The disunited kingdom

The disunited kingdom

Neil Berry
The resignation of Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron following the referendum vote to leave the European Union (EU) has left Britain with a zombie government presiding over what may soon be a zombie state.
For the survival of the British state, the “United Kingdom” dominated by England and otherwise composed of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is now hugely in doubt.
Almost certainly, Scotland will hold a fresh referendum on membership of the United Kingdom, the majority of Scottish people having voted to remain in the EU. What happens in Scotland will greatly exercise many in the rest of the United Kingdom. After all, 48 percent of the British people who voted elected to remain in the European Union, with pro-EU sentiment especially strong in London.
Millions will never be reconciled to the referendum result. They include most members of Britain’s established racial minorities — albeit that some among them favored “Brexit,” British exit from the EU. They also include most of those who have come to live in Britain in recent years from Poland and Eastern Europe. How could it be otherwise when the Brexit campaign became a manifestation of white English nationalism, with stress on controlling immigration that spilled over into racist scaremongering?
Even before the referendum result was announced, reported instances of Islamophobia and abuse of Polish people were rising. Now, amid political and economic crisis, they are escalating dramatically.
White English nationalism is the hallmark of Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose relentless agitation for Brexit piled pressure on David Cameron to hold a referendum in order to appease Conservative MPs with UKIP sympathies.
As opinion polls indicated a swing toward Brexit, Farage unveiled an inflammatory poster showing him standing in front of an endless queue of refugees and headlined “Breaking Point.”
It was shortly afterwards that the Labour MP, Jo Cox, known for her work on behalf of refugees, was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency by a white Englishman who riddled her with bullets, shouting nationalist slogans as he did so. This did not stop Farage from exulting when the referendum went his way that his cause had prevailed “without a single bullet being fired.”
Farage’s poster, the murder of a left-wing politician by a man who, for all that he may have mental health issues, identifies with the racist hard right: There are echoes here of Europe’s dark past. There are echoes of it too in the cavalier disregard of facts by Farage and his fellow “Brexiteers,” Michael Gove and his fellow Conservative politician, the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who now seeks to lead the Tory Party. Pouring scorn on “experts,” they hugely exaggerated the sum of money that Britain pays to the European Union while portraying ordinary people as victims of undemocratic elites and exhorting them to ‘take back control’.
Such talk of betrayal has more than a hint of Hitler’s “stab in the back,” the Nazi dictator’s claim that Germany was defeated in the First World War because of the machinations of socialists and Jewish financiers. How ironic it would be if Britain, the country that has preened itself on winning two world wars and saving freedom and democracy, were to play a leading role in rekindling European fascism.
What is extraordinary about the Brexit campaign — the same applies to the campaign of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — is that rich men of privilege have inspired fervor among those of no privilege with their denunciations of elites. Nigel Farage is an alumnus of Dulwich College, one of Britain’s most exclusive schools; Boris Johnson attended the even more exclusive Eton. The world, it seems, has been turned upside down.
The great problem for the Brexiteers is that while adept at exploiting hostility to immigrants and the European Union they have no discernible plan for a post-EU Britain. Half a century ago, British intellectuals feared that their country, so recently a great world power, faced ruin. Yet British decline at that stage was relative. Now it threatens to become absolute. The melancholy thought is that in the nationalistic mountebanks who have taken Britain out of the European Union a misguided nation has got the leaders it deserves.
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