At times like this, the Brexit dam having burst and, with it, bursting asunder any lingering hope in the ability of Theresa May’s government to navigate the country out of the Brexit storm that has engulfed it since the 2016 EU referendum, a storm that has intensified into open civil war within the Tory Party, Irish poet W B Yeats looms large.
From his classic work, The Second Coming:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed; and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction; while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
If the word ‘crisis’ is overused whenever the subject of British politics comes up it is because when it comes to politics in Britain crisis is now the rule rather than the exception.
The raft of cabinet resignations in the wake of Theresa May’s failed attempt to cobble together a Brexit position over which her cabinet can, at last, unite confirms her position as prime minister is no longer tenable, more evidence that she is a leader in office but by no means one who is in power.
In fact, surveying the wreckage of her government, does anyone seriously believe that were it not for the fear that strikes at the heart of the UK political, security and business establishment over the prospect of a Corbyn government, that she would not have been gone way before now?
When it comes to the issue of Brexit itself – Brexit the reality, that is, not Brexit the fantasy occupying the minds of unreconstructed British nationalists and Little Englanders who consider it coterminous with freedom and liberty – the truth that dare not speak its name is that the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU will not be set by any British government of whichever ideological or party political hue, but by Brussels. Thus the positions put forth both by the country’s prime minister, Theresa May, and leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, when it comes to their respective visions of what Brexit should look like can only ever be rooted in unreality — with the failure of the nation’s political class to either understand or recognise this salient fact part of the problem.
The political crisis currently engulfing the UK is easily the most grave the country has experienced since the Second World War. Married to what increasingly appears the most inept, venal and self-serving political class Britain has ever been cursed with over the same period and the dimensions of the crisis are quite staggering in their immensity.
Even after imbibing ten pints of beer in quick succession, along with a bottle of wine and a small mountain of cocaine, it should still be impossible to take seriously the idea of Boris Johnson as a leader of anything much less a government. But these are far from normal times in Britain, and the prospect of Johnson challenging Theresa May for the leadership of the Tory Party and, with it, of the country after his resignation as foreign secretary, this cannot be discounted.
A politician whose time at the Foreign Office was punctuated by incompetence, ineptitude, laziness, and narcissism has no business being seriously touted or considered as a future prime minister. Yet, no matter, in some quarters he is.
Returning to the issue of Brexit itself, the only viable direction of travel given where the country now finds itself is towards a second referendum. Those who rail against such a move, decrying it as a ‘betrayal of the will of the British people’, appear increasingly like latter day King Canutes, engaged in a futile attempt to hold back the tide of reality as it approaches the beach.
Making a fetish of anything, including democracy when the tide in question is an economic tsunami, is a kind of madness. With over 2 million UK jobs dependant on the country’s existing relationship with the EU, and with untold more jobs rendered vulnerable at the prospect of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’, given that businesses are increasingly making clear their intention of relocating out of the UK if such a scenario came to pass, this is no time to use democracy as an excuse for denying reality.
To put it another way, ten people do not proceed to walking off the edge of a cliff because a majority within the group decided at the outset that the route they are on is the quickest way home. When they reach the edge of the cliff sanity prevails and they stop, turn back, and reconsider. Yet with the cliff edge of a hard Brexit approaching, and its grave ramifications for jobs and the economy, we have a significant section of the nation’s political and media class squawking about the need to respect the result of the original referendum come what may (no pun intended).
A second referendum under the circumstances is not only necessary it is the very acme of democracy, what with the inordinate and seismic stakes at play. Just as people have the right to change their mind after purchasing an item in a shop, and can return it for a refund or exchange, so must they have the right to change their mind when it comes to Brexit, having more information as to what the consequences of their original decision are likely to be.
It is the difference between a mature democracy rooted in reality, and democracy as a zero sum game in which winner take all is all even if ‘all’ is all she wrote.
If the former is to assert its dominance over the latter, the simple but scintillating words commonly attributed to UK economist John Maynard Keynes deserve to be etched in stone and in the hearts and minds of every voter in the land, never mind the political class which purports to govern them: “When the facts change,” Keynes said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”