17 Sep 2019 19:30 IST

Britain and its failures

One of the world’s oldest democracies is becoming an ungovernable mess

A little over four years ago, the United Kingdom went to the polls and elected David Cameron to become Prime Minister. In 2016, he announced a referendum for the UK to leave Europe. The historic Brexit vote was held and the Leavers prevailed narrowly. He resigned.

Theresa May took over and the UK went to the polls again in 2017 to help strengthen her hand to honour the Brexit mandate. But a year is a long time in politics, and intense lobbying by the elites had caused people to begin to have second thoughts about Brexit. While May’s Conservatives won, they did so with a narrower majority, weakening their hand in Parliament.

For two years, poor May shuttled from Whitehall to Brussels to negotiate a clean Brexit. She failed and stepped down, handing over the reins to Boris Johnson in July. He tried to force Parliament to honour the referendum by clever maneuvers, such as suspending Parliament for a few additional weeks. The world erupted at his “undemocratic” stance, completely ignoring the fact that it is far more undemocratic to derail the results of a constitutional referendum.

Polls again

The country is now set to go to the polls again with the Brexit deadline still on October 31. The Parliament voted overwhelmingly to require the PM to negotiate an extension with the EU into early January, as though, the Parliament will magically find a solution to an intractable problem when it has failed to do so for over 3 years. Johnson has thus far correctly refused to agree to talk to the EU, insisting that Britain will leave the EU, deal or no deal, on October 31. If new elections are held, the UK could well have a fourth PM — all in under five years.

In the meantime, Irish Catholics are salivating at the thought of realising their dream of a United Ireland by supporting Northern Ireland’s Customs break away from Great Britain. For the Catholics, it’s just that justice is coming back to them after a long time. The Brits, after all, fought with the island of Ireland in the 1920s and artificially created an inland border separating Catholics and Protestants, into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively.

Tactically, the Irish Catholics are in agreement with the 28 members of the EU, all of whom favour the so-called Irish backstop solution which deems to create a unified Ireland for Customs purposes. Under the backstop proposal, any exports of goods to the EU from Scotland, Wales, and England, which form the island nation of Great Britain, would be inspected in Northern Ireland, although Northern Ireland is part of the UK. Once they pass inspection, they would have met EU standards and will move into the 28-state common market freely, without borders. The Protestants, who fought for nearly 30 years to have Northern Ireland be a part of the UK are clearly furious with the EU and the Remain elite.

Scotland, which favours being part of the EU, is unhappy at what’s going on in London. Scottish leaders, who previously tried to separate from Great Britain and failed, are now talking about restarting a movement towards Scottish independence.

Resolutions and mess

So, a simple binary referendum — Leave/Remain — threatens to tear apart a former colonial power which was so ubiquitous during its heyday that the term, “The sun never sets on the British Empire” described it all. But just because they ruled the world didn’t mean that they were good in dispute resolution. In fact, Great Britain’s incompetence, virally exposed on social media during the last four years, has been evident to colonial nation states for at least 100 years.

Just about every dispute in which the UK was either involved in or helped lead to a resolution has ended up in a mess. Even after 72 years of India’s Independence, India and Pakistan continue to be adversaries over Kashmir. British incompetence in Palestine, first acquiring it from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1910s, vacillating between the Arabs and Jews for 30 years, and then walking away after World War II, further strengthened the seeds of discord between these two peoples.

Britain has been involved in every major conflict in West Asia — Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, and Afghanistan. Even in North Africa, Britain’s record of management has been terrible. Sudan, one of the world’s worst humanitarian trouble spots, was a British colony for nearly 60 years until Sudan’s independence in 1956.

If there’s one thing the UK has proven over the last 100 years, it is that it does not have a Midas touch to disputes. The people of the UK are beginning to realise this grim fact only now because for the first time, they are the victims.