The result of the UK referendum on EU membership will become one of the defining geopolitical events of the early 21st century. The result which went the way of the Leave campaign has massive political, economic, social and global implications; not just for Britain and the rest of Europe, but for the world as well. It was not just a backlash against the post-WWII project of European unification and integration but also, perhaps even more so, a vote against globalization. The impact of this decision and its consequences will only become clear as the years and decades wear on. As the great Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai said on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, when asked what the legacy of the 1789 uprising was: «It is too soon to tell». The same is true of Brexit, that horrible mangling of the English language which is more suited to Twitter than proper political discourse.
Some things are clear already. The Leave campaign was built from start to finish on xenophobia, English nationalism, a narrow minded and ignorant provincialism and a total disregard for facts, evidence and reality. It was also a prime example of some of the worst aspects of the British State, governmental institutions and political class – all done on the back of an envelope with very little thorough and rigorous planning; a great deal of deception and pathological lying; psychological operations designed to divide people into «us» and «them» while appealing to their basest instincts; extremely unprofessional and psychopathic which is typical of Whitehall and Westminster. From my own experiences in Whitehall and Westminster it does not surprise me. I despair of the British Establishment, State and Government. I have very little confidence and faith left in the British Parliament and political system. Everything moves so slowly in Whitehall, more like a stuffy old gentlemen’s club on Pall Mall rather than a modern, sophisticated and efficient machine of government for the 21st century while there has also been the most tremendous dumbing down of British politics since the 1990s. MPs spend more time on Twitter than they do attending to business in the chamber of the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, the civil service has been hollowed out while party political appointed apparatchiks, media manipulators and party propagandists – referred to euphemistically as «Special Advisors» – make all the running mainly engaged in promoting their respective boss in the media and fighting political turf wars rather than the making and delivery of good public policy. Never before has the UK faced such an existential crisis, apart from its near invasion at the hands of Nazi Germany, and never before has there been such a vacuum of leadership, energy, focus and caliber at the heart of British governance. I have never felt more pessimistic about Britain’s prospects and performance than I do now. It will be a massive undertaking to disentangle the UK from the EU and then reintroduce the country on the world stage with a new, post-Brexit identity and I have the sinking feeling Whitehall and Westminster are simply not up to the task and will probably as the British State always does, muddle through, fudge it, engage in more displacement activity blaming other countries for the nation’s ills rather than taking ownership of the domestic situation while projecting an image of arrogant smugness and two faced, nationalistic superiority.
History also points to foreboding warning signs of what British exits can be like. If one looks at how the British State went about disentangling itself from the nations it stole and then ruled over under the British Empire, it is deeply concerning. The British made an absolute mess of their disengagement from India and Pakistan with the consequences still being felt today. The same is true with Ireland, Palestine, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burma and todays Iraq. The British people are so much better than their politicians and government institutions. They have been badly let down by successive governments over generations, not the European Union, but both Tory and Labour administrations. Internal party politics is always the number one priority and concern within the British political and governmental system – not the national interest and heaven forbid the international interest. This is also a consequence of the Western democratic political system. There can never really be any long term stability, progress, innovation and fundamental reform when elections have to be held every 4 or 5 years with voters expecting immediate results and their expectations always cruelly raised by the vacuous promises of electioneering politicians. Meanwhile British political self-righteousness knows no bounds even in this post-referendum environment. Just days after the greatest political earthquake to hit Britain in decades was in full force, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission brazenly released a report on human rights in China. I think the British political class need to learn from their Chinese counterparts and focus their time and energy on putting their own house in order before starting to throw stones at other people’s houses.
I do not recall the Chinese Government ever taking an active interest in the human rights situation in the UK and preaching to the UK how it should arrange its internal affairs. It would make for interesting reading to see a report from the Chinese National People’s Congress on human rights violations in Northern Ireland, or the Rotherham child abuse scandal, or the Jimmy Savile scandal, or the Hillsborough scandal, or the total inadequacy of social services in the UK particular for vulnerable children and the mentally ill, or the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the issue of institutionalized racism, or the high level of homelessness in London or the bedroom tax, or the phone hacking scandal, or amnesties granted for suspected terrorists known as the «On-The-Runs», or the non-existence of an HR department in the House of Commons for MPs staff etc. I think you get my point. Britain just like other countries, including China, is far from perfect and has a host of internal human rights issues to address. Yet, peculiarly this seems no restraint on the British political class and the British Government from constantly lecturing other nations in a holier than thou manner. This has got to stop.
At this rate, having basically offended and alienated much of Europe and cut off the UK from its continental neighbors while presenting to the world a Britain retreating in on itself, in a state of division, insular confusion and chaos, the Conservative Party would be wise to shut up about other countries and focus on the tasks at hand closer to home, or the UK will have very few friends left in the world, though the Conservatives appear intent on doubling down on this finger wagging, offensive and hypocritical lecturing with the appointment of the odious and highly objectionable new Foreign Secretary. The British State has no moral authority to lecture other countries whether it be on their internal or external policies, particularly after the massive stain upon British foreign policy and intelligence gathering after the grave catastrophe that was the Iraq intervention of 2003. And what delicious irony that the Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission Fiona Bruce MP believes passionately in intertwining politics, which should always be secular, with fundamentalist Christian religious doctrine, imposing what should be her private Christian religious beliefs into law upon others who do not share them such as her zealous campaign to deny women control over their own reproductive rights or banning gay people from being able to marry.
What the result of the EU referendum indicated was just as disturbing as the rise of Donald Trump. A lot of very angry, disillusioned people who have been badly let down by neo-liberal economic fundamentalism gone mad which led us to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and stagnant incomes and social mobility after a near 40 year «free market» consensus and manipulated by the vilest tabloid press on earth, and here I think particularly of the grotesque Daily Mail, constantly bombarding them with lie after lie regarding the EU and fanning the flames of xenophobia, nationalism and racism alongside a group of the most irresponsible, unhinged British political figures to have inhabited Westminster in quite some time such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. In many ways the result was the political equivalent of a nervous breakdown, more a shout of anger and despair for attention and help, rather than anything to do with UK membership of the EU.