A year ago today – April Fool’s Day, in case you hadn’t noticed – I wrote a little piece I called ‘Nightmare’. In full, this post read:
“Taking liberties with the format, a little piece of 100 word flash ‘fiction,’ especially for today:
“It’s April 1 2020. The news is worrying. The UK General election is coming fast, and the country is veering towards a post-Brexit win for Nigel Farage’s renamed UK National Socialist Party. President Trump has just declared war on Mexico for its continuing refusal to pay for his wall, and has threatened Scotland with armed retaliation for the nationalisation of his golf course. President Putin and Wendy Deng now control her ex-husband’s media empire: their newspaper, Pravda of London, has begun circulating.
Am I dreaming? Is this real? A bad April Fool’s Day joke? Or is the world really stumbling towards oblivion?”
Far-fetched? I hope so, but there is so much happening now that makes me worried about our future. I hope I’m wrong! Happy April Fool’s Day!”
A year on, it seems an appropriate time to revisit this. Whilst the blossoming romance between Vladimir Putin and Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife doesn’t appear to have taken off I don’t think I was far wrong with the rest of that. I wrote it nearly three months before the UK referendum and seven months before the US election. Both my main nightmare scenarios came true, and the world now feels a scarier, less stable place as a result.
Whilst I could go on at length about the Orange One, on his mission to destroy the world in four years or fewer, my focus today is on my own country. It can’t have escaped any Briton’s notice that on Wednesday, 29 March, the letter from our Prime Minister was delivered to the EU, giving notice of the country’s intent to invoke Article 50 and withdraw from the EU in two years’ time. This has been described by some commentators as the most significant political act for this country since WW2. I’d go further: it’s probably the most significant act since Magna Carta was signed in 1215. It will change the whole shape of our country in ways that no one can predict and, on the basis of what we have seen since the referendum last June, I fear that many of these changes will be for the worse.
I don’t think even the most ardent Remainer would argue that there is nothing wrong with the EU. Rumours of corruption have long existed, and the suspicion that it is a vehicle for certain countries to promote their own agenda has long been present. I remember when we joined it was the European Economic Community (EEC) – in other words, a trading organisation. Since then – following the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 – it has expanded and become a more political union, moving towards a kind of federal United States of Europe, and opposition to that is what has, in my view, brought about the Brexit situation (how I hate that made-up word!). A great statesman said these words in 1946, in the immediate aftermath of WW2:
“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.”
That statesman was Winston Churchill, who had the vision to see that the US of E approach was needed for future stability. But Churchill was also a good symbol of the UK’s ambivalence towards this: in 1930 he gave a speech in which he said that Britain would always stand alone, and by 1953 he was saying that Britain wouldn’t be part of Europe! This is tied up with the issue of sovereignty, which gave rise to the Leave campaign’s claim that we were ‘taking our country back.’ Taking it back from whom, exactly? It wasn’t as though the UK had been the most committed member of the EU, was it? We had refused to adopt the Euro as our currency, had negotiated a large rebate on our contributions, and had expressed opposition to many EU objectives and wishes – the pan-European defence force being one such example. I don’t feel any less British than I did in 1973 when we joined the EEC, nor do I expect to feel any more British from 2019 onwards. Anyway, I’d challenge anyone to come up with a meaningful definition of what being British means, in terms of our ‘independence’ from Europe. My suspicion is that it will mean we become a nation seen as Little Englanders, convinced of our own superiority over ‘Johnny Foreigner,’ with all the xenophobic connotations that has. There has been much evidence since the vote to support this: after all, the Leave campaign’s main appeal was to our innate racism and the promise of reducing immigration (coupled with their lies on finances, and that bloody bus!).
The formal notification of our departure, together with the other 27 EU countries’ initial statement on their negotiating position, has highlighted for me the difficulties we will face as a country. Only a fool, or a myopic Brexiter, could believe that we will obtain equally favourable trading terms with those 27 countries from outside the EU. Notions of trade with the rest of the world appear to be based on an idea of Make Britain Great Again being to return to ‘traditional’ markets. The very ones that we have traded with less and less in recent years. All this at a time when one of the major markets – the US – is moving towards protectionism of its own industries. I can’t see a strong financial future coming out of this, realistically.
Politically, the situation is a shambles. The government tells us that as a nation we have a great future. But Scotland voted by a wide margin to remain in the EU and is now demanding a second independence referendum – after the ‘once in a lifetime’ vote of 2014. So, on the one hand, the PM is telling us how much better things will be when we come out of one union, whilst trying to explain the exact opposite in respect of our own country. Good luck with that – it may need more than the politician’s usual two faces to pull that one off! There’s also the issue of Gibraltar. Despite its proximity to Spain it has been a British territory since 1713. Gibraltar saw a huge margin in favour of staying in the EU, but is now faced with managing a volte face to stay ‘British.’ Spain already seems to have seen Brexit as an opportunity to raise this again, and whilst it does seem to be an outdated bastion of a colonial past, if Gibraltar sees itself as British, rather than Spanish or European, that needs to be respected. Gunboats in the harbour, anyone?
My feelings of disquiet about our uncertain future are, I believe, shared by many. The well-attended marches in London and other cities last weekend attest to this. Not that the BBC reported them to any degree. The simple act of delivering a letter was a momentous act, and I hope I’m wrong in thinking that the government is clueless as to how they will follow it up. We are already seeing falling exchange rates and higher prices, and that is only the tip of the iceberg. Things are going to get much worse before there can be any hope of seeing benefits. As Churchill also once said:
Our average voters have proved him right. Isn’t democracy wonderful!