Two Cabinet ministers, Bojo and a ratty little ex-journalist called Michael Gove, campaigned with Nigel Farage for the Leave side.
“A tortoise once ran a race against a hare
— One need not ask why or when or where —
It occurred in some region of the mind
Where the slow inevitably leave the swift behind.
In a real world as you and I well know
The race is to the swift and not the slow
These parables and fables always lie
In vain attempts to preach and rectify.”
From Lady Chatterjee’s Cover by Bachchoo
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Bojo) publicly declared that he would rather “die in a ditch” than delay Britain’s leaving the European Union by October 31. Since then, the parliamentary spades have emerged from their closets and are digging away, providing Bojo a choice of several ditches.
Trying to unravel the complexities of the process and progress of “Brexit” is somewhat more complex than grasping the ins and outs of cosmic string theory — forget “rocket science”, which even I, gentle reader, seem to understand.
Nevertheless, there are some simple facts and considerations which may assist in understanding what has gone on, though I won’t be arrogant enough, gentle reader, to say they will lead to any certainty about the immediate future.
Start from the beginning: In 2015, then PM David Cameron saw that the issue of Britain being in the European Union was once again dividing the ruling Tory Party. In addition, a newish political party led by one Nigel Farage was picking up support for their single policy of leaving the European Union. Mr Cameron and his Cabinet were determined to put the issue to rest once and for all with a people’s referendum, which they calculated would decisively vote for remaining in the EU. They were wrong.
Two Cabinet ministers, Bojo and a ratty little ex-journalist called Michael Gove, campaigned with Nigel Farage for the Leave side. Before the referendum, Bojo had shown no signs of supporting a Britain-Out sentiment or policy but he read the marginal mood of the country better than Mr Cameron and the rest of his Cabinet.
Two factors would influence or even dominate the vote. Bojo seemed, from the rhetoric he used in the Leave campaign, to have calculated that a sense of patriotic, nationalistic superiority to the rest of Europe and to the humans of the rest of the world would trump any arguments or calculations of economic disaster which would follow from leaving the EU.
Second, and most importantly for the referendum result, there is a streak of xenophobia which was cultivated and grew through the centuries when the sun never set on the British Empire, which doesn’t want foreigners in the country. Of course, this objection is not expressed in openly racist terms, but in unjustified material ones: “They come here and take our jobs, work for less money and undercut our wages” — or “they come here and take up our limited housing, schools, occupy beds in our hospitals and live here free on welfare payments…”.
Bojo and friends grasped this mood and translated it into grand and vague, meaningless rhetoric: “Take back control”, “Get the undemocratic bureaucracy of Brussels off our backs” … etc. Their campaign specialised in keeping the economic effects of leaving the EU unspecified. The Leave campaign even promised that millions of pounds of contributions to the European budget would be saved if Britain left.
The whole campaign was a lie — plausible to the gullible and attractive to those who wanted to get rid of the regulatory clauses imposed on and by Europe. These, characterised by the leavers as “Brussels’ bureaucracy”, prevent rampant exploitation of labour, rampant capitalist dog-eat-dog competition through turning the economy into tax-free havens such as Singapore, regulations which protect the environment and scores of other protective measures on human rights.
The leavers won by 51-point-something to 48-point-something. Britain had voted for Brexit. Bojo triumphantly stood to replace Mr Cameron, who resigned as PM. His rat of a running mate Michael Gove stabbed him in the back at the last moment of the campaign, declaring that he thought Bojo unfit as a personality to lead the country. Mr Gove said he was instead offering himself as PM. Even Brutus, having stabbed Caesar, didn’t say he wanted to replace him.
Theresa May, a staunch remainer during the campaign, now offered herself as the PM who would implement the leave decision. She was duly elected by the Tory Party and over three years worked out a Withdrawal Agreement with the European Union, which was rejected by the British Parliament three times, causing Ms May to resign and making way for an election which Bojo won. (Ironically, he appointed Mr Gove to a Cabinet post, which a bare-faced Mr Gove accepted.)
Now Bojo, in negotiations with the 27 EU countries, brought back a deal which Parliament passed. Even though his government is 40 or so seats short of a majority, he relied on the Labour Party members who represent constituencies with strong “keep the foreigners out” tendencies. These Labour MPs shamelessly and shamefully voted for a deal which would impoverish their own constituents and probably throw thousands if not millions out of employment.
However, there was a second vote, which, demanded by a large majority, that Parliament should have time to scrutinise the detail contained in 110 pages of this “final deal”. The Opposition parties say there are very many clauses in it they would radically amend. For instance, Labour and other parties are in favour of staying in the European customs union.
These amendments would probably deny Bojo a majority when the bill came back for a vote with these attached. They are, gentle reader, the spades with which the ditches are being dug. Bojo’s hope of resurrection as a zombie from this death in a ditch is to call a general election. Which this column thinks he will do and with the disarray of the Opposition may win. But the wheel is still spinning and one may not be talking about roulette without the adjective Russian attached.