Rethinking Europe

Years of Confusion and Chaos After the UK Votes

The days of civilized, parliamentary exchanges that marked British politics belong to the last century.

Credit: simbos Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Cameron needs to win his Brexit gamble big to avoid British politics plunging into a horror show.
  • The Brexit campaign has been treated by most media as an open civil war in the Conservative Party.
  • A Brexit government would have to move quickly to pass laws imposing quotas on EU visas to the UK.

If you thought the Brexit debate with its daily insults, personal abuses and open xenophobic incantations against immigrants was bad enough, wait for the political horror show after the referendum on June 23.

The campaign is now over-shadowed by the shooting of a beautiful young MP, Jo Cox, a mother of two young children. The man charged with her killing has links to the extreme right, with its obsessions about Europe and immigration.

The last days of the campaign are expected to be calmer with less of the hate, personal abuse, and violent anti-immigrant language.

But the days of civilized, give-and-take parliamentary exchanges that marked out British politics belong to the last century. This existential struggle has shown an emotional, angry politics of lurid exaggeration and denunciation, culminating in a tragic death.

David Cameron needs to win by a massive margin his plebiscite bet to avoid British politics plunging into a horror show never seen in before in three centuries of British parliamentary history.

Cameron’s U-turn

Opinion polls are showing a 50-50 split with the more accurate phone polls moving away from a clear rejection of Brexit to now being evenly balanced.

The outcome could turn on how many rock fans at the Glastonbury festival this week have bothered to cast a postal vote.

Overseas media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere are splitting their bets with some of their papers urging Brexit and others a vote to stay in the EU.

But for 20 years, the mass circulation press has mocked and denigrated Europe. David Cameron spent his first 15 years in Parliament decrying the EU.

Now he has spent 15 weeks urging a Yes vote. He seems to have changed his mind but will that persuade voters?

If Cameron loses, he will have to resign instantly. He has engaged his own honour and that of his administration on winning what is a much bigger vote of confidence than any that might take place in a parliament.

The Brexit campaign has been treated by the BBC and most media as an open civil war in the Conservative Party. Accusations of lying, dishonestly, abuse of government office have been hurled back and forth by top Tories.

It is assumed that London Mayor Boris Johnson who looks like Donald Trump’s younger brother with the same ebullient blond hair and speaking exuberance, will inherit the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Former Tory leaders have accused Johnson, who in the past said he would not support leaving the EU, of backing Brexit out of personal ambition.

He may indeed win the internal party vote to succeed Cameron but he will inherit an angry and divided Conservative Party.

Formation of a Brexit government will not be easy

Voters have been promised that in exchange for voting Brexit there will be no more movement of people from Europe into Britain.

To honour that promise, a Brexit government would have to move quickly to pass laws imposing quotas or visas on EU citizens coming to Britain.

Indeed one leader of the Brexit campaign, the Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg, said that there would be no problem as “visas can be issued in a day.”

But any UK legislation requiring visas or work and residence permits for EU citizens will be met with a clear and reciprocal response from the other 27 member states.

A crisis of governability?

The Brexit government will have to honour other pledges such as cutting off the UK contribution to the EU budget and instead spending the money on British health services or subsidies for farmers and fishermen.

There are other EU laws or directives that the Brexit camp have said must go.

But the confusion and chaos in Parliament will continue. At best, there are fewer than 200 MPs committed to Brexit. The other 450 Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist MPs are all pro-EU.

So they are likely to refuse to vote for Brexit legislation or even pass a budget which require news taxes and more austerity to handle a British economy which will lose foreign investment and global economic confidence.

Germany’s Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble and his French colleague, Michel Sapin have warned publicly that the UK outside of the EU is outside the single market.

Thus, all City and other firms lose their valuable EU single passport that allows them to trade freely in the market of 500 million consumers.

So if the Commons cannot find a majority for laws proposed by Brexit ministers headed by Boris Johnson, the UK enters a crisis of governability over the next period.

Future probabilities

Meanwhile across continental Europe, the populist nationalists like the Front National in France, AfD in Germany, the FPÖ in Austria and other anti-immigrant demagogues like Beppe Grillo or Geert Wilders will demand referendums on the nation’s future in the EU or in the eurozone.

Even if Brexit is narrowly defeated, the Conservative Party will be impossible to manage. Cameron has said he will stand down before the next election.

This would mean a continuation of the internal Tory Party struggle as those wanting to keep the anti-EU dream alive campaign to win the succession battle.

Cameron will return to Brussels to insist on legal changes to give effect to the concessions he obtained from the EU in February which were meant to help persuade the Brits that he had single-handedly “reformed” the EU.

He is likely to revert to the old normal of truculent disagreement with the European Commission and other EU heads of government and so the crisis of leadership and direction of travel of Europe will get worse, even if Brexit is defeated.

If Cameron wins, the neo-isolationism and protectionism of the Brexit camp may have been held back for the moment but British and European politics will continue to confused and uncertain as the British Brexit malady spreads all over the continent.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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