Thursday, 6 April 2017

U.K.: -''Brexit''- The Breaking Point

The Brexit referendum vote has caused the United Kingdom to drift apart, creating ever-widening rifts between rich and poor, native and immigrant, English and Scot. Starting the withdrawal process on 29 March 2017, putting the UK on course to leave by April 2019, Great Britain stands at a crossroads.

The view of the rooftops of the British capital shows how quickly and radically the country has changed. London's silhouette is a reflection of two decades of growth, decadence and hubris.The frenzy began in the 1980s, when Great Britain was prosperous and London became a global financial center where brokers, traders and speculators were responsible for billions changing hands every day. Gone were the days of factories and trade, or so it seemed. The act of trading with money was dubbed the financial industry, and together with the real estate sector, it grew to become one of the most important industries in the kingdom, almost a new religion.

Then the Brexit vote happened in 2016, and things have been going downhill ever since. UK unemployment rate fell to 4.7. percent in the period between November and January 2017 from 4.8. in the previous period and below market expectations of 4.8 percent. It was the lowest jobless rate since July to September 2005. Although the employment rate remained at all time high of 74,6 percent, wage growth has slowed, forecasting hard times to come.

In late January, the University of Bristol published the most comprehensive study to date on the state of British society. It concludes that a third of the population lives in precarious conditions. Millions of Britons don't have enough to eat and are unable to adequately heat their homes in the winter. And the situation will get even worse because social services are shrinking and real wages continue to decline.

The country is already suffering from the consequences of the Brexit's uncertainty. The gap between rich and poor is growing, the conflicts between left and right are becoming more heated and Brexit is expected to drag down the economy, damaging confidence and investment. Friends and foes of Europe argue heatedly over whether remaining a member of the European Union or withdrawing from it is more likely to help the country.

In 2019, the Scots are expected to hold a second  referendum over whether they want to establish an independent country, one that would no longer have to share profits from the North Sea oil and gas fields with the English.The Scots have never been happy about their union with England, which has existed for 306 years. But the divisions have rarely been as great as they are today. Scots say that Scotland would be better off without England. It would be a richer country, because it would control its own oil and gas production. It would be a more peaceful country, because it would no longer be forced to tolerate nuclear warheads on its soil or participate in the wars of the English. And it would be a fair and equitable country, because it could reverse the British government's cuts to social benefits. It would be a free country filled with proud people.

Irish republicans are voicing their concerns over leaving the European Union, as a consequence of Brexit and calling for the reunification of Ireland because departing the EU means that a new era of border controls is likely to emerge between the two countries, despite Northern Ireland voted Remain by 56 percent. Given given the history, the consistent agenda of Sinn Féin, Northern Ireland largest nationalist party and the Irish government's official stance of an ''open door policy'', the reunification is a matter ''when'' rather than ''if'.  

Britain's decision to depart the European Union has opened up a new panorama on the status of Gibraltar. Gibraltar voted Remain and wants to negotiate a ''special status'' with the European Union after Brexit, something Spain signalled it was ready to discuss without abandoning its claims for joint sovereignty over the disputed territory. According to the EU's draft joint position on Brexit talks, no agreement between the EU and the UK may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between UK and Spain.

There is a clear political divide in Britain, with each part fighting for its agenda: England (Outside EU), Scotland and Northern Ireland (Within EU) and Gibraltar ( confused). It becomes clear how public sentiment in parts of the kingdom is gradually slipping from moderate conservatism to bulldog patriotism and this political divide is indeed a cultural change.

After coping with the loss of the Empire in the postwar period, Great Britain has been left with something akin to the phantom pain of one who has lost a limb. The majority of  many Britons grew up in a country in which hierarchies that had developed throughout the centuries were still intact, and where life could be very comfortable for those at the top.

But eventually the working class began to talk back, becoming rebellious. They believe that this change roughly coincided with Great Britain's accession to the European Community in 1973, and with a tectonic shift in Europe's political landscape. And they hope that departing the EU will help the Empire regain its old strength. What this means is a return to the 1950s and '60s.

They say the government should crack down on illegal immigrants and criminals, and should build more prisons. They criticize the legalization of  same-sex marriage, and want to block immigration from the new EU countries of Eastern Europe to come in United-Kingdom, by declaring ''a state of emergency and close the borders''.  The problem is that the English aren't the only ones who own that island. There are other patriots -- the Scots, for example, many of whom no longer want to share their wealth. The worse Brexit gets, the clearer do the symptoms of decline in the United Kingdom become.

If Europe ever becomes a museum, it won't take much to set up a department called "Early Industrial Age" in Birmingham or Newcastle. Great Britain is rusting. It has become a sluggish, despondent and anxious country. An article of clothing currently popular among young Britons is the "onesie," a sort of playsuit for adults who like to spend their days lounging in comfort -- assuming they don't have to go to work.

Great Britain is currently undergoing a shift. There is a growing distance between the periphery and the center, among the individual parts of the kingdom and between the top and the bottom of society, and Brexit has the potential to magnify these issues, breaking up the union.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
International Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: AP: British Flag