Now that Brexit is indisputably established as one of the most monumentally stupid pieces of self-inflicted injury by a developed nation this century, other nations are learning key lessons from its mistakes.
Brexit hasn’t happened yet. In other news, the UK economy’s growth is currently outstripping that of all of its European neighbours, particularly Germany. Sure, the onmishambles that the British are currently suffering in Westminster is a national embarrassment but I’m not seeing much that could be called a “self-inflicted injury”.
The concept behind Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was that it would recover its sovereignty. On the day that Britons voted by 52 per cent to 48 in favour, its main cheerleader, Nigel Farage, declared it “independence day”. That was nearly three years ago.
Other than padding to hit the word count, I’m not sure what this tells us that anyone not living under a rock doesn’t already know. Three years, you say? Article 50 was always going to be at least a two year process, as advertised during the referendum campaign.
Today the country is a global laughing stock. It’s in an interminable dead-end, neither able to move forwards nor back. It’s lost investment and jobs, political stability, national credibility and, perhaps worst of all, it’s inflicted new anger and division within British society.
Let’s take those statements one at a time, shall we?
The country is a global laughing stock – Maybe. Or perhaps the politicians are the source of amusement. As for Britons caring what others think of them; there are only about 20 countries in the world, i.e. 10%, who we’ve not had a bit of a ruck with in the past. As Millwall fans chant, “Everyone hates us, and we don’t care”.
Dead end? Perhaps, but again, if the politicians can’t pull their fingers out of their arses by 11pm on Friday we’ll be moving one way…. out of the EU.
Lost investment? See the previous comment about the relative strength of the economy. Also, predicting what would have happened to an economy if something hadn’t happened is a mug’s game. QV the Bank of England’s predictions of Armageddon should the vote go the “wrong” way.
Lost jobs? Unemployment is the lowest it’s been for decades.
Political stability? Yes, and as we can see, the politicians have been found wanting. More instability please.
National credibility? This is from a journalist who presumably would claim he comes from a democratic country yet they change Prime Minister every 18 months and government every 36 months. Oh, and they’re in the insalubrious club of nations that enforce voting by law.
Anger and division? Yes, mainly concentrated at those paid to do a job and yet can’t.
Across the other 27 members of the EU, the main lesson learnt is that it’d be a bad idea to follow Britain out the door. In one country after another, the political parties that were inspired by Brexit have dumped their campaigns.
This isn’t quite giving the message Peter thinks it does. Perhaps nobody should wish to be in a club that punishes you for leaving? See also; Islam.
Two years ago, the French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was demanding a referendum on whether to leave the EU, a Frexit, as was known. Today she speaks of making the EU work better. Italy’s Matteo Salvini of the League ran a right-wing nationalist campaign to reject the EU common currency, the euro, but now, as deputy prime minister, he has stopped using the hashtag #BastaEuro – enough of the euro. The idea is now effectively moribund. In Austria, the Freedom Party dropped its call for a referendum on dumping the euro and joined a coalition government that favours the status quo.
Again, Peter’s not really giving the message he thinks he is here. Some of us read this as a declaration of hostilities against any population that dares to defy the will of the EU. That’s a club nobody sane should wish to join.
Britain’s experience with Brexit has shown the world such pointless ugliness that it has boosted support for the EU to its highest in 35 years. Specifically, according to a Eurobarometer survey last year, two-thirds of Europeans say that their country has benefited from EU membership.
A survey commissioned by the EU found the EU was good? That’s some high kwality journalisming there, Peter. Bravo.
In Canada, Brexit is being used as an object lesson for secessionists in the French-speaking province of Quebec: “It has given us a picture of what actual attempts to withdraw from a long-established legislative union, as opposed to fantasies, look like,” says the National Post’s Andrew Coyne. “In particular, it has permanently discredited once-common claims that secession from Canada would be a quick and relatively painless affair.”
The Quebecois want to secede from Canada? Really, when did this shocking development occur and please explain to me again the subtle reason why nearly every Canadian Prime Minister always seems to have to come from Montreal?
This point carries particular force for any Australian thinking of voting for Clive Palmer, who is running candidates across the country for the federal election in a shameless attempted comeback even as his creditors try to recover hundreds of millions from his collapsed Queensland Nickel.
Palmer proposes that North Queensland break away and form a separate, new state. Ironic, perhaps, for his so-called United Australia Party. Palmer has learnt nothing from Brexit. He is either a buffoon or an irresponsible populist.
That’s the sound of Peter jumping a shark. Clive Palmer has three fifths of fuck all support from the Australian population, he’s lucky to get a majority of support in his own family. Brexit, on the other hand won a majority in the biggest democratic turn out in British history.
And this is the first lesson that Australia, like countries everywhere, should learn from Brexit. Populists offer emotional appeals that lead to dead ends, just as Farage led Britain to Brexit.
An alternate lesson might be, voting for anything the ruling class don’t like is a futile gesture. Better to let the politicians and journalists make all the difficult decisions and you lot can go back to watching Married at First Sight.
There are many definitions of populism. The one I prefer is that populism offers unworkably simple solutions to complex problems. Palmer is not the only populist on the ballot paper at the federal election. One Nation is another standout. Single-issue parties are no better.
“….unworkably simple solutions to complex problems”. I think you’ve just described every opinion column and editorial in your publication, Peter.
Brexit has been described as a crisis of many types. A crisis of national identity, a crisis of leadership, a crisis of the Tory party, a crisis of British politics, a crisis of democracy, a constitutional crisis, and so on. And you can make a solid case for each of these claims. But, at its broadest, the Brexit dead end is a crisis of overpoliticisation. That is, every realistic and practical element of the national interest is lost to a self-interested free-for-all, like hyenas preying on the body politic.
Brexit has also been described as the British people doing what the British people do very well; holding the ruling class to account occasionally. The alternative approach, as demonstrated in “less happy lands” (to quote The Bard), is violent revolution.
The triumph of Farage’s populist “Leave” campaign dealt Britain a jolting blow to the head, disorienting the political system and signalling to the politicians that it was time to let their inner hyenas out. Overpoliticisation is not simply where a government can’t get its way in an uncooperative parliament. That is standard in a democracy. It will often occur for perfectly legitimate reasons of difference over principle or policy. It often happens that the Australian Senate, which was designed to represent a different priority of interests to the House, will block legislation that has passed the lower house.
Brexit is not overpoliticisation; it’s 17.4 million people explaining to about 400 MPs that they have an opinion that’s 180 degrees different to theirs and, lest you forget, we pay your salaries.
As the chaos of the British parliament demonstrates, overpoliticisation is where there is a breakdown of any goodwill or discipline within the parties themselves. It can’t happen here? It already has. In Australia’s case, it was not as all-encompassing as Brexit. But the pathetic tale of climate change and energy policy in Australia over the last decade is a clear case of overpoliticisation. The net result so far is a policy dead end, where a government of six years is about to go to an election without an energy policy.
Brexit and Australia’s woeful energy policy are linked? That’s a bloody long bow to draw.
Electricity prices have soared, companies are being put out of business, Australia’s carbon emissions commitment is in doubt, and the entire power grid is approaching collapse. As the Australian Energy Market Commission reported last week, “the grid is holding up but only because the energy market operator is intervening on a daily basis to keep the lights on”. And this in a country that is an energy superpower.
This national failure didn’t happen because of the routine operation of Australia’s political system. First a Labor government, and then Coalition ones, proved unable to cohere around a policy. The parties fractured within. Labor struck down its own prime minister over an emissions trading system, pitching the Rudd and Gillard governments into a disarray that neither recovered from.
Then it was the Coalition’s turn. Even after Malcolm Turnbull got his National Energy Guarantee through the Liberal party room, a revolt detonated the policy and destroyed the prime minister.
In the cases of Labor and Liberal, it was a free-for-all, without the party discipline that a Westminster system requires or the goodwill to agree on a compromise. No democracy can function without compromise.
The hyenas fed amid the chaos in a frenzy of self-interest and self-indulgence, and the Australian electorate was disgusted. Labor paid the price, and now it seems the Coalition will pay the same price at next month’s election.
All of which can be summarised as, “Australian politicians pushed an agenda that was directly against the wishes of the electorate and now they are struggling to explain why a country rich in coal and uranium has the most expensive electricity in the world”.
Britain’s madness is broader, deeper and more intractable, but Australia has shown over the last decade that it, too, is capable of ruinous over-politicisation. No matter how bad the tragi-comedy of Brexit, Australia cannot be smug.
Peter Hartcher is international editor.
Peter Hartcher is lacking self-awareness, an ability for introspection and is probably of the opinion that he is objective.