That Britain is utterly divided is more than a tragedy, it’s a crime

That Britain is utterly divided is more than a tragedy, it’s a crime
Protesters taking part in the ‘Let Us Vote’ day of action, organised by Another Europe is Possible campaign group in central London to demonstrate against prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for up to five weeks before a Queen’s Speech on October 14. Picture: Rick Findler/PA Wire

All the signs are that the British government is welcoming Armageddon with open arms, writes Fergus Finlay

YOU heard it from me first. Right now, there are 113 days to Christmas. It will be on a Wednesday this year, which is an odd sort of day for people at work. It sort of means that Christmas is contained within the week — there’ll be a day off the following week for New Year’s Day, but apart from that most places will be going back to work on the Monday after Christmas, if not before.

That’s if there’s any work to go back to. Because there may be 113 days to Christmas, but there are only 58 days to Armageddon.

As of this minute, that’s the moment Great Britain and Northern Ireland achieve independence and freedom. They don’t know what they will be independent of, nor what they will be free to do. They’re leaving, without having a clue where they’re going. They’ve discovered the edge of the world, and they’ve decided to fall off.

Or maybe to put it another way, that’s the moment Great Britain and Northern Ireland resign their membership of the European Union, without leaving any arrangements whatever behind them. That’s the moment Great Britain voluntarily acquires third country status in the eyes of the EU, the same status as, say, Lesotho (although Lesotho does qualify for tens of millions in European aid). That’s the moment Great Britain throws itself at the mercy of Donald Trump, going cap in hand for a trade deal to a man who has never shown mercy to anyone dependent on him.

And are they ready? You have got to be joking. Never, in the history of human endeavour, have so many been let down and manipulated by so few.

And the bamboozling continues. The other night I watched a “vox pop” on the BBC’s Newsnight, from a café full of nice people in the south of England somewhere. To a man and woman the people there thought Boris had done the right thing by proroguing parliament. He promised to leave, and leave we must — that was the consensus.

The most dispiriting thing about the conversation was that not one person there appeared to realise that the debate has moved on. Britain decided to leave several years ago. The discussion ever since then has been about the terms on which they would leave. There may be parliamentarians who are hoping that the country will change its mind and stay, but that’s not the basis on which they are trying to frustrate Boris. They merely want to try and save their country from catastrophe, by insisting that Britain leaves with a half-decent set of terms and conditions.

Boris, on the other hand, appears hell-bent on building a place in history as the man who destroyed Britain. It may not even be Boris, but the people to whom he has handed authority. This prime minister without a democratic mandate is being run, it seems, by people who are accountable to no-one at all.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on the eve of MPs returning to Westminster’s Brexit battles (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on the eve of MPs returning to Westminster’s Brexit battles (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

There was an extraordinary moment last week when a political adviser to Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer was not just sacked, but frogmarched out of Downing Street by police, at the behest of Boris’s adviser Dominic Cummings. This happened without her boss being consulted, and is part of an increasingly authoritarian style adopted by Boris’s office.

Authoritarian became dictatorial over the weekend, when Tory politicians were all told that if they failed to support Boris in any way, they’d face deselection as candidates in the next general election. He is determined to have his way. By Halloween, come hell or high water, Britain will be out of Europe. We will know this week if there is anyone left on the Tory side with any gumption, or anyone on the opposition side with sufficient skill to make them stop and think.

So, all the signs are that the British government is welcoming Armageddon with open arms. So let’s ask the question again. Are they ready?

You can answer that one yourself. They’ve launched a website to help you get ready. And they’re spending millions to promote it. I’d like to help.

Anyone who wants to can log on. It’s called www.gov.uk/get-ready-brexit. Off you go. You’ll be asked to answer a few questions, and in the process give the website some information about yourself. But no names or addresses, just the things you want to do, like study in the UK, or bring a pet abroad.

I’d suggest you answer a few questions at random. You can be an individual or a company, making stuff or offering services. You can be black or white or any colour you wish. And you’ll get answers.

All the answers on this website add up to the same thing. First, everything changes on November 1. Second, you’re on your own. You need to start gathering stuff together now, and start making applications to dozens of places right away. There’s guidance about everything, and answers to nothing.

Even assuming that you don’t lose your job after Brexit, or that the economy and/or your currency doesn’t go into a tailspin, Brexit means chaos. Nothing will be easy or straightforward. None of the administrative or bureaucratic problems created by Brexit will be solved by the political process being followed now. The opposite will be the case. Millions of British citizens will discover that the things they take for granted now will be immensely more complicated than they were before.

That’s because Britain, and Britons, will suddenly be outsiders. Their own government is doing that to them through its absolute determination to have the most disruptive Brexit possible.

And that’s only at the most basic bureaucratic level. The implications for the entire British economy are potentially horrendous (and won’t be fixed by a trade deal with Donald). There are now dire warnings about an immediate collapse of house prices across the UK, and the impact on sterling will have massive consequences — not least for British pensioners living in Europe (who may have to go home anyway, according to the Brexit website).

And how long will the union last? How long will Britain in its extremis continue to subsidise the existence of a British Northern Ireland? How long will the people of Scotland be prepared to be governed by leaders who clearly don’t give a fig for what they might think?

I’m an Irish citizen, of course. My primary concern — the concern of all of us, I guess — is about the collateral damage that will be inflicted on us by the craziness now unfolding in Westminster. That absence of an agreed departure doubles or trebles the uncertainty we face.

But we can figure it out if we remain united, as we have been. If I was a British citizen, I would be entirely dismayed by the incompetence with which my government has sought to implement Brexit.

But I would be completely outraged by their determination to drive wedges in the community, by their contempt for democratic norms and traditions, and by their scorn for the world around them. Britain faces its greatest crisis right now since the end of the Second World War, and it does so as an utterly divided country. That’s not a tragedy. It’s a crime.

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