Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

The requiem for the imminent breakup of the United Kingdom could only have been written by William Butler Yeats. For it is largely on the shores of the Emerald Isle that the rabid dreams of the Brexiter Brigade have run aground.  The groans you hear are the sounds of the ship of state as she slides into the choppy waters of the Irish Sea, breaking into pieces, each adrift in an increasingly uncertain world of darkness.

The farce of Brexit carries on. As we speak, on Saturday the 19th of October, Parliament sat on a Saturday – which it very rarely does. The Prime Minister presented his deal. On the order paper for the day was an Amendment proposed by Sir Oliver Letwin, one of the former Conservative MPs expelled by the Tories for voting against it. The Amendment says that unless the enabling legislation required for actually implementing the Deal is passed, the House will withhold approval for the meaningful vote to be cast today – Meaningful vote being the term used to distinguish this vote from a No Confidence vote, and hence a vote the Government can lose without being obligated to resign.

MP after MP made the same set speeches until the Letwin Amendment was first put to vote. It passed 322-306 – anothe defeat for the Government. Seeing this, the Government refused to present the Deal for a meaningful vote. Despite an Act of Parliament obligating the PM to ask for a delay, the Prime Minister left making threatening noises as to how he will disobey the law. Last night he sent a letter to the EU – unsigned! – asking for a delay to comply with the instructions of Parliament. Jean-Claude Juncker testily told the Press immediately that he will not support any further delay.

Brexit as the fantasists wanted it, was always going to be undeliverable. The key was how Northern Ireland was going to be handled. In the end the Unionists in Northern Ireland saw that this bunch of extremists who run HMG were willing to countenance Northern Ireland potentially rejoining the Irish Republic in order to get their deal. They were aghast and will now vote against Brexit. Why it took them three years to come to this realisation, God alone knows.

Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU during the Referendum. The right wing Protestant Democratic Unionist Party took sops worth a billion pounds to prop up the minority Conservative Government, believing that somehow the EU will sacrifice the Republic of Ireland and allow Northern Ireland to keep its status quo while remaining part of the UK. They made the mistake of trusting Boris Johnson to do this – and he has just shafted them. They will vote against the Government. Sinn Fein have welcomed this deal as have the Irish – it is very clear that the only way ahead is to rejoin the Republic of Ireland – close to a hundred years after the Island was partitioned after the Irish War of Independence.

Meanwhile about 300,000 people marched in Trafalgar Square in favour of staying in the EU. Such marches have taken place at least half a dozen times. While the Remain marches have been peaceful, the marches led by the Leave side have been thuggish and xenophobic.

The new deal is disastrous – worse than the one Theresa May presented. It has made the wooden Theresa May appear like a stateswoman in contrast.

As part of the Agreement, Britain will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. This is a disastrous, self-inflicted wound. It means tariffs will apply on all British goods entering the EU. And vice versa of course, but EU absorbs a very large part of British manufacture and services.

Since Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland, and since the Good Friday Agreement hinges on an open border between the Catholic south and the Protestant north, the deal guarantees that Northern Ireland will be part of the Single Market and the Customs Union.  However, the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union border will now lie in the Irish Sea.

Think about it. How would we react if – say – Arunachal Pradesh stays a part of India but it functions as a unit of the Chinese economy, such that any goods moving from Guwahati to Tezu (and vice versa) are subject to the Trade Agreements between India and China?

British businesses have already warned the Government that losing market access means they will have to relocate to the continent. Among the most upset are the Japanese. In the early 1980s the then Japanese Prime Minister met Mrs Thatcher who encouraged Japanese investment in the UK as the British were driving the creation of the Single Market and hence would facilitate easy export of Japanese goods into Europe.  The Japanese consider this a long term commitment that served the national interests of both countries and do not understand how Britain can sacrifice its own national interest.

The biggest casualty will be Scotland. The Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, spoke with passion and emotion, to urge Parliament not to vote in a deal that cuts Scotland off from the EU. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. He said “If this deal passes there is only way for Scotland – independence. I would ask the EU to leave a light on for Scotland”.  It is very likely that Scotland will call a new referendum – whether or not it has sanction in Westminster – and will leave the UK. After all the Union of 1707 was voluntary. Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party have taken Scotland for granted and the UK will pay the price.

Even tiny Wales, which desperately wants to stay in the EU, now has a strong independence movement. Wales disappeared into the United Kingdom 700 years ago!

If the Deal passes, in a very short while, the United Kingdom will cease to exist. We will go back to the days prior to 1707. This is what the Conservative and Unionist Party – the party of Empire, economic good sense and values – would have accomplished, aided and abetted by a Marxist Labour Party, assisted by a strange sense of Constitutional reticence by the Queen as Head of State who helplessly watches her beloved United Kingdom implode under the weight of contradictions created by Brexit.

Brexiters have successfully labelled a badly designed advisory Referendum, that was narrowly won by the Leave Campaign,  as an overwhelming mandate from the people. The mistake was to leave such an important question to the public without laying out the options or spelling out the consequences.  The second mistake was, once the Referendum was won by the Leave side, the tin-eared successor to David Cameron, Theresa May, made no attempt to genuinely explain what the options were and to try and generate a cross-party consensus to present some options to the EU before triggering the letter (under Article 50 of the EU Constitution) to leave the EU. Instead she put out four Red Lines before the negotiations even began, thereby painting herself into a negotiating position she was never going to be able to achieve.

If you thought that the Leader of the Opposition should have been able to stop it, think again. The Labour Party have wasted their time indulging in puerile debates about Marxism, anti Semitism, nationalising state industries and some repetitive, dull wittering about “Jobs First Brexit” – whatever that means. The Left and the Right are united in one thing – they dislike the EU for different reasons. The Leader of the Opposition could have pinned the Tories to the mat. But he has been ineffective and is unelectable.

Even if the vote does take place and the Prime Minister wins, it is not the end of the story. Britain has to negotiate a new Free Trade Agreement with the EU in an attempt to gain access to the market – having just voluntarily given it up. If they fail to get such an agreement in one year – an unrealistically short period of time – then Britain leaves without an FTA. Most members of the hard-line European Research Group (of which Jacob Rees Mogg is the leader) want this deal because this is the desired endgame.

The EU is sick of Britain, sick of the Conservatives, and they just want the UK to go. The older and wiser Angela Merkel is more emollient and would like to give the UK more time but the French President Francois Macron is very clear – the UK leaves on October 31 if this vote is won.

The deal will be presented again and it is, however, very likely it will get passed – even though it leaves Britain worse off than in the case of all other proposals.

The deal when it is passed, will be by a fearful bunch of MPs more worried about getting re-elected from their constituencies in the General Election that is imminent, despite their personal beliefs and convictions to the contrary. 

It will be passed by a set of very wealthy MPs who sit on estates both in and outside the United Kingdom, who see this disastrous deal as nothing more than the buying opportunity of a century while they place their bets to short the Pound.

The warriors for the cause are MPs who fervently believe that Britain is exactly where it was in 1939, alone and vulnerable, battling the world alone while the fearsome Hun threaten our shores.

The buglers are a few members who believe in an ultra-libertarian world bereft of international obligations and treaties, that will return England to those heady days of 1599, when Thomas Smythe created the East India Company and Britannia ruled the waves.

And there are those wish nothing more than a return to the Enid Blyton world of a white England without all these black, brown and foreign people chattering in our buses and polluting our clean English air with the smell of their curries and pirozhkis.

The General leading the charge? Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. A serial liar, a man bereft of convictions, fired from three previous jobs on ethics charges, father of two illegitimate children, a man who months before the Referendum passionately declared his belief in the EU only to change sides, elected by Conservative Party members who are about 70,000 people above the age of 70, who has consistently behaved on the principle that what would be best for Boris is best for Britain.

There is no blood-dimmed tide yet. But all the other warnings that Yeats sounded in “The Second Coming” are coming true. Britain today is run by politicians of little character, little conviction and no vision.

William Dalrymple says that the British have never – to paraphrase Robert Burns – “seen ourselves as others see us”.  Ideas of British exceptionalism have been fed by hagiographies of Empire which portray the British as an adventurous, highly moral race who fought long odds and brought civilisation and modernity to the heaving masses of India and Africa. This has created a class of people who are hugely ignorant of their own history. This is the creation of an education system that seems to pander to low level skill creation, and to cultivating the cult of the individual, rewarding elegant expression over integrity of thought.

Only elder statesmen like John Major, Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke and Tony Blair point to the fact that Britain is looking to give up a place at the top table of politics – an inexcusable political act. But no one is listening to them.

The country’s belief in Brexit is like a panacea to solve all its problems. For many, this is the Second Coming. Perhaps I should leave you with the concluding lines from Yeats.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

7 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart

  1. Ah well. I wouldn’t let the MPs too easily off the hook either. They have been saying NO to everything so far. If they had said Yes to anything and then argued that the Johnson deal was bad, then I would have some sympathy for them. They have thus far rejected every possible proposal that has been tabled. That is the height of irresponsibility. I won’t let Bercow off the hook either. Instead of his pedantic lectures and bullying, he should have been telling the House that they have to vote for something – not reject everything. For example he could have bullied the amendment movers to move up and down motions – if you reject an amendment, then you have to vote for another amendment. If you reject the bill in toto, you have to vote for all amendments – or whatever.

    Given where you have reached, there is no option now. You have to go with the Johnson deal. Scotland will certainly secede. Use the one year FTA time to try your best to get as closely aligned a trade deal as possible with the EU and try and keep Northern Ireland at least in the Union. And then make the best of a bad bargain and move forward. It’s not the end of the world.

    And in the next election throw out all the extremists. The ERG, the Marxists, the whole lot. Time for a government of national unity between centrist Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem. Of course this is a pipe dream. But them I am not a citizen and can therefore irresponsibly pontificate !

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    1. Take a look the following paragraphs, which are seminal in the discussion of Brexit. It is from The New Yorker today.

      “During the debate on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit deal in the United Kingdom’s Parliament on Saturday—which ended, as these things often have, with a vote calling for another delay—Johnson exposed the most basic blindness of Brexit itself. Nigel Dodds, the parliamentary leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, had just denounced the deal that Johnson arrived at with the European Union last week as a deep, bitter betrayal. The deal includes customs checks in the Irish Sea on goods travelling between the rest of the U.K. and Northern Ireland. Where, Dodds asked, was the chance for both sides in Northern Ireland—unionists like him, who want to remain an integral part of the U.K., and the nationalists, whose ultimate goal is to unite with the Republic of Ireland—to consent to such a deal? After all, the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which put an end to the period of sectarian violence known as the Troubles, calls for cross-community support for major, controversial changes in Northern Ireland’s status quo.

      In rising to respond to Dodds, Johnson acknowledged the coöperation his government had hitherto received from the D.U.P., which supports Brexit and has helped to supply the Conservatives with their majority in Parliament. They also enabled Johnson’s rise to power by helping to scuttle an earlier deal that his predecessor, Theresa May, had reached with the E.U. (That deal was defeated in Parliament three times, forcing May’s resignation.) If it were not for the D.U.P.’s resolve, Johnson said, he wouldn’t have been able to convince the Europeans to make the compromises that he believed his new deal represented. But, “in all frankness,” he said, he found it “a pity that it is thought necessary for one side or the other in the debate in Northern Ireland to have a veto on those arrangements.” As he said this, there were cries of protest in the House, as Johnson arrived at the heart of Brexit.

      “The people of this country have taken a great decision embracing the entire four nations of this country”—that is, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—“by a simple majority vote that went 52–48, which we are honoring now.” (This was the 2016 Brexit referendum.) Johnson continued, “And I think that principle should be applied elsewhere. And I see no reason why it should not be applied in Northern Ireland, as well.”

      In other words, Brexit long ago entered a realm in which subsidiary obligations—to obtaining the consent of the constituent parts of the country, to their union, to changing circumstances, to international obligations, to good sense—have fallen away. The Irish border is the most obvious example. Brexit represents an extreme and controversial change in the status quo in Northern Ireland. The peace brought about by the Good Friday agreement relied on the effective invisibility of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Brexit threatened either to reimpose it or turn it into a beacon for smugglers moving goods between the E.U. and the U.K.—to sabotage peace, the all-island economy, the integrity of the single market, the Republic’s standing in the E.U., or all four. In the referendum, a majority in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit. The referendum represented a trashing both of the Good Friday agreement’s consent principle and, potentially, of all its good works. And yet it proceeded; it did so, once again, with the D.U.P.’s support and with remarkably little attention from just about everybody else to the concerns of the Irish on both sides of the border. That failure is what defines Brexit.”

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  2. Thanks Ramesh.

    The problem is – most MPs other than about a 100 vocal Brexiters are actually Remainers. There is very little conviction that Brexit is the right thing to do for the country. Parliamentary procedure is a straitjacket and the whipping system is still very powerful.

    AS for me personally, I will open parlays with the people at Belfast. May be buy a flat or something and show residence in Northern Ireland. It clearly seems the place to be!

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  3. In my simple world, Britian should just traipse over The English Channel to Europe, spit into the palms of their hands, the American way, shake and say…Look here old chap. What say you we put all this behind us and forget it ever happened and let things go back to how it was. But then what does a simpleton know, right!

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    1. Most of life’s intractable problems can be solved if people just admit that they got it wrong and shook hands on it. It is the wise thing to do – and not the way of a simpleton! In the case of the UK I wish a PM would do just that. But there is no with character around. The remedy you advocate requires enormous strength of character. Thanks for leaving a comment!

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  4. By the way, quoting from Yeats was absolutely brilliant because his words certainly ring true and it is surprisingly prophetic. What a great connection you made Ravi. Hats off!

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