America/Britain — the new Axis of Evil?
So, as Trump rides a wave of populism in the US and Brexiteers are pushing for Britain to exit the EU immediately following a referendum based on lies and false promises, where are we, ‘the West’ at this moment in time, summer 2016? Are we seeing the birth of a new axis of evil in which the former nations that prided themselves on spreading democracy and peace throughout the world will be the ones to bring about the destruction of that very democracy and peace?
The 20th century saw the rise of America as the ‘world’s policeman’. Derided as it might be by many countries across the world for taking on that role, it cannot be denied that the world is more peaceful with a strong America at the helm. Remember that I am writing this from the perspective of a European. How people in other parts of the world, especially Asia, might view America is something I cannot and would not seek to write about.
The US is the first country to colonise other countries not via war, but via the spreading of consumer goods and services. People across the world benefit from American capitalism. No doubt many also suffer, but as I want to make clear, I am writing solely from a European perspective.
Britain in the 20th century has been in decline for much of the second half, and it is arguable that that decline began after the First World War. It lost its Empire in the 1950s and 1960s. The resulting decline in wealth and prosperity led to the country joining the Common Market in 1972, a decision which resulted in a decades-long love-hate relationship (largely hate in the UK’s case). The media, particularly its virulent right-wing tabloids but also more sedate outlets such as the Telegraph and the Times, allowed themselves to revel in scapegoating the EU and Europeans for any real and imaginary ills affecting the country. That the country would vote for Brexit should have been clear to any astute observer of British political discourse, but obviously wasn’t. Politicians such as David Cameron, Boris Johnson (who I am pretty sure voted for Remain. Just my opinion) or George Osborne were clearly deluded enough to imagine that the British people would take the safe and easy option of voting Remain. None of these politicians, and many others, had any idea of the poisonous ideology that right-wing papers such as The Sun or the Mail were pouring into the ears of their readers. Let us remind ourselves that Liverpool, in which The Sun is not sold and which suffers from as much destitution as most of the rest of the North, voted Remain. This is an ideology that even now, six weeks after the referendum is inciting hatred against EU migrants by complaining that 3 million EU migrants can’t be ‘booted out’ (The Sun, 2 Aug 2016).
It is now self-evident to everyone except the most ferocious Brexiteers that Brexit won’t be easy and quick. Instead, as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office admitted in an answer to a parliamentary question Brexit will be a huge challenge.
As a result, one of three scenarios will happen:
- No Brexit at all. the Government will spend the next four years repeating the mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ but not actually getting anywhere. Remember that Greenland took three years to exit the EU and they had one issue to discuss — fishing. Which doesn’t exactly bode well for the UK’s fishing negotiations, let alone all the others. Result: anger from UKIP and the far-right and a rise in support for those parties. Theresa May will be hounded by the far-right Tories in her party who might even defect to UKIP. She will have to hope for a sizeable majority in 2020 to shut them up. UKIP might indeed become the next opposition party (seeing as Labour are on a self-immolation course and providing UKIP can emerge from its own chaos).
- Brexit in the next four years, but the UK will get special status with a ten-year long exemption on freedom of movement rules. It will still have to pay EU fees, but will not get a seat at the table. This solution will please few, although Remainers will be naturally happier than Brexiteers. Result: Rise in UKIP/Far right, far-right Tories will rage, possibly defect to UKIP.
- Hard Brexit in the next four years, resulting in the UK economy collapsing (and I mean, collapsing. It won’t be a fairly short-term recession such as the financial crisis of 2008 precipitated. This will be the long hard struggle of a serious depression that could last a decade or more). If this happens, we will see a contraction in the economy that could take a generation to recoup. My daughter and her peers might be ok, my generation won’t. Scotland will probably leave the UK once the economic consequences have become clear leaving a rump Little Britain that will struggle to find a role for itself in the new world order. I come from Austria. My country lived through such a seismic period in 1918 when it lost huge amounts of territory. Over the next twenty years it struggled to regain any sense of identity, a situation that led to the Anschluss. Enough said. A country like Little Britain would be ripe pickings for any far-right demagogue waiting in the wings.
So here we have it. Britain will see a rise in the popularity of the far right over the coming decade, no matter what happens. America is already dangerously close to electing a demagogue and fascist. Once Trump is elected (and I firmly believe he will be for, as we saw with Brexit, hate and anger win the day), it will not be long before we find Britain bowing to him as they seek to retain US links. As Britain seeks to tie itself closer to the US by trade as it recedes from the EU, and as anger about Brexit (hard or soft) will grow, will the inevitable excesses of President Trump stop them in their tracks, or will they ignore these excesses and indeed, seek to emulate him? Might we then have a situation where President Trump is aligned with Russian PResident Putin and Turkish dictator Erdogan, and Britain decides to throw its fate in with that alliance rather than the EU? Will the EU, led by Germany, then become what Britain and the US were in 1939, the saviours of mankind? Or will the EU crumble as Europe also falls to the fascists and racists of the 21st century?