FIVE DAYS ON AND “BREXIT” STILL UNRAVELS EUROPE AND BRINGS DISUNITY
By: Harry C. Baney III
REPORTING FROM LONDON
Despite a bit of stability in the stock and exchange markets, the Brexit vote continues to bring a downward spiral of bitter arguments, disunity between and within political parties, acts of racial hatred in Britain, growing uncertainty about both the strength and even unity of Britain, and questions of Europe’s durability as a democratic and cohesive bloc and as a strong partner in solving global challenges. The impact on the unity of the West is a fundamental turning point or, as one leader said, an “existential moment.”
Wednesday’s House of Commons debate was particularly corrosive, an atmosphere engendered by the narrow vote that split the principle parties themselves. The recriminations have created an atmosphere of bitterness and distress that will be long lasting, unless both parties elect a leader who pushes for unity. In the House, Prime Minister Cameron debate even told Corbyn to “go,” which is not in keeping with the spirit or decorum of this institution. Cameron said – in typical understated British fashion – that there will be “choppy waters” ahead. He made it clear the coming negotiations will not be easy.
The Brexit vote has split both of Britain’s major political parties. Jeremy Corbyn recently lost a no-confidence vote 172-40. Already several Labour party MP’s have put forth their names to replace Corbyn. While they may share his vision for a more equitable social program, his opponents feel that Corbyn can’t win the next general election for the party. If this conflict drags on, it may destroy the party as an alternative. Even if Corbyn loses the party Parliamentary vote, he has the right to call for a vote by its public paid active members that could deliver a win for the Labour leader. The division threatens to split the party, which could be ruinous for an effective opposition party in the UK.
The Conservative Party (Tory Party) is going through its own destructive process in search of a new party leader and likely Prime Minister after David Cameron announced he would stand down. The vote has placed a major wedge in the Tory party between those that supported the Leave Campaign like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove and those that backed the Remain Campaign. Johnson officially withdrew his name from consideration on Thursday, leaving Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May There (who supported the Remain Campaign) as the most likely successors to Cameron. Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox, and Andrea Lawson will also run for PM. The party got itself in this mess, but does not seem to know how to get out of it.
The Continent also seems to sense uncertainty. Cameron went to the EU meeting Tuesday, but was excluded from a Wednesday meeting. He tried to make the case that Britain would still be a good partner in Europe, but to little effect. Statements by EU leaders after that meeting was clear, the “Four Freedoms” – movement of money, goods, services, and peoples – can’t be compromised in any deal with the UK. This directly counters the likely most important demand by a new UK government to limit the number of people coming to the UK from the EU. A key leader of the EU said: “If you are out you are out.”
But the reality is that Europe is also in perilous situation because of its disarray. The simple fact is that Euro-skeptic, racist, nationalist, and even fascist parties and leaders (such as Marine Le Pen in France) are taking advantage of the Brexit to push their own agendas. Parties in EU nations hope to dissolve the EU and come to power on programs and hatreds that bring back sentiments of the 1930s. This disarray brings glee to just those forces that a democratic Europe was supposed to be a bastion against, such as Putin’s Russia that hopes to weaken the EU and NATO. This is not just a European problem, but also a threat also to the entire Atlantic community and to the common strategic and economic aims of building a strong, democratic, and peaceful Europe.
To give just a few examples of those that wish ill of European unity the following will give a hint of the risks and darkness ahead:
Nigel Farage, a Member of the EU Parliament (believe it or not) who leads the far right anti-immigrant UK Independence Party and supported the Leave Campaign said on Tuesday in that parliament: “You as a political project are in denial. You’re in denial that your currency is failing. Just look at the Mediterranean! As a policy to impose poverty on Greece and the Mediterranean you’ve done very well. You’re in denial over Mrs. Merkel’s call for as many people as possible to cross the Mediterranean – which has led to massive divisions between within countries and between countries. The biggest problem you’ve got and the main reason the UK voted the way it did is because you have by stealth and deception, and without telling the truth to the rest of the peoples of Europe, you have imposed upon them a political union…What I’d like to see is a grownup and sensible attitude to how we negotiate a different relationship. I know that virtually none of you have never done a proper job in your lives, or worked in business, or worked in trade, or indeed ever created a job. But listen, just listen…Even no deal is better for the United Kingdom is better than the current rotten deal that we’ve got. But if we were to move to a position where tariffs were reintroduced on products like motorcars then hundreds of thousands of German works would risk losing their jobs. Why don’t we be grown up, pragmatic, sensible, realistic and let’s cut between us a sensible tariff-free deal and thereafter recognize that the United Kingdom will be your friend, that we will trade with you, cooperate with you, we will be your best friends in the world. Do that, do it sensibly, and allow us to go off and pursue our global ambitions and future.”
While Putin has been diplomatic about the subject, only saying that he “would like to stress yet again that the so-called Brexit is the choice of the British people, we did not interfere with this process and are not tampering with it in anyway,” other Russian leaders were quick to express their delight at the result.
The leader of Russia’s nationalist Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said “Britain has voted to leave the European Union and I think others will follow suit…NATO, the Schengen Agreement, and the euro will fall apart. So hail the Russian Ruble and the development of relations between Russia and the democratic nations of Europe.”
The Kremlin’s small-business ombudsman Boris Titov said in a Facebook post that “it seems it has happened — UK out!!! In my opinion, the most important long-term consequence of all this is that the exit will take Europe away from the Anglo-Saxons, meaning from the USA. It’s not the independence of Britain from Europe, but the independence of Europe from the USA,” he wrote. And it’s not long until a united Eurasia — about 10 years.”
More words of joy came from the French National Front Party leader Marie Le Pen who is leading in a majority of polls to be the next President, arguing in a New York Times editorial that a “People’s Spring” is imminent and that more countries, including France, should abandon the EU in favor of “freedom.”
The vote was praised by Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Vladimir Putin. No wonder the fear, uncertainty, and nervousness characterizes much of the world!
Future posts from London will look at the underlying reasons here for both the UK vote and why there is so much anger and despair in Britain and Europe. The financial recession and government reactions to it have precipitated an increase in poverty, inequality, and therefore a rise of latent xenophobia.
See the Brexit Page for continued coverage.
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