Pro-EU anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU flags during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on December 13, 2017 as MPs debate the EU Withdrawl Bill. British Prime Minister Theresa May was December 13 facing a rebellion from her own MPs over whether parliament will have a "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal in what would be a damaging defeat. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE'N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Great Britain. Inclined to suicide

in Brexit 2019 · EN · Great Britain 2019 · Nation 2019 · Politics 2019 · Skepticism 2019 32 views / 6 comments
          
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Europe

GEOMETR.IT    project-syndicate.org

* 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

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6 Comments

  1. I voted to Leave the EU. But notwithstanding the risk of getting lynched when I admit that (IT companies and workforces are very cosmopolitan and generally very pro-Remain!), I have often discussed Brexit with work colleagues and many other people since mid 2016. So leaving aside the no-deal, The-Sky-Will-Fall-In/We’ll-Be-Just-Fine Brexit outcomes arguments (we’ll know soon enough), there is a curious split in reactions to Brexit I have noticed along national and racial lines. I don’t honestly know what the reasons are, but there is definitely some sort of mental makeup element to this which is manifesting within groupings. My evidence is purely anecdotal, having done no more than discuss Brexit with many people from both the UK and EU, but in my defence, no more speculative than the ramblings of most of the commentators on PS – certainly no one is providing what I would consider hard evidence.

    And what I notice is:
    – In the UK, I notice the Afro-Caribbean community is shaken, viscerally upset, by Brexit. I don’t know why, because conversations exploring the reaction result in an incoherent rejection, literally a turning away, when a counter viewpoint is put forward. I know of no-one from this community who voted for Brexit.
    – In contrast, there are many I know who voted for Brexit amongst Asians of subcontiental descent, like me, and even amongst Remain voters the reaction to Brexit is relatively sanguine.
    – The one or two UK Chinese people I have discussed this with are also not fussed by Brexit.
    – In the UK the Scots I have discussed Brexit with are invariably anti-Brexit, but I also often sense a lack of liking for the EU. Make of that what you will.
    – The French have largely kept remarkably quite, but I sense are secretly very optimistic that Brexit will yield a big dividend, both in economic terms (benefit from any chaos in the UK) but also in clout within the EU once the Brits have gone. (That doesn’t stop them freelancing for good money in the IT sector in the UK!).
    – In contrast, the low countries people and especially the Dutch I have met have been despondent since the referendum result, and are now finally lashing out at the UK, both at the political class but also at the populace, with tales of delusions of past imperial glory, alternating with invective against the perceived stupidity of Brexit and of working class Brits. This article is a case in point.
    – The Germans are regretful, unsurprised, and unwilling to compromise in any way detrimental to a construct, the EU, which they passionately feel is ‘their baby’. So much lip-service, but no concessions.
    – The Eastern Europeans are also mostly regretful, but also surprisingly understanding of Brexit.
    – The Yanks I have spoken with are largely not fussed one way or the other and are mostly ignorant of the nuance of the backstop etc, except there a faint approval that the UK is detaching from the EU, which is viewed with suspicion but not much knowledge.

    As I said, I have no idea why these ‘group attitudes’ exist, or where they stem from, or what they mean.

  2. A lot of historical illiteracy here. There was no ‘confusion’ between the Japanese and the Americans prior to Pearl Harbor — the Americans wanted the Japs out of China and the Japs didn’t want to leave.

  3. It is unfortunate a good number of Europeans too,seem to enjoy Schadenfreude should Brexit occur by sheer folly of British voters .

    One shouldn’t forget that there are new rising powers in the globe today, China and others from Asia. Europe will be less strong and influential without G.Britain in tomorrow’s Post Brexit world. I hope, both UK and Europeans keep aside their pride and viciousness and give common sense a chance to work out their differences.

  4. As a connoisseur of Japan, Ian Buruma sees a no-deal Brexit as a “peculiar spectacle of national suicide” – strong language to describe the potential damage for the UK. He says such a scenario is comparable to Japan’s decision to attack the US 1941, which was widely regarded as irrational to the point of suicidal. Theresa May and politicians from the left and right are aware of a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit. “And yet almost all refuse to do anything to halt the slide,” although it would have been their duty to have the country’s best interests at heart.

  5. Japan was already committed to Imperial expansion. Furthermore, it could appeal to Asian resentment at the racism of the White Colonial powers as well as America’s own racist political culture.

    Had Hitler been able to do a deal with Britain, then it is possible that the British, like the Vichy French, would have had to give an increasing role to the Japanese. In this case, America would not have had bases from which it could resupply the Nationalist Chinese. No doubt, it could have prepared for a long drawn out Pacific war. However, because Hitler declared War on America quite gratuitously, America had to deal with the greater threat first. Victory was by no means assured. Had the Soviet Union disintegrated, the strategic picture would have greatly changed. Japan might have been able to do a face saving deal with the Americans- perhaps paying reparations and giving American Corporations a favored position in some occupied territories.

    With hindsight, Pearl Harbor looks to be a suicidal piece of folly. But it only became so because of a series of highly contingent events.

    Brexit, by contrast, is not an existential threat to anyone or anything. No doubt, the incompetence and lethargy of the present administration may worsen things but the comparison would be with ‘three day week’ not Dunkirk or the Battle of Britain.

    Brexit represents a trade off between economic prosperity and limiting immigration. It may be unnecessary because the EU itself will mend its ways and espouse sensible, limited, aims and policies.

    Knightian Uncertainty is a real thing. It is not the case that there are ‘people who know better’. If blaming people is a worthwhile activity, one may certainly blame Cameron for believing that the Referendum would strengthen his hand or we could blame May for thinking a General Election would strengthen her hand. In both cases, the soi disant ‘people who know better’ thought the outcome a foregone conclusion.

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