Amid the agony of defeat, we must remember that the UK is in such terrible shape politically that it deserves to cherish this flickering flame of good news while it can.
It’s not just that we’d barely even dreamt we’d get to the Cricket World Cup final in the first place; and it’s not even the frustration of losing in a tiebreaker after such a valiant campaign by the Black Caps. We need to remember that the UK is in such terrible shape politically, its foot hovering over an abyss of economic uncertainty, that it needs to cherish this flickering flame of good news while it can.
In the spectacle of UK politics these past three years, the stagger-a-thon towards leaving the European Union is by no means the only source of international embarrassment. There’s the humiliating spat with US President Donald Trump, after the malicious leaking of a private diplomatic communiqué critical of his leadership. Trump effectively dictated the UK ambassador’s resignation by refusing his normal access in Washington, backfooting the UK at the very time it needs to negotiate new trade terms with the US.
The leak, almost unprecedented in global diplomacy, was a symptom of UK politics’ bitter dysfunction. For another, there’s the Labour Party, mired in wrangling over anti-Semitism, bullying and purges of moderates following its takeover by hard-line Marxists. More mortification: the UK’s new anti-EU-dominated European Parliament caucus turning its back on the union’s anthem, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy – Brexiteer boorishness abroad redolent of football hooliganism.
Such crass incivility has fragmented voters so that were an election called to clear the air, the outcome could be even less stability. The Labour and Conservative parties’ traditionally dominant vote shares have been devastated by resurgent support for the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats on one hand and the new leave-enforcement Brexit Party on the other. The shambles has reignited support for Scottish independence and kindled a new Northern Irish appetite to leave the UK for the Irish republic, rather than be made to leave the EU.
To put the tin lid on it, the endearing but disingenuous Boris Johnson is likely to become prime minister, replacing Theresa May. She has been an agonisingly hapless leader, but as a Financial Times columnist surveying the infighting Conservative Administration lamented recently, her departure means the last grown-up will soon have left the building.
Johnson has made a career of vandalising the EU with misinformation, doing more than most to persuade Britons that the union is sapping their vigour and sovereignty, when, generally speaking, the opposite is true. The UK has been a net beneficiary of the union, and will still have to abide by EU rules if it wants to continue to trade with those countries – which it cannot afford not to do.
Among Johnson’s most pernicious lies are that the UK can leave the union without economic risk, free itself from European Court of Justice diktat and rid itself of EU and other immigrants. None of these is deliverable.
Britons may forgive this witty, entertaining rogue for his mendacity and his chaotic private life if he can deliver new trade deals. This will be tough, as the world can plainly see the UK’s weak hand, the weaker if it crashes out of the EU with no exit deal, an option Johnson is prepared to lead.
A recent Matt cartoon in the Daily Telegraph had one England cricketer telling another: “We might need a trade deal with New Zealand. For goodness’ sake don’t beat them.” Indeed they do need a deal. But the UK is in a pretty long queue, as with most other countries. It can’t count on favours from the old dominions it unfriended on its way into the EU – least of all India, now an economic powerhouse with bitter memories of colonial pillage.
Restoring battered relations with Europe is a priority – despite Johnson recently calling the French “turds”. As for inveigling a new space between tariff-clashing China and the US, best of British with that.
For the health of global free trade, the UK’s full and viable participation is vital. Its Government might face a less sticky wicket by restoring to itself the ethos it prides in its great cricketers. Sledging and blaming the pitch, other teams and the umpire for one’s own poor play won’t improve one’s innings a jot.
This editorial was first published in the July 27, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.