Leaderless, rudderless, Britain drifts
With Brexit tremors sending cascading political and economic shockwaves near and far, shaking the foundations of all that is familiar, it has become almost routine since the referendum for Britain’s TV anchors and reporters to be stumped momentarily for words, left to mutter comments such as, “I don’t know what to say to that” as the latest piece of bad news emerges.
With Scotland threatening to break away, Irish Republicans in Northern Ireland clamoring for a border poll to lay the way open for reunification with the Republic of Ireland, and vicious infighting roiling Britain’s two main parties, the governing Conservatives and opposition Labor, there is little solid steadying ground.
Experts predicted chaos would follow, if Britain decided to vote for Brexit, and chaos has.
Everything is going wrong
The spirits of a country in deep shock weren’t lifted Monday when England’s national soccer team was unceremoniously bundled out of Euro 2016, losing to an even smaller island, Iceland, the lowest ranked team in the competition.
“Oh, for some good news,” exclaimed Eamonn Holmes, presenter of the Sunrise show on Sky News. “Maybe the weather?”
Within minutes of that remark Tuesday, the country’s finance minister, George Osbourne, repeated his pre-Brexit warning that spending cuts and tax hikes are inevitable to cope with the economic consequences of the vote.
Economic consequences of Brexit
And those consequences are mounting fast with the pound plummeting to a 30-year low against the dollar, two rating agencies downgrading Britain’s credit rating and stock markets plunging.
One in five British companies are considering shifting some of their operations to European Union countries. Several U.S. banks headquartered in London have revealed plans to relocate to Dublin, Frankfurt or Paris, moves that would threaten London’s status as the financial capital of Europe.
Efforts by the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron and Osbourne to offer some reassurance on Monday fell on deaf ears, especially when it came to investors and market traders. Their interventions broke a weekend of silence from the country’s leaders.
Top Leave campaigner, Boris Johnson, and one of the favorites to replace Cameron, spent the weekend playing cricket, only to emerge Monday to claim the pound was stable and so too the markets as their descents turned deadly.
Political leadership in turmoil
The sense is that as Conservative and Labor politicians maneuver in vicious behind-the-scenes skirmishes for leadership contests the country is being left leaderless, drifting close to the rocks.
“At the top of British politics, a vacuum yawns wide,” the Economist magazine complained. “The phones are ringing, but no one is picking up.”
Can the Brexit vote be reversed, altered or ignored?
Remain supporters hope the decision can be reversed and a 2nd referendum petition to parliament that has attracted more than three million signatures will be successful.
Cameron on Monday appeared to slam the door on that prospect, but as the chaos unfolds and party discipline collapses, it is unclear what will happen to the petition if debated in the House of Commons.
Some older politicians, such as Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke, are stressing the fact that Britain is a parliamentary democracy, the referendum is non-binding and the House of Commons has the power to ignore the result or interpret it in ways that will allow Britain to stay at least in close association with the European Union.
Compromise is in the air. Boris Johnson appears now to be distancing himself from some of the Leave camp’s campaigning lines, especially when it comes to the reduction in immigration, suggesting he and top Conservative allies would accept some key conditions the European Union will demand in return for a Norway-like trade deal with the pact.
What is to come, no one is sure.
Leave campaigners have admitted they had no exit plans ready or any idea of what kind of deal they wanted with Europe. Their position is that exit plans are up to the government, overlooking the fact their leaders are likely to be heading the new Conservative government.
Boris Johnson’s sister, the journalist Rachel, noted in a tweet that in various circular arguments in the corridors of power and on the air “everyone keeps saying, ‘We are where we are,’ but nobody seems to have the slightest clue where that is.”
On Tuesday, President Obama in an interview with America’s National Public Radio appeared to be pushing for a Norway-like solution to avoid a complete break between Britain and the EU.
Warning against Brexit hysteria, he said: “If over the course of what is going be at least a two year negotiation between England and Europe, Great Britain ends up being affiliated to Europe like Norway is, the average person is not going to notice a big change.”
But it is the immediate that is concerning the British and Europeans. As British leaders are engrossed in their own domestic political battles, the drift is what is dangerous.
“We can not be embroiled in lasting uncertainty,” the hawkish European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned Tuesday.
(Photo: European Union)