From the ill-conceived Brexit referendum onward, Britain’s governing class has embarrassed itself. The Remain campaign was complacent, the Leave campaign brazenly mendacious, and as soon as the result was known, most of the loudest advocates for severing ties with the European Union ran away like naughty schoolboys whose cricket ball had smashed a greenhouse window. Negotiations have revealed the pitiful intellectual limitations of a succession of blustering cabinet ministers, the leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition doesn’t appear to want to oppose, and the prime minister has engineered her own humiliation by starting the countdown to Brexit without a plan that could command wide support, resulting in the heaviest parliamentary defeat in history. Despite breaches of campaign finance limits and lingering questions over the source of the Leave campaign’s financing, not to mention growing evidence tying it to the same web of influence operations that promoted Trump’s candidacy, there is no equivalent to the Mueller inquiry to bolster public confidence that the organs of state are capable of warding off corruption.
Britain is a country under self-inflicted stress, gripped by fear of the unknown. Remainers and Leavers—two tribes that have taken on the mythic stature of Roundheads and Cavaliers in a second civil war—are clinging together like drowning swimmers, each side convinced that the other is provoking an epochal disaster, neither side understanding why the other won’t submit to its version of reason and allow itself to be guided back to the surface. As the deadline approaches and the clock runs down toward the “No Deal” outcome that was supposed to be unthinkable, the divided nation faces what is, by any standards, a major political crisis. However, as British people like to remind one another, we are supposedly at our best in a crisis. [Continue reading…]