It looks as though the game is still on to thwart Brexit by any means possible; in theory the UK is supposed to leave on Friday, but whereas withdrawing Article 50 requires an act of parliament, as does any deal agreed with the EU, apparently extending the 29th March deadline required only a letter. No doubt the shenanigans played out in the commons yesterday are aimed at either forcing Brits to accept a leave-in-name-only agreement or cancelling Brexit altogether. At this point, I’d be very surprised if either of these is not the final outcome; leaving with no deal looks almost impossible from here, as MPs and Bercow simply move the goalposts every time it looks imminent.
So what we have is rock-solid confirmation that the political classes are happy to ignore voters, break promises, circumvent laws, and generally make things up as they go as if they running an island nation with little industry except bananas. Furthermore, there is a sizeable section of the country – mainly the urban professional classes – who are quite happy with this, and genuinely believe their position is morally sound. From what I can tell, most believe the referendum was rigged and the vote should never have been held; they also think if Britain doesn’t leave the EU, it will be as if the whole thing never happened except the oiks will now be aware of their own stupidity.
So what will happen? The first thing is the Conservative party will implode, because the number of ordinary people willing to tramp the streets knocking on doors will plummet. Canvassing for the Tories is hard enough as it is; what’s a volunteer supposed to reply when a householder says “Why should I vote for you? I voted for Brexit and you cancelled it.” Leave-voting Tories will simply stay at home, and combined with defections to The Independent Group they’ll be incapable of forming a government outside a coalition ever again. Traditional Labour voters will abandon their party, and seek a new home. Into this vacuum will spring all sorts of new parties ranging from half-sensible to insane, none of which can form a government but together can do enough to prevent either of the major parties doing so either. Labour may be the first to recover by ejecting Corbyn and installing a centrist leader, but the damage will be done.
Disgruntled leave voters will take every opportunity to punish the ruling classes, casting their vote in whichever way will make their lives more difficult. Single-issue parties will attract protest votes, and some candidates offering some rather unpleasant policies might gain a seat or two, throwing coalitions into chaos. The European elections will be entertaining affairs where leavers turn out in droves to send the most rabid anti-European parties to Brussels in order to embarrass the politicians back home. So just from a political standpoint, Britain will become a lot harder to govern and it’s not like the current crop of politicians were competent beforehand. They’ll no longer be able to blame the EU without their constituents hurling them into a void, which is probably what’s terrifying a lot of them right now.
I said things will get ugly, and I stand by that. I don’t think we’ll see mass protests and violence like we’ve seen with the gilets jaunes in France, most Brits don’t have the stomach for that and will get slaughtered in the streets by riot police who have no qualms about laying into the citizens on behalf of the ruling powers. But ugliness can take many forms, and one of the things which made Britain a lot prettier than most countries is the degree of social cooperation. In the main, Brits like to do the right thing, to do whatever’s necessary to help everyone and everything rub along as best as possible. This means obeying laws, not acting in an anti-social manner, and generally cooperating with the authorities. In some levels of society this never happened, and thanks to the importation of millions of foreigners from quite different cultures, social trust and cohesion has already been severely eroded. I expect we’re going to see this process accelerate, and really take hold among the middle classes. Passive aggression, indifference, and acts of spite will become far more prevalent among people who could previously have been relied upon to make small sacrifices and do the right thing.
For example, I’d be willing to bet fly-tipping increases, along with vandalism. More people will abuse the system, particularly the NHS. Citizens calling in to report crimes will fall, and policemen and other obvious representatives of the government will say levels of abuse have increased. Which won’t actually be the case, it will just seem like it because fewer people will have a kind word and they’ll be ignored more frequently while the underclasses carry on as normal. Tax fraud will increase, people will feel less guilty about cheating the VAT man by paying in cash, more people will see the government as an authority to be opposed and outwitted rather than cooperated with for the good of society. In other words, Britain will become more like Spain, Greece, and Italy. I expect we’ll also see instances of vindictive legislation being passed; the complaining from the City of London when the EU finally passes its financial transaction tax will be music to the ears of many Leavers. We can expect wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, removal of the charitable statuses of private schools, and other class-based laws proposed out of sheer spite by minority parties who know such moves can win them votes from people who feel let down by the professional classes.
If Brexit doesn’t happen, I think we’re going to see a tough few years in Britain as social cohesion erodes and politics fragments. Getting anything meaningful done will be nigh-on impossible, despite desperate calls from Westminster about “unity” and “moving on”. I suspect it will become a rather unpleasant place to live, especially London which will be the main battleground between the professional classes, the EU, and the rest of the country. Banana republics are rarely success stories, and Britain will be no different. What will probably surprise the professional classes when the effects start to bite is how nonchalantly they chose to go down this path.