A sad end for Perfidious Albion

Brexit will make Britain more irrelevant. It will be further cut off from Europe, irrespective of whether there is fog over the English Channel

May’s request and Tusk’s response have brought into focus the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal
May’s request and Tusk’s response have brought into focus the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal

Britain did not earn the pejorative moniker ‘Perfidious Albion’ innocently. It refers to the British way of doing things in international relations: alleged acts of diplomatic sleights, duplicity, and treachery and hence infidelity with respect to perceived promises made by British monarchs or governments in their pursuit of self-interest.

In the Brexit context all the duplicity and treachery is ‘in house’ – between various factions of MPs – not just between established political parties.

The Brexit adventure started with David Cameron attempting to keep the anti-EU Tory faction at bay by promising a referendum on EU membership, in the hope that the issue that threatened to divide the Conservatives would be settled once and for all – or for some time, at least. The rest is history.

Cameron’s plan failed when the referendum was won by the Brexiteers – surprisingly at first... but not that surprisingly when the manoeuvring and illegal tricks employed by the Leave campaign were laid bare afterwards. In true British fashion, these undercurrents notwithstanding, the referendum result is hailed as the people’s will by Brexiteers and the tabloids owned by rich millionaires who use the media they own for their own ends.

The effects of the rash decision to hold the referendum and the lies that were said by the Leave Campaign are now too obvious. This was further complicated by Theresa May invoking Article 50 for the UK to leave the EU without any meaningful preparation for the negotiations with the EU.

The Irish border never figured out in that referendum. But now the karma of the decision to populate Northern Ireland with Protestants and of the separation of Ireland into two parts almost a century ago – two undoubtedly typical Perfidious Albion manoeuvres – have come back to haunt the UK.

As I write, Theresa May heads to Brussels, pushing for a three-month delay of Brexit while the UK’s political crisis deepens and no one can see how her deal can be approved.

On Wednesday night she addressed the nation in what was described as a ‘defiant statement’ in which she blamed MPs for the current Brexit crisis. This speech led to accusations that May was pitting Parliament against the people with observers describing it as dangerous and reckless.

This is dangerous, especially with the tabloids having the temerity of calling Judges of the High Court ‘enemies of the people’ because of a judgement with which they disagreed and describing Remain MPs as ‘traitors’. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage even ‘predicts’ riots if the UK is not out of the EU by March 29.

May’s move for a limited Brexit delay to June 30 was met with anger in House of Commons that had voted to seek a longer extension if May’s withdrawal agreement hadn’t been approved by now. The move also surprised Brussels.

European Council President Donald Tusk reacted by pointing out that a short delay was possible only if the UK Parliament approved May’s twice-rejected withdrawal agreement by March 29. Any long extension would require the UK to participate in European elections, something that May strongly opposes. May’s request and Tusk’s response has brought into focus the prospect of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

Writing in ‘The Guardian’ last Wednesday, under the title ‘Pathetic, incoherent, chaotic: Europe’s verdict on Brexit shambles’, Jon Henley and other correspondents claimed that ‘the UK’s reputation for diplomacy, pragmatism and self-restraint has all but gone, say politicians and officials across EU’ adding that ‘For politicians, diplomats and officials across the continent, the past two-and-a-half years of Britain’s fraught, seemingly interminable and increasingly shambolic departure from the EU have proved an eye-opener’.

The article goes on: ‘To the shock of many, Brexit has revealed a country they long looked up to, locked in a narrative of its own exceptionalism, talking mainly to itself, incoherent, entitled, incapable of compromise (with itself or its neighbours), wholly unrealistic, and startlingly ignorant of the workings of an organisation it has belonged to for nearly 50 years’.

The idea of shared sovereignty – a kingpin of the EU – is alien to Perfidious Albion that is still living in the past. Witness the logic behind the taunts of ‘Nazi’ at a remainer MP: Remainers want to stay within the EU on a par with Germany. Hence they are Nazis!

Personally, I feel that the problem is not just English exceptionalism but also the fact that Britain practically never lost a war in the past two centuries. European countries who have been occupied in wartime, or subservient to the USSR in peacetime, appreciate the advantage of sharing sovereignty to the benefit of all. The UK always thought itself as ‘different’ from the rest and considered the EU as just a trading bloc. It is more than that – and that ‘more’ means more advantages than disadvantages – as we in Malta well know.

Try talking to Brexiteers – as I have done – and you sense they are living in the past and cannot realise that the world has moved on since Winston Churchill’s efforts in World War II gave Britain a victory to be proud of.

The post-war period led to the dismantling of what was the British Empire – something they tend to ignore.

To keep their dreams alive, British Brexiteers still live in the past.

Last week, the Times of Malta published an article by Sir Andrew Cook with the title: ‘Bring back the Sterling Area – a safe, stable alternative’. There was a sterling area when sterling was imposed on the colonies of the British Empire. This is all over. This sort of thinking is incredibly ludicrous – as John Consiglio pointed out in a ‘reply’ published last Tuesday. But there it is: serious people living in the past and ending up saying stupid things. That makes the typical Brexiteer MP!

What is happening now in the UK reminds me of the Maltese idiom about the octopus turning on its own tentacles when it cannot find anything to catch (il-qarnita ddur għal subajha). The tragi-comedy that is Brexit is a perfect example of this phenomenon.
Were it not for the financial centre of the city of London, Britain would be just an island off Europe.

Brexit will make Britain more irrelevant. It will be further cut off from Europe, irrespective of whether there is fog over the English Channel.
There is no stopping time.

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