Category Archives: brexit

So you’ve elected a national joke. Now what?

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Boris Johnson is the new leader of the Conservatives. Photo: LBC/PA

Well, it was as expected. Boris Johnson handily defeated Jeremy Hunt to be the next leader of the Conservatives and, by the time you’re reading this—he still has to ask Her Majesty—will be Prime Minister. A lot of people to the left of Enoch Powell are understandably forlorn right now. Luckily for you, dear British readers, your American cousins have some experience with electing a national joke as our leader. After two-and-a-half years of Donald Trump, allow me to impart some hard-won wisdom:

  • Go get drunk. The day following Trump’s election, I was in Sheffield. I began drinking at 9:00 AM and didn’t stop until the pub closed. The landlord and his girlfriend actually let me in a little early because they knew how I upset I was. Drinking numbs the many emotions you’re likely to feel—despair, anger, fear, annoyance, a dark sort of amusement at the shitstorm that’s to come—and allows you to, at least for a day, forget that you feel completely fucked
  • Keep some perspective. I didn’t do this after Trump’s election, and I regret it. It made my response to his election less effective and equated more to a temper tantrum than anything else. Don’t make that mistake. Keep calm. Trump is repugnant and Johnson is bad, but neither are Hitler. For now, they can both be defeated through democratic means. Despite how it may feel, this isn’t Years and Years. We’re still about four or five years away from that. Things may seem hopeless, but for now our institutions on both sides of the Atlantic remain intact and are functioning at some level, anyway
  • Avoid the “well I didn’t vote for him”/”not MY prime minister” nonsense. It’s tempting to distance yourself from Boris Johnson, especially since only Tory Party members got to vote for him. Talk about how that’s unfair, if you think it is, but don’t throw your toys out of the pram. It won’t win anyone on the right over and, while it will make you feel better, it doesn’t accomplish much, and this isn’t about you as an individual. It’s about the country as a whole. Keep your eye on the prize
  • Keep a journal. It’s hard to remember every outrage and every terrifying action. Keeping a journal where you mention “today Johnson compared Muslim women to letterboxes” or “he used a racial slur today” is helpful to look back on when you need to remember specific details about why your leader is so awful
  • Watch for entryism. You’ve seen it in Labour with the hard left, and it happened with the Republicans over a few years too, where an emboldened far right joined and changed the trajectory of the party. Keep a careful eye to make sure the Tories don’t tick so far right they end up as UKIP mark two
  • Organise. The Democrats were only able to take the House of Representatives back in 2018 because we pounded the pavement and made the case against Trumpism. Grassroots organising has been vital to helping curtail the worst of Donald Trump, whether it’s against ICE—I see regular social media updates from friends in Chicago about where ICE agents are spotted to help immigrant families avoid them—or against his latest dalliance with neo-Nazis. We don’t always win (Kavanaugh), but we always fight
  • Watch how other Tories respond. Tribalism is arguably worse in UK politics than it is in US politics (or, at least it was four years ago). Will Conservative backbenchers fall in line with every destructive policy Johnson introduces, or will the stand on principle when they really do oppose him? Our Republicans have largely rolled over for Trump, so watch to see how Nicky Morgan, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, etc behave over the course of Johnson’s premiership
  • Build coalitions. Keep your eyes on the prize – defeating Boris Johnson. The internecine warfare in Labour needs to end and the party needs to coalesce. Given the real concerns with anti-Semitism, that seems unlikely (and look, hard to blame those against anti-Semitism for not backing down). So look elsewhere. Build electoral coalitions with the Greens and, yes, with the Liberal Democrats if you must. When you’re dealing with a Bannon-backed populist, as Johnson is, nothing matters as much as defeating him. Getting Johnson out of Number 10 and electing a centrist or left-of-centre government is most crucial right now, not ideological purity
  • Chin up. Despite what you might thing, the world keeps spinning. The sun rises in the morning. Ben Mitchell still picks fights on EastEnders. Life goes on, and your day-to-day life won’t change very much. If that sounds like I’m minimising what you’re feeling or the latest groundswell of populism in the Western world, I’m not. But it’s important to keep your wits about you and have some perspective

Don’t be too downtrodden after today. Go ahead and lick your wounds, but tomorrow the fight continues. 31 October is just over three months away, so there’s plenty of work to do in not a long amount of time. Get drunk, and then get to work.

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Boris Johnson just proved he is Donald Trump’s stooge

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Boris Johnson literally gets a pat on the back from Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters/The Mirror

There was a moment in last night’s ITV debate between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson where the yellow-haired muppet told us exactly what kind of prime minister he will be. Poundshop Donald Trump refused to back Britain’s embattled ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, by saying he would “not be so presumptuous” on when Darroch—scheduled to retire in six or so months—would leave his job and that “I alone will decide who takes important and politically sensitive jobs” – a terrifying thought in the best of times.

These are not the best of times, though. They are quite possibly the end times, with Boris’ all-but-inevitable move into Number 10 the opening of the seventh seal, behind the election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the fire at Notre Dame, California earthquakes, and, of course, Joe’s departure from Love Island. The world is already despairing. Yet somehow, the once and future clown of the Conservative Party has somehow made it all worse.

Sir Kim came under fire over the weekend when confidential diplomatic cables he sent back to London, in which he called Donald Trump “inept” and “insecure” and his administration “uniquely dysfunctional,” were leaked in that most reputable and esteemed of publications, the Mail on Sunday. Sir Kim managed to hang on throughout Monday and Tuesday, despite repeated personal attacks by Donald Trump. His position became untenable, at least in his eyes, though when his all-but-guaranteed future boss refused to publicly support him. Boris Johnson’s refusal to stand by Britain’s ambassador to the United States is said to be the driving force behind his decision to resign.

The relationship between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson has long been one of rabid speculation, with many feeling that the erstwhile mayor of London and the current charlatan-in-chief were too cozy. “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine,” Donald Trump said last year after Johnson resigned as foreign secretary. “He has been very, very nice to me, very supportive.” To Trump, being nice to him, being very supportive of him, is what counts. Not right or wrong, or good or bad, or smart or stupid. All that matters is that you kiss the ring.

Boris Johnson knows this, and so last night he gave Trump something he desperately wanted and rid him of that troublesome ambassador. By refusing to support Sir Kim, Johnson basically handed him a P45. Donald Trump could be laughing all the way from the White House toilet.

That Johnson would throw a career diplomat and one of the most senior members of the British Civil Service under the bus to appease the tangerine tyrant is enough to disqualify him from ever even stepping foot on Downing Street. But what’s truly terrifying is what it means further down the road. Last night, Boris Johnson demonstrated two deeply concerning qualities that make the notion of his premiership utterly terrifying.

To begin with is the obvious: when it comes to defending British values and people—whether they’re senior civil servants or run-of-the-mill citizens, as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe would tell you if she wasn’t starving in an Iranian prison—Johnson will always choose self-interest. As of last night, part of that self-interest is in sucking up to the nectarine Neanderthal currently pretending to govern America.

That is deeply concerning for civil servants and the diplomatic corp. Nothing Sir Kim said was wrong, or malicious, or a lie. It was the stone-cold truth. If our diplomats cannot relay their frank and honest assessments without fear of reprisal, then the Foreign Office cannot function as it should. They perform a vital service, and part of their ability to perform that service is the knowledge that there will be no reprisals for their honesty. This is true not just of diplomats but across the civil service. When the women and men trusted with giving expert advice to the government of the day no longer feel confident doing so, something has gone very awry.

Beyond this, though, is the fact that Boris refused to defend his countryman. If Boris Johnson can’t, or won’t, stand up to Trump in defence of his ambassador’s frank assessment of the situation in Washington, it is unfathomable that he will stand up to Trump on foreign affairs or trade.

Trump is a man who has publicly said that he wants the NHS on the table during any US-UK trade negotiations. We already know that Trump wants to push up drug prices in the UK. Trump wants US companies to have more access to the NHS than they already do, which many fear would accelerate a privistation crisis which has been ongoing under the Tory-led government of the last 9 years.

Given what we’ve seen so far, there is no indication that Boris wouldn’t gladly carve up the NHS on a sacrificial alter of Trumpism just to secure a trade deal for his wealthy friends. His first policy announced during this leadership race was a tax cut for the most wealthy, which tells you where his priorities lie. It is entirely likely that Prime Minister Boris, eager to strike a trade deal with the United States after leading a no-deal Brexit, would do whatever it took to get Trump to the signing table.

Once there, I cringe to think what Boris will do to appease his new boss. What we know he won’t do is stand up for Britain’s best interests. He showed us that last night, and because of it, a career civil servant and one of Britain’s most prominent diplomats was forced to resign. Who will Boris throw under the bus next? Probably all of us.

Well, all of you. I live in America. I’ve had two and a half years to get used to being governed by a bumbling blonde baboon. You become somewhat numb to it after a while, probably because you start drinking all the time. Stock up on wine before you can’t get it through the Port of Dover.

The thing is, though, the British people will have it worse than the American people. Donald Trump is clearly the one calling the shots (though I still think he takes orders from Vladimir Putin – every boss has a boss, they say). Boris Johnson has made clear he’ll do as he’s told. You, in return, get Brexit and higher prescription drug costs. And Donald Trump gets a stooge in Number 10.

 

Forget winter. Farage is coming

The day after the 2016 EU referendum, I warned that Remainers needed to get on board with Brexit in order to avoid a swell of far-right populism. Looking back, I feel like a Stark on Game of Thrones, saying “Winter is Coming” during a long, sunny summer.

Few, it seems, were listening.

It has been clear for some time that the UK is in the midst of the greatest political realignment since the 19th century. The Conservatives and Labour parties dominated the 20th century, but there is no guarantee they will survive the 21st. This weekend’s European election results indicate they may be in more trouble than we thought. I have never been more sorrowful to be proven right.

The Brexit Party won big, carrying a 10+ point lead over its nearest competitor, the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives and Labour suffered their worst defeats in living memory, and ChangeUK – the new party founded by former Labour, and then Tory, Remainer MPs – didn’t even crack five per cent.

There is a silver lining for Remainers, in that if you combine the explicitly remain parties (LibDems, ChangeUK, SNP, Greens), they’re practically neck in neck with the combined total of the Brexit Party and the seemingly now-irrelevant UKIP. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a plurality of the electorate chose to vote for a party who is so adamant on leaving the EU that they put it in their name, led by Britain’s very own Littlefinger. If chaos is a ladder, as Lord Baelish once said, Nigel Farage is climbing it right to the top.

And therein lies the problem. Hearken back to the good ole days of 2015. After the General Election, one of the biggest questions in British politics was what would happen to Nigel Farage. UKIP did abysmally and it looked like his career was over. But like a reactionary Jon Snow, Nigel Farage rose from the political dead, and 2016 saw his life’s mission accomplished. It emboldened him, and today he can claim to be the most effective party leader in the UK.

The risk here isn’t Brexit. Not really. Despite being a lifelong Eurosceptic, I supported the Remain campaign because I couldn’t stomach the people leading the Leave Campaign – a group of hard-right goons who, as was once said of Littlefinger and is certainly true of Farage, would see the country burn if they could be kings of the ashes. I saw the writings on the wall then, and I see them even more urgently now: hard-right populism is on the rise in the UK, and Brexit is the dragon on which it will arrive.

So while most in the Westminster bubble argued over who would sit on the Iron Throne, some of us were frantically trying to get people to pay attention to the threat from the North (of England). A rising sense of disenchantment with the political establishment was emboldening a dangerous new reactionary politics. And now, that threat has arrived. The only thing that kept UKIP from gaining more than one seat in 2015 was first-past-the-post, a system in which the candidate or party with the largest share of votes in a constituency wins that seat. The Conservatives and Labour were the bulwark against such a threat, the two-party system, to beat this metaphor to death, like the Wall keeping out the White Walkers.

But now those two great political parties look like they’re about to fall. They were both decimated this weekend. The Tories are now involved in their own Game of Thrones. The Labour leadership is more interested in appeasing its members than winning an election, leading it to be unable or unwilling to formulate a cohesive Brexit strategy.

All this while Farage and the nefarious policies he represents gain massive political inroads.

It is no longer worth discussing what happens if authoritarian populism becomes mainstream. It already has. So how to nip this in the bud? The answer is simple.

The UK must leave the European Union on 31 October, deal or no deal.

In another Westerosi turn of events, as Theresa May falls, her house words become clearer and more relevant than ever: Brexit means Brexit. It must, no matter the cost.

There are dire consequences to exiting the European Union without a deal, I know. And in some ways, it means Farage and the Brexit Party have won. After all, this is what they want – the UK to exit the EU and default to World Trade Organisation rules. There’s the issue of Northern Ireland and the border. There’s the issue of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK and the millions of British citizens living in the EU. Leaving these issues unresolved is the worst possible scenario, next to not leaving at all.

The alternative is just too grim. If Brexit doesn’t happen, and soon, it won’t just be the European Elections the Brexit Party wins. Every day the country remains in the EU is a day Prime Minister Nigel Farage becomes more likely. Think of what that would mean to the working classes, who would suffer under his economic policies, or to immigrants and people of colour, or to LGBT rights, the feminist movement, or trade unions. It would be devastating.

The only way to turn back the tide of authoritarianism is to give the people what they want and put this issue to bed once and for all. The only way to stop Farage from winning in Westminster is to let him win in Europe.The only way the country can move on from Brexit is to Brexit.

Not doing so is to risk everything. It is clear the British voters want the UK to leave the European Union. A second referendum was held, in a way, and Remain lost again. The choice was the squabbling of the past three years or to just get on with it and leave, and “just get on with it and leave” was so appealing that the country just voted for the Night King.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is an American writer. He writes about British politics and culture and has covered every British election since 2010. His work as appeared at The Independent, HuffPost UK, Salon, the Daily Dot, The GayUK Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives on the coast in North Carolina.