand how – but I believe that many still will, especially in Parliament. You can see everyone running around in circles, changing positions and slowly, slowly drip feeding the drama and bad outcomes into the public sphere. What do those actually making these decisions right now think is the right choice? Do they really want to leave, with a sub-par arrangement? Will they let a no deal Brexit happen for the sake of democracy (or, really, not causing contention within the Conservative Party)?

I feel bad saying that what is happening is ‘un-democratic,’ because this is following a referendum that Leave won. But then I remember that the Leave campaign was convicted of election fraud and that apparently has no consequences other than a small fine, even when there were only a few votes in it. Democracy is failing if Parliament are looking at Brexit, now with years of research, forecasts and negotiations to inform their decisions – which is a lot more than any of us had in 2016 – and thinking that there is no good way to enact this vote and doing it anyway to avoid hard conversations in Westminster or the rest of the country.

Doing something that will hurt everyone, especially the most vulnerable, just to avoid making a choice, having a hard conversation or ruffling some feathers is cowardly. We didn’t have enough information in 2016 to be voting. People were voting on fantasies, assumptions and lies. Now we have the facts. We know what Brexit will actually look like – and if we don’t like it, we need to do something, someone who can do something needs to do something, or we’ll be stuck with more poverty, hardship and uncertainty for the foreseeable future. What a headache. I better appreciate the paracetamol while we have it.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts from a small island on the brink of collapse

  1. I’m a National Trust conservation volunteer and whilst cleaning some books this week, I came across a quote from H G Wells’ book ‘The shape of things to come’ written in 1933:
    ‘It is no good asking people what they want. That is the error of democracy. You have first to think out what they ought to want if society is to be saved. Then you tell them what they want and see that they get it’.
    Do you think H G Wells saw Brexit coming?!

    1. Another great quote! I love your comments, thanks Esther. All the recent stuff raises interesting, difficult questions about democracy and whether the nation is always best placed to make the “right” decision. But what is “right” anyway? Taking away the choice from everyone presumes that the government has the average person’s best interests at heart which has been shown to be untrue! It’s a mess.

  2. Politicians are one of the few people who have truly understood the value of failure, and some of them make a career out of it. Thinking about it, it’s kinda the best place to be: enjoy enough fame and support to get a healthy salary, but leading such a small minority you’ll never have to actually do anything, or be responsible for anything. Nigel Farage is one of these people, and when he was advocating for a Leave vote, I believe he was convinced they would lose. He was enjoying the media exposure and raise in popularity, thinking it will have no consequences, as the majority of British people would vote to stay. He was then in the position of claiming all sorts of bulls*it, promise Eldorados and unicorns, lie about pretty much everything one can lie about, because the “inevitable” defeat of the Leavers would acquit him from proving any of his claims or act on any of his promises. And he is just one of these politicians, maybe the most notorious one at this time, but there are many, many others, and many of them were behind the Leave campaign. I’m sure the vote came as a surprise to them as it was to us, and what did they do? Disappear, they went hiding for a while, admitted to lying and resigning. The Tories in charge, then, were left with the mess to sort out, even if, just like Theresa May, they had campaigned to remain. Why did they go ahead with it? I don’t really know, but I can only guess someone has some economic interest in it. Because that’s what it always comes down to, isn’t it? When you clearly act against the interest of the nation and make decisions that will hit hard on your people, especially the most vulnerable among them, you mu st have some personal gain to get out of it. And I’m sure that most people who voted to leave have changed their mind by now, the only ones who haven’t are the xenophobes who don’t want the Slovakian working in Tesco. What most people, leavers or remainers, fail to understand right now is that us Europeans are in the best position right now: if it all goes bat s*it crazy here, I can pack my stuff and go live on the Costa del Sol in Spain with my family – that wonderful corner of the world where all the Brits on A place in the sun want to move to. But you guys, where are you gonna go, when things get ugly? We can go home and get all the paracetamol we want there… Anyway, I’m off writing my own post about Brexit (can’t believe I haven’t yet, really!)

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Joanna. You might have seen Donald Tusk’s recent comments about how there’s a “special place in Hell” for anyone who pushed the Leave agenda with no clear plan. As you said, that was a shockingly large proportion of our politicians! David Cameron triggered the referendum on a poorly founded whim and started this whole disaster in motion. It’s mainly shocking to me that something like this, which, at this point, is almost unanimously agreed to be A Very Bad Idea, is able to get this far with no way to stop it – what is essentially a colossal act of national self-harm.

      Part of the reason May is pushing ahead (a lot of it) is to avoid problems in her party and (potentially) massive dissent across the country. It would be a big deal for the government to override a referendum and there may well be riots. But at this point that seems better than going through with something that will hurt ordinary UK citizens (and EU citizens leaving in the UK!) for years to come. Let me know when you write your post, I’d love to read it.

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