Why crazy is the new normal in Brexit Britain

by Andrew Anthony / 07 April, 2019
A Brexit protest in March. Photo/Getty Images

A Brexit protest in March. Photo/Getty Images

RelatedArticlesModule - Brexit

In this version of the Eagles’ song, the United Kingdom checks out of the European Union but can never Brexit.

Who knows where the UK will be by the time you read this? Certainly no one in the UK does. Every time I find myself in a room with more than three people, the conversation takes a predictable turn. “It’s madness,” someone will say. Then there will an exploration of the various political options on offer, all of which will be found wanting, followed by general head-shaking and the firmly expressed wish that we could wake up in a different reality – say, for example, in a working democracy.

Here’s a list of events that have had no discernible effect on the current impasse. A million people marched in central London for a second referendum. Six million people signed a petition to revoke Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK voluntarily leaves the EU. Three times Prime Minister Theresa May has placed her withdrawal agreement before Parliament and three times it has been voted down.

Fed up, Parliament announced that it was taking control of procedure and organised indicative votes on eight different ways of dealing with the crisis. All eight were rejected. On March 29, the UK was due to leave the EU. It didn’t happen, because an extension was sought. And in a final attempt to break the deadlock, May issued a terrifying ultimatum: back me or I’ll stay.

Nothing has worked, not even the threat of May continuing as Prime Minister – it’s now widely accepted that she will go down as the worst PM in modern history. It’s also thought by many that her only real hope of escaping this fate is if an election is called and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn becomes PM – a plodding ideologue who shows every sign of being able to make us nostalgic for May.

May’s announcement that she will step down, but only if she receives backing for her agreement, set the Conservative Party abuzz with its traditional response to crisis: a leadership contest. While offering their public support to embattled May, various of her Cabinet colleagues and MPs were simultaneously briefing journalists, off the record, that they were looking to be her replacement.

The problem most of them face is that they are already implicated in the farce. A typical example is Dominic Raab, said to be among the favourites to take over. Raab was briefly Brexit Secretary, but he resigned in protest at the withdrawal agreement, which he himself had negotiated, and then went on to vote for the very same agreement. How do you dress that sequence of decisions up to look like you know what you’re doing?

It says something about the parlous state of the Tory party that Raab is viewed as a serious contender rather than a total laughing stock. And as I write this, the nation is steeling itself for another week of hands-over-eyes drama, in which the most likely outcome, as with so many previous weeks, is aghast merriment for the watching world.

If no parliamentary agreement is found, the UK will have to seek yet another extension before April 12 to remain in the EU. If that happens, we will almost certainly be participating in the European elections in late May. Yes, that’s right, the two main parties that both committed to leave the EU will be campaigning in a political entity from which we should have already departed

Together, they’ve consigned us to be characters in the Eagles’ Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. Once again, I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that come April 12, we will be begging the Europeans to delay our exit once more. Madness? Yes, but the really crazy thing is that it’s starting to look normal.  

This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

The key to long-term success after weight-loss surgery
107438 2019-06-26 00:00:00Z Health

The key to long-term success after weight-loss sur…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Weight-loss surgery is becoming more common, but lifestyle and attitude changes are needed for long-term success.

Read more
Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family recipes
107605 2019-06-25 11:39:22Z Food

Matariki feast: Kasey and Karena Bird's family rec…

by Lauraine Jacobs

Māori food champions Kasey and Karena Bird share traditional family recipes that are ideal for Matariki.

Read more
Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's going to make a better world
107579 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Julie Anne Genter on bicycles, babies and what's g…

by Emma Clifton

The MP made world headlines when she cycled to hospital to give birth. She talks about how this put her and what she stands for in the spotlight.

Read more
Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky in the road
107472 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Movies

Toy Story 4: The beloved franchise reaches a Forky…

by Russell Baillie

The fourth Toy Story instalment is clever, enjoyable and refreshingly weird.

Read more
Mitre 10 living wage ruling sets precedent for retail staff - union
Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebook and Google
107596 2019-06-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Apple set to offer sign-in service to rival Facebo…

by Peter Griffin

In the wake of data-privacy scandals, Apple is beefing up protection for owners of its devices.

Read more
Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying tax
107563 2019-06-24 16:28:59Z Business

Understanding New Zealanders' attitudes to paying…

by Nikki Mandow

We are pretty good about paying our taxes here, so why would we willingly go along with avoiding GST?

Read more
Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs crackdown?
107530 2019-06-24 10:19:12Z Business

Border tax rort: Could you be caught by a Customs…

by Nikki Mandow

New Zealand retailers hit by a GST rort that has been going on for at least two years hope officials, Trade Me, ministers and even customers will...

Read more