I've chosen Brexit for PART 2 rather than THE UK or something similar because, as an English-speaking expat in a region whose English-speaking expats are primarily English, the UK's march out of the European Union dominates English-language political discourse...until Trump is mentioned. I'll get to Trump in Part 3.
For the uninitiated, a brief lexicon:
European Union (EU) - 500,000,000 Europeans in 28 countries in a political and economic union.
The Four Freedoms - The free movement of goods, capital, services, and labor within the EU.
English - The language spoken in the UK coloured by the whimsical use of the letter u.
Brexit - Shorthand for the United Kingdom's (UK's) withdrawal from the European Union.
Remainer - Those who advocated for the UK to remain in the EU.
Leaver - Those who advocated for the UK to leave the EU.
Boris - Euphemism for "I lost my hairbrush."
I admit that the politics of Brexit had me stumped for quite a while. To some extent, it still does. Why did Remainer David Cameron call for the referendum in the first place? How did the ensuing closely-contested, nonbinding referendum become The Will of the People? And given that we now know that such claims of the Leavers as the claim that leaving would instantly and completely shore up UK's ailing and failing healthcare system are fraudulent, why is the UK still sailing headlong into financial purgatory with seemingly no one at the wheel?
To this American looking in from the outside, that last phrase holds the key. No one is at the wheel.
Why did Cameron call for the referendum? Apparently, because the Conservative Party that he led had made the referendum a plank in its platform during the Parliamentary elections of 2015. When the Conservatives won a relatively decisive and somewhat surprising victory, Cameron felt compelled. Why a politician should feel compelled to follow a party platform after an election is beyond my American comprehension. Platforms are put aside after elections in favor of the reality of governance. But for some reason, Cameron decided to put the Conservative platform ahead of his own best judgement and called the referendum. In other words, Cameron chose not to lead.
No one was at the wheel.
The natural ally of Remainer Cameron in the run up to the Brexit referendum should have been the Labour Party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. But Corbyn was not a fan of the UK's entrance into the EU in the first place, opposed many aspects of membership, was at best a lukewarm Remainer, and went on vacation during the run up to the referendum. Even had Corbyn been more enthusiastic, he is neither a charismatic leader nor a dynamic speaker. With Cameron's own party advocating leaving the EU; without any committed, articulate, charismatic politician/public figure making the case to Remain in the EU; and with voter apathy brought on by polling that may have depressed Remainer turnout, the Leavers won by 52% to 48%. Cameron, having presided over the debacle, resigned. Theresa May took over as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.
After following Theresa May for several months, I think that I can safely say that I know Theresa May well enough to judge and I feel confident in saying that Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher.
No one is at the wheel.
The EU has been very clear from the beginning of this process. In order for the UK to enjoy the benefits of the lucrative single market that 500,000,000 consumers in the EU represent, the UK must honor the Four Freedoms. The EU will not allow an outsider to benefit from the free movement of goods and capital without also allowing for the free movement of labor. If they did, other countries antithetic to free movement of labor - and other aspects of the Union - might peel off as well.
No free access to the single market? If such is the result, Brexit leads to disaster. The UK would have to negotiate with the EU, paying a stiff price for access, or else spend the next several years in uncertainty while negotiating 27 individual trade agreements with 27 individual European countries whose main interests lie within the EU. Major business sectors headquartered in the UK might find it necessary to move to the Continent in order to continue to benefit from the single market. Some have already announced such a move. A brain drain going out, or a failure to be able to attract the best and brightest coming in, might further depress the business climate in the UK.
There are those who insist that through Brexit, the UK can return to past economic glory. I don't see it. In a multi-polar economic world that includes such concentrations of population and wealth as the US, China, India, Russia, and yes, the EU, the UK becomes a minor player. Can the UK claim to have even the same economic prospects as Japan, with half of Japan's population and half its GDP? The entire UK auto industry manufactures one-third of the total number of cars that Honda alone sells annually.
So, in this American's estimation, Brexit has left the UK with a rudderless ship and bad hair. But given a liberal democracy that can hold elections at any time if Parliament expresses no confidence in its leadership, and with backbench members of both major parties expressing dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, methinks that there are acts yet to unfold in the drama known as Brexit. It may well take a talent as bold as the Bard to complete the script.
Click HERE if you missed PART 1 - FRANCE.