12 things Brexit has already ruined – POLITICO.eu
LONDON — It’s been a year since Britain voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, and sure, things are moving along — Article 50 was invoked at the end of March and Brexit Secretary David Davis finally sat down with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week — but what Brexit will actually look like is anyone’s guess. Predictions range from the complete collapse of the U.K. economy to what some are wistfully calling “Empire 2.0.” Whatever happens, Britain’s decision is already manifesting itself in a variety of irritating ways. Here are 12 things Brexit has well and truly already ruined.
1. The “United” Kingdom
Have you ever to tried to divide a cake — scrumptiously-iced Boris Johnson-style have-it-and-eat-it cake, for example — with 51.9 percent on one side and 48.1 percent on the other? The cake is Britain, and the knife the most polarizing vote since, well … forever. Brexit has split these delicious islands of sponge, cream and innovative jam right down the middle — but it also means half the precariously-stacked layers might slide off.
Preserving the arrangement between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement is a “majority priority” for Brussels during negotiations. Even as Scotland tones down its talk of independence, the prospect of another referendum is back like Banquo’s ghost — not “settled for a generation,” as David Cameron had promised after all. Keeping everyone happy might well be impossible, and the structural shocks to the U.K.’s unity may be too deep to heal. If this were the “Great British Bake Off,” we’d be going home this episode.
It’s not like meeting “the one” has ever been straightforward, but Brexit has brought dating disaster to the land of Richard Curtis, the man behind one of Britain’s best exports — “Love Actually.” Tatler, the bible of British high society, recently outlined the rules of this brave new romantic world. “There is nothing more important on the dating scene than how someone voted in the EU referendum,” according to Emily Hill, author of “Bad Romance.” A new dating app called Hater, which matches users based on shared dislikes, shows that no fewer than 88 percent of users matched up according to their mutual loathing for the Leave or Remain camps.
“Single people need this kind of technology, because it is a biological fact that you cannot tell whether someone is a Remainer or a Leaver by looking at them, or even by having sex with them,” she continued. “They smell the same, feel the same, taste the same — it’s just their brains that are different.”
As if that’s not enough, relationship support counselors have seen an uptick in clients arguing over Brexit. Where’s the love? Ruined, by Brexit.
3. Britain’s reputation
Living abroad for more than a decade, whenever I told people I was British, they would talk about tea, warm beer, the queen, Premiership football teams, the Spice Girls — this was back in the golden era — and terrible food. (It’s actually really good now, thanks.) Now you’re more likely to hear: “What a nightmare, we have Trump, so we know how you feel.” Or, “Et le Brexit alors?” Or even “David Cameron eínai malákas.” A recent comment piece in Germany’s Süddeutsche newspaper began “The country is ruled by a talking robot, called the MayBot … Boris Johnson is foreign secretary. What in the world is going on with this country?”
The answer is simple. Brexit.
4. The space-time continuum
Time, as we experience it, flows in one direction, and events happen in a linear fashion. The U.K. has not yet left the EU. And yet any piece of good news is leapt upon by Beleavers as proof that Brexit is in fact a good idea.
Take economic forecasts: In March, the OECD revised its projections for Britain’s GDP growth to 1.6 percent this year, up from the 1.2 percent it forecast in November. “See!” said the Brexiteers. “Forecasts are being revised upwards! Hurrah!”
Actually, all this proves is Brexit hasn’t happened yet. In fact, the OECD note says: “The major risk for the economy is the uncertainty surrounding the exit process from the European Union.”
Or take the exit negotiations. David Davis said the “row of the summer” would be the order in which the Brussels talks take place. After one earth day of negotiations, they are quite clearly happening in the order the EU27 wants them to happen in: First let’s divorce, then talk about a new relationship. But that doesn’t matter in quantum Brexiteer time, where these timelines are not in sequence, but in parallel. “It is not when it starts, it is how it finishes,” Davis said after the meeting. Rumors that Doctor Who is a late recruit to his negotiating team remain unconfirmed.
Yes, fine, the polls were wrong about Brexit, and probably in large part because young people didn’t turn up and vote — although the backlash has begun, with youth turnout in this month’s general election the highest in 25 years.
But it goes deeper than that. Polling focus groups rely on getting everyone around a table to discuss their opinions about the matters of the day, something that is considerably harder to do post referendum.
“After the Scottish referendum we had to continue splitting up Yes and No voters in political groups — we often still do — because it was so emotionally raw,” said Daisy Powell-Chandler of British polling company Populus. Normal service might resume soon, though, she added: “The majority of Remainers are resigned to Brexit and think we should just hurry up and get on with it.”
6. The art of rhetoric
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action,” said Benjamin Disraeli. “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman,” quipped Margaret Thatcher. “All the world over, I will back the masses against the classes” — that’s W.E. Gladstone keeping it real in 1886.
Churchill’s quotes got Britain and its allies through the darkest days of the 20th century; to pick just one of his lines would be a disservice to his oratorical skills. And what do we have now? “Strong and stable.” “Brexit means Brexit.” Whevs. Future British PMs will probably just use emojis anyway.
7. Summer Holidays
It doesn’t matter whether you spend your summer holidays sipping sundowners on safari in South Africa, quaffing caipirinhas on the Copacabana or hitting the Hofbräuhaus after hiking in Bavaria — everything is more expensive for Brits post referendum.
In the immediate aftermath, the pound mimicked the White Cliffs of Dover, tanking to a 31-year low against the dollar and falling against currencies worldwide. Every step toward Brexit induces another perilous wobble. Still, one mustn’t sound like a pessimistic Remoaner: compared to pre-vote levels, the sterling is up against the Congolese franc, the Uzbekistani soum and the Mongolian tugrik. So maybe it’s just time to be more adventurous with holiday choices. We’re getting out — and into the world!
8. Online debate
“The internet is proving to be one of the most powerful amplifiers of speech every invented,” tech pioneer Vint Cerf wrote back in 1999, saying it would allow multiple points of view to flourish. He was right, and he also foresaw the downside: If internet users are not “mindful of the rights of others,” it could all become a lot less pleasant. Sure, online debate has been increasingly vibrant, but when it comes to Brexit, discussions quickly go downhill — just look at the online abuse hurled at Gina Miller, who challenged Brexit in the High Court.
Now, the U.K. government has awarded researchers from Cardiff University £250,000 to help it monitor Brexit-related hate crime on social media. “Hate crimes have been shown to cluster in time, and tend to increase, sometimes significantly, in the aftermath of ‘trigger’ events,” said professor Matthew Williams, the principal investigator on the project. “The referendum on the U.K.’s future in the European Union has galvanized certain prejudiced opinions held by a minority of people, resulting in a spate of hate crimes.”
Many of these crimes are taking place on social media, he added. Thanks, Brexit, for trampling on Vint Cerf’s vision 🙁
9. Royal neutrality
Whatever the queen thinks about British politics, she keeps it to herself. Her weekly meetings with the 13 British PMs since Churchill have been strictly entre nous. But then the Sun dragged her in with its “Queen Backs Brexit” story, and last week she resorted to wearing a fetching blue-and-yellow hat for the queen’s speech that resembled nothing so much as a milliner’s interpretation of the EU flag, sparking speculation as to whether the hat is motivated by genuine pro-EU sentiment or the fact that she missed part of her beloved Royal Ascot race meeting.
But either way: She should have been left out of it. Sorry, your majesty: Blame Brexit.
10. The Tory Party
EU membership has long been a sore subject for the Conservative Party — think John Major calling three of his own cabinet members “bastards” over the issue in 1993. But Brexit has cranked up the dial from a “niggling annoyance like a stone in your shoe” to “leg devoured by a mutant shark.”
For a start, it’s a little strange that the party of free trade is taking us out of the biggest free trade agreement in the world. May held her disastrous snap election because she wanted a bigger majority to push Brexit through. The Tories have gone from “strong and stable” to weak and wobbly: How to manage a party with Europhiles like Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry on one hand and hardcore Brexiteers like Bill Cash and Jacob Rees-Mogg on the other? Whether the center holds or not — to the casual observer, the Tory Party looks ready to blow.
11. The Labour Party
Jeremy Corbyn’s support for the Remain campaign was as tepid as the last falafel in a vegetarian buffet. Kate Hoey got on a boat with Nigel Farage to make the worst Lonely Island tribute video ever. But no fewer than 47 Labour MPs voted against invoking Article 50. The party may have had a surprisingly decent showing in the last election, but things are less harmonious than the last chorus of “The Red Flag” after a long night. Striking the bum note: Yes … it’s Brexit.
12. The government’s blame game
For the last four decades, British leaders have had an easy, cheap and instant way to offload responsibility: Blame Brussels.
Sure, they shaped and agreed to every single piece of legislation that came out of the European institutions. But that didn’t stop them from telling the public those laws were forced on them. And if they added a load of extra rules to the EU legislation, a procedure known as gold-plating, they could just say those faceless bureaucrats in Brussels made them do it.
Since the Brexit vote, the British government has had to resort to using an actual dead goat as a scapegoat. Delays in the delivery of the queen’s speech was blamed on the lack of goatskin paper to write it on.
Britain, with all its shiny new forthcoming sovereignty, clearly needs to work on taking responsibility for its decisions. After all, to quote former British EU Commissioner Chris Patten, “A man, naked, hungry and alone in the middle of the Sahara Desert is free in the sense that no one can tell him what to do. He is sovereign, then. But he is also doomed.”
Frances Robinson is a freelance journalist based in London.