Thursday, February 21, 2019
A Nation in Meltdown?
With its departure from the European Union less than six weeks away and the terms of Brexit unclear after years of negotiation and bickering, the UK seems to be on the verge of meltdown.
In the House of Commons there is no consensus to be found, not in the government ranks nor among the opposition. Prime minister Theresa May co-exists with an insurgency among her caucus. Opposition Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has seen a dissident group leave his party's ranks.
Watching the proceedings in the House of Commons affords a crash course in chaos. One faction wants a second referendum. Another has demanded a snap election. One wants to buy time for some delusional renegotiation of the EU terms for withdrawal. May and her supporters want Parliament to accept Brussel's terms and hope for a better deal later or at least some forbearance from the EU, especially over the Irish question. Then there's a group, within the minority Tories' own ranks that rejects the withdrawal deal altogether and favours the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal. Some want the "Norwegian" option. Others want the same arrangement Canada negotiated with the EU. Northern Ireland wants this, Scotland wants recognition and respect. Speaker John Bercow grows hoarse from endlessly demanding "order" in the House.
For her part, Theresa May is desperately trying to stall Parliament, promising a serious vote on something at some time before the Brexit bell sounds. Her opposition, within and without her party, see through it. She is obviously buying time, hoping to leave MPs with just two options; the deal she has negotiated or no deal at all. Meanwhile she furtively scurries to Brussels, begging bowl in hand, only to return with nothing.
Negotiating complex deals is rarely easy. Look at what Canada went through with Washington over NAFTA II. When the Brits and the Euros negotiated the withdrawal agreement that seems to satisfy no one in Parliament, May was told that was as good a deal as she was going to get and yet she keeps going back to plead for more.
May exudes the scent of despair, something that rarely plays out well in tough negotiations. The Tories have recently bested Labour in the polls but it's hard to imagine they'll hold that edge after trucks carrying medicines and food from the continent begin backing up at Channel ports.
Britain's GDP could take a big hit. Some companies are already pulling up stakes and heading across the Channel, some, like the quintessentially British Dyson, are moving their headquarters to Asia. Britain's pride and joy, its financial sector, is likewise leaking operations to Europe.
Wales, like Scotland, is against Brexit. Both want to remain in the EU. How that will play out in the devolution game will probably depend on the aftermath of the UK withdrawal. Then there's Ireland, Northern Ireland and the "backstop" that the EU insists it will not yield.
This is a scary situation for the peoples of the United Kingdom. There is no consensus only narrowing and increasingly unpopular options. It's a giant sh!t sandwich and everyone is going to have to take a bite. Rule Britannia - hardly.
For observers from the Western democracies, we are watching unfold something that a decade ago we would have considered unthinkable. This is more than the UK's chaotic withdrawal from the EU. It is the utter failure of governance on an epic scale. It is a constitutional union in peril, destabilized by its own hand.
I've been focusing on the decline in democratic governance lately. Britain isn't really unique. The spread of rightwing populism ushering in the rise of authoritarianism is probably a more dangerous manifestation. We have an extreme example in our next door neighbour. Decaying governance seems to go hand in hand with the decline of social cohesion. There's a real danger to this.
Poor governance and social division portend real trouble with the challenges we all will face in the coming decade and beyond. A reluctance to bridge divides seems to be standard fare these days. Politics is no longer a contest of ideas aimed at bettering the nation and its people. It has now become hyper-partisan, tribal with occasional glimpses of a Lord of the Flies ethos. No one seems able to stop this slide into destabilizing uncertainty.
Readers of this blog will know that my concerns are not primarily political. I focus on the greatest threat facing our nation, our people, our families and ourselves, a threat that utterly eclipses and yet can be deeply worsened by political squabbling. I refer, of course, to mankind's savage and unrelenting attack on the planet itself.
Where are the visionaries that built this country, leaders such as Laurier, St. Laurent, Pearson and Pierre Trudeau? Most of what had been the leading democracies could ask the same question. What happened to statesmanship, where did it go? Has neoliberalism so sapped our political vitality as to leave us paralytic in the face of looming crises? Can we even understand each other any longer?