Sunday, January 08, 2017

When Democracy Fails

There are few better object lessons on how democracy fails than Britain in the throes of the Brexit resolution.

No one, not even the prime minister, has a clue what Brexit is going to look like for Britain, its people, the European Union or anyone else. It begs the question of what the electorate imagined they were voting for in the referendum last June.

Of course it can always be said that the public, or a bare majority of those who actually turned out to vote, wanted Britain out of the European Union. Yet those same "leave" voters had no idea of what that might mean, the consequences as well as the possible benefits.

It recalls then Quebec premier, Jacques Parizeau, during the last separation referendum in 1995. It was rumoured that Parizeau told diplomats at a private meeting that, if a simple majority of Quebecers voted "yes" they would be like "lobsters in a pot." No escape. No second chances. Done, all boiled up.

Parizeau is also remembered for noting that, in any election, there is an informed segment of the population supporting one side, an informed segment supporting the other side, and a great horde of uninformed and misinformed who are the essential voters both sides target by whatever means - fear, confusion, wild promises - works best.

The Brexit referendum was decided by the "horde vote." Many Brits were fearful of EU migration and the control of the UK by Brussels. Nigel Farage and his cadre stoked these fears, sowed confusion and gave wild assurances that all would be sweetness and light once Britain was British again.

Seven months after the fateful vote, Britain and the British people still have no idea what Brexit means and what it entails.  Negotiations begin in April but the EU cousins aren't happy and they have their own ideas on what Brexit means that are more in line with expulsion that withdrawal. Scottish representatives, meanwhile, contend that Scotland may stage a Brexit of its own, leaving the United Kingdom and reconnecting with the European Union.

The Brits seem to think they can wrap up the negotiations quickly and emerge with something resembling the Canada-EU free trade pact, CETA.  One of Canada's main negotiators has said the UK can expect to be wrangling terms for at least a decade before it will have something akin to the Canadian deal. Britain's permanent representative to Brussels, Sir Ivan Rogers, has resigned over what he terms London's "muddled thinking." His successor, Sir Tim Barrows, inherits a "demoralized and depleted team" who see a train wreck in Britain's future.

Meanwhile the uncertainty and delay is weighing heavily on Britain's banking sector, so vital to London's economy. Several prominent banks are expected in the next few months to reveal plans to relocate to Europe.

The Corporation of London has published data showing that financial and professional services firms employ more than 2.2 million people across the UK, not just in the City.

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