Every so often in some other country, someone we regard as a completely unhinged hard liner or populist political moron takes control and we find it both a little frightening and sometimes even a little funny. Remember Boris Yeltsin’s drunken dancing and brass band conducting; George W Bush-isms that must not be misunderestimated; Australia’s ex-PM Tony Abott’s excruciatingly embarrassing interview where he just stood nodding and refused to speak; or Trump’s glaikit look every time he has to read a speech that he doesn’t seem to understand and that often completely contradicts his recent tweets.
It can be funny, frightening, and in the UK’s case daft. Especially when you see people in the UK leadership team spouting militaristic nonsense, Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, hinting that Britain is ready to go to war to defend the sovereignty of Gibraltar, vowing to go “all the way” to protect their territory.
In the past we always managed to kid ourselves that it couldn’t happen here, that the UK is a stable democracy immune to populism and unstable and unhinged political leadership. That was a key component of the certainty offered by the Union. However I think people across these islands must question if the UK is now becoming an international joke?
Theresa May thinks it’s OK to answer serious questions about what type of Brexit she was aiming for by saying it will be a “red white and blue one”, or repeating robot-like “Now is not the time” when actually nobody was suggesting we have a referendum now.
There was also Andrea Leadsom’s “we can trade more internationally as the Japanese have a taste for traditional British goods like afternoon tea”; Boris Johnson likening French President Francois Hollande to a Second World War Nazi prison guard wanting to give the United Kingdom “punishment beatings” over Brexit; or his mixing up of Egypt and Turkey or … well it’s like a pick-and-mix bag of insults and gaffes with Johnson. Now however, people are not laughing with Boris but at him and his cancelled trip to Moscow demonstrates the weakening of the UK’s global influence post Brexit vote. The UK’s political power was prolonged way past its sell by date by its special relationship with the USA, which was largely based on its political influence within Europe – those days are gone now. The Foreign Secretary had planned to meet Sergey Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow but cancelled his trip under orders from the White House. Rex Tillerson the US secretary of State, will now meet Sergey Lavrov and declare a “clear and co-ordinated” message on Syria and the brutal regime of Bashar Assad to Russia. In other words the UK isn’t considered influential enough or our Foreign Secretary serious enough to deliver a message to Russia.
The UK (excluding Scotland) seems to have decided to elect a whole leadership team that is dysfunctional and detached from reality. The impact of this is clearly seen in Whitehall officials publicly referring to the post-Brexit trade situation as Empire 2.0.
An unworkable nostalgic delusion that will put the UK on the back foot in all future trade talks, thus damaging international trade even more than would naturally happen when you take yourself out of the world’s largest single market with no motivation other than negative British nationalism.
Nigel Farage, although not part of the UK’s leadership, has done the most to set the current tone, recently referring to the EU as acting like the Mafia, simply for pointing out the UK has made spending commitments that need to be paid. The man is a dangerous embarrassment and the absolute epitome all that is going wrong with British culture, identity and hubris. Hubris indeed, that leads to stupid claims about military action.
During the EU referendum campaign I travelled the length and breadth of Scotland making the case for Remain. Something that really stood out in those debates was the constant references to the EU having its own army (it doesn’t) and claims that it wasn’t acceptable for the UK through the EU Common Defence Policy to be called upon to attack any aggressor to a fellow EU member. There is a similar clause in Nato membership – so let’s get this straight, if the UK were to attack Spain over Gibraltar it wouldn’t just be Spain the UK would be in conflict with but the whole of the EU and Nato. Not only that, through the UK’s current membership of the EU and Nato we would be required to attack ourselves – and I don’t think Boris Johnson’s constantly shooting himself in the foot counts.
Brexit is an attempt to “Make Britain Great Again” and to establish Empire 2.0 but it only took a few days after Article 50 was triggered for the UK to lose control of Gibraltar’s future. In time it will become obvious that the UK will have to beg for trade deals with major markets around the world, to make concession after concession and be a trade-rule taker not a trade-rule maker. All deals done with major powers will be worse that those we currently have with the EU or with others through the EU. the idea of the UK begging the USA to let us unilaterally sign TTIP is shocking. Brexit represents a capitulation of the UK’s global power, not a power grab.
I guess the absolute irony is that the delusion that “Great Britain is still a global trade and military power”, is about to be undone by Brexit which was driven by the delusion that “Great Britain is still a global trade and military power”.
If any hint of that impending reality has dawned on the UK Prime Minister then she will move heaven and earth to stop Scotland being given an option to chose a better, more progressive, international and egalitarian national culture than post-Brexit Britain can offer.
Not least since without Scotland, the UK’s balance of payments deficit would collapse the UK economy and Sterling would sink below the dollar without Scottish exports of food and drink and oil and gas. She will also know that the EU wants to end the UK’s financial passporting rights and that will rip up to 100,000 jobs out of London to the remaining EU states.
If Scotland’s independence referendum is announced before the Brexit negotiations complete, then the only bargaining chip Theresa May has to retain financial passporting, is offering access to Scottish fishing waters, and if Scotland is to become independent with an option to be fast tracked to full EU membership after a period of EFTA/EEA single market access (if we want it) then May will enter the Brexit negotiations empty handed while simultaneously facing ScotRef, where the economic certainty of the single market, and potentially hundreds of thousands of new jobs would be on offer to an independent Scotland.