* Most politicians on the left and the right – including Prime Minister Theresa May, who before the Brexit referendum was in favor of Britain remaining in the EU – know that leaving the European Union without an exit agreement would be a national calamity. So why have almost all refused to do anything to halt the slide toward a catastrophic no-deal Brexit?
NEW YORK – Watching a sophisticated democratic society knowingly walk into a predictable and avoidable national disaster is a rare and alarming experience. Most British politicians are well aware that leaving the European Union with no agreement on the post-Brexit relationship will cause enormous damage to their country. They are not sleepwalking into the abyss; their eyes are wide open.
A minority of deluded ideologues doesn’t mind the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. A few chauvinist dreamers on the right, egged on by sections of the press, believe that the bulldog spirit of Dunkirk will overcome early setbacks and Great Britain will soon rule the waves again as a great quasi-imperial power, albeit without an empire. Neo-Trotskyists on the left, including Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, seem to think that catastrophe will spur the British people to demand true socialism at last.
Most politicians on the left and the right – including Prime Minister Theresa May, who before the Brexit referendum was in favor of Britain remaining in the EU – know better. And yet almost all refuse to do anything to halt the slide toward a catastrophic no-deal exit. Proposals in Parliament to seek a delay or to consider alternatives to May’s unpopular exit strategy were voted down. Party politics, jingoistic media, and a weird obliviousness to anything outside the British Isles have apparently paralyzed the collective will of British politicians. Instead of acting to avoid the worst, they delude themselves that more talks and more concessions from Brussels will somehow bail Britain out at the last minute.
This peculiar spectacle of national suicide, while unusual, is not entirely unprecedented. Japan’s drift toward a calamitous war with the US in 1941 is one example. True, there are obvious differences: Britain is not threatening to go to war with anybody, despite all the nostalgic guff about Spitfires and Dunkirk, and Japanese democracy, such as it was, had been pretty much strangled by military factions and authoritarian state control. But the similarities are remarkable.
A relatively small number of militarist hotheads, spurred by quasi-fascist ideologues and mostly middle-ranking officers, actually wanted war with the West. Most politicians, including generals and admirals, knew that it would be madness to provoke a clash with a vastly superior military and industrial power. But they were somehow unable or unwilling to stop it. Some even parroted the extremist rhetoric of the hotheads without believing it – a bit like May pandering to the hard Brexiteers.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: project-syndicate.org