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Is Brexit Killing Democracy?

Terry H Schwadron

Sept. 4, 2019

Looked on from afar, the Brexit situation looks worse and worse by the day — in part, because it is so reflective of our own American isolationist and increasingly authoritarian ways.

At the beginning and end of the British issues involved in breaking off from the rest of Europe is the notion that the British leadership is slavishly following an ideology, while ignoring basic humanitarian and democratic values and the wide array of financial and security arrangements.

By last night, when Parliament finally rebelled against a would-be authoritarian Boris Johnson, there may be a snap election and there were questions about where British government itself is headed. As here, the deep divisions triggered largely by immigration and nationalism are rippling much wider.

What’s worse is that Donald Trump is egging on those favoring a no-rules exit, applauding the underlying anti-immigrant, Britain-first and only thinking that leaders so want to call populist. As we know, if no agreement about how to operate in a new environment is forthcoming, Europe simply will divorce Britain at the end of October.

Companies doing business internationally, students, immigrants, travelers, those depending on crossing borders will be thrown into certain chaos, and, in some instances, as in the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland proper, we can expect forecasted harm on both sides.

In the meantime, we’re seeing a battle between one form of chaos and another.

A more cynical, if realistic, view of all this is that Trump is waiting for the crash, with the promise of a large Anglo-American trade deal in the works that will heavily favor the United States. If the chaos is as bad as predicted by bankers, universities, technology companies and manufacturers, the prospects of a bilateral business deal that helps to settle things down a bit would be most welcome, goes the thinking.

And that would make Donald Trump a hero, in the months before our elections.

In other words, Trump can be seen here as wanting as much chaos as possible just so that his proposed fixes will look like a godsend.

A clean break from Brexit will mean disruption of supply lines for food and medicine, forced rewrites of who is a Briton and how you can enter the country, a new currency, endangered international relations in many areas and stranded internationalists in Britain.

Why do these vocal, if minority Britons want it? It’s strictly to be Britain First and left to their own say in matters like immigration and getting out from under the rule of a shared European economy.

What is concerning, of course, is not only the chaotic destination, but how we get there. The British parliament has showed itself to be in gridlock over accepting any of the various compromises towards some rule-setting under Brexit, prompting the change in prime ministers from Theresa May to Boris Johnson, a Trump-like figure who has yet to show himself as a world leader. Using an arcane rule, he essentially has postponed recall of the Parliament until just before the Brexit deadline, essentially stripping Britain’s democratic voice, and now threatening to oust anyone in his own Conservative Party who defies him. And new defections now threaten whether he can even continue in the job without new elections.

To my ear, this is too close for comfort to Trump’s White House ignoring Congressional committee subpoenas and executive orders that defy American law. It is a drive not only for adoption of Brexit for Britain or a Wall for Americans, but the claim that this a demand from a wide majority of voters when neither is the case in America or Britain. This autocratic style of governance is a denial of democratic values, and, unfortunately, we are seeing it spread across the globe.

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is acting the same way towards environmental rules, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been jailing opponents, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman has been executing dissenters. There is a global wave of authoritarianism masked by the calls for popularism among just those specific supporters of whoever has become leader.

Yes, there was a 2016 Brexit referendum whose narrow victory is driving the current break-up calendar, and politicians have resisted revisiting that vote, unearthing tremendous amounts of voter ill will on all sides. But even if referenda result in a direction, they do not provide the specific planning that will be required to make a transition period operational, or set the ground rules for the isolated Britain that will have to emerge from the problems.

That’s what government is supposed to do, and why there is a Parliament — or a Congress in our case — at all.

Then again, here’s a Parliament that won’t move forward or back. It’s a condition that gives rise to authoritarianism.

No referendum in either country decided there should be a single, unquestioned leader in either 10 Downing Street or at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.


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