Brexit: Real battle has just begun...

Boris Johnson was ruthlessly stabbed in the back by Michael Gove, his presumptive campaign manager for the Prime Minister's job.

House of Cards, or Game of Thrones? For the past two weeks this question has been posed not by bored, binge-watching millennials sprawled on their sofas, but by British political commentators searching for a suitable analogy for post-Brexit Westminster.

That they have resorted to two fantastical TV shows involving pathologically demented psychopaths who will stop at nothing to reach the top shows just how numbed the nation has become by the melee of backstabbing, Machiavellian alliances and hubristic political demises currently taking place in Britain’s corridors of power.

Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, the two great totems of the Leave campaign who — for all their flaws — tipped the Brexit vote with their ability to connect with the disillusioned classes, are both finished.

Mr Johnson was ruthlessly stabbed in the back by Michael Gove, his presumptive campaign manager for the Prime Minister’s job, while Mr Farage stuck around long enough for a tasteless, smirking “told-you-so” victory tour before hanging up his boots and retiring to a life of pub lunches, angling and cricket.

Theresa May, Britain’s home secretary, is now the firm favourite to be the next Conservative leader — and therefore Prime Minister. But what good is being the favourite in such unpredictable times? The Remain campaign was widely expected to triumph, and Labour, Britain’s main Opposition party, is currently led by a man who is opposed by more than three-quarters of his own MPs.

England’s loss to tiny Iceland in the European football championships hardly even seemed surprising by comparison.

All of this has provided great drama of course, but has noticeably left unanswered the most significant and urgent question: does Brexit really mean Brexit? Or, put another way, is Britain instead heading for a second referendum? Well, yes and no.

Let’s start with the “no”. There will be no repeat of June 23’s popular vote. Calls for a re-run by the smarting losers of the Remain campaign are nothing more than wishful thinking. On what grounds should a referendum with the highest turnout in decades, in which a democratic majority arrived at a clear decision by a margin of more than a million voters, be re-run?

That an online poll calling for a second vote garnered 2.5 million dubious “signatures”? Some 34 million registered voters actually trudged to polling booths on June 23 to have their say. Just because you don’t like a result doesn’t mean you can simply ignore it. That’s the price we pay for living in a democracy.

And yet, a vote is already taking place as I write this which will shape Brexit just as much as last month’s referendum. The only difference is that this time, rather than the United Kingdom’s 64 million citizens getting to decide, the outcome will be determined by just 150,000 people, most of whom are comparatively wealthy and living in the southern, rural “shires” of England.

The Conservative Party membership’s upcoming vote for a new leader may not affect whether Britain leaves the EU — that looks certain — but it will shape the terms of the departure. And that matters a great deal.

If elected, Ms May, who has been touted on the continent as “Britain’s Merkel”, would oversee a gradual and partial withdrawal from the EU. She has spoken of her desire to carefully negotiate a compromise over total access to the single market (which Britain wants) and freedom of movement for people (which Britain has clearly shown it does not).

But Ms May was on the “Remain” side of the referendum, causing the Brexiteers — riven by the Boris-Gove split — to seek another candidate to back. Enter the hitherto unknown figure of Andrea Leadsom, who only joined politics from a career in London’s financial sector in 2010, and has never held a Cabinet job.

Ms Leadsom, who hangs a portrait of Margaret Thatcher on her office wall, has emerged as the leadership race’s dark horse. She passionately wants Britain to “Brexit”, and will abruptly end unlimited EU migration the moment she gets the keys to 10 Downing Street, regardless of the cost.

So the same debate on the merits of being in Europe is being had once again, only behind closed doors.

And what of the fates of Scotland and Northern Ireland, who just two weeks ago were openly discussing seceding from the United Kingdom?

Ms May, who has positioned herself as the unifying candidate, announced her leadership bid clad in tartan, while two of her Tory rivals are proud Scots. But it will take more than an astute sartorial sense or convenient birthplace to prevent a Scottish split.

Instead, talk of the Union fragmenting has cooled due to a number of external factors. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish nationalist leader, boldly claimed a mandate for another independence vote last month, but has not proposed a date yet and will not do so for some time — if at all.

A net recipient of taxpayers’ money from England, Scotland relied upon healthy oil prices and the guarantee of continued subsidies from the European Union to finance its last independence “blueprint”.

For the foreseeable future, neither can be counted upon. Oil prices are exactly half what they were when the first Scottish referendum was called in March 2013, and Ms Sturgeon was recently snubbed on a trip to Brussels by leaders of member states, many of whom are reluctant to encourage separatist movements in their own domains.

And Ms Sturgeon knows that if she calls a second referendum and loses again, her dream will truly be dead for at least a generation.

For Northern Ireland, pro-Republican politicians are waiting to see the outcome of the freedom of movement question, as well as the Scottish question. Meanwhile, the scramble to apply for a second, Irish passport has united rather than divided those living in the North.

More broadly, another external battle is being waged which will determine the nature of Britain’s divorce from the EU. It is taking place in the corridors of Brussels, Berlin, Paris and other European capitals, between those who wish to punish and ostracise Britain as an example to other would-be splitters, and those who seek a negotiated, compromising exit deal for mutual economic benefit.

Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, has never hidden his dream of ruling a federal Europe. Frankly, for a man from tiny Luxembourg with an ego and ambition as giant as his, there is little else to aspire to.

But his constant hectoring of Eurosceptic Britain, which culminated in his gleeful pledge to force Britain out of the Union as quickly as possible after the result became clear, has riled many in Europe — not least Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who has begun manoeuvring for his removal. The real Brexit battle has only just begun.

( Source : Columnist )
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