BREXIT AND BRITAIN'S COLLAPSE

First Things | 10/15/2019 | Staff
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It looks like the dust will soon settle in British politics, and when it does we will all get a better sense of what is happening with Brexit. While there is still a chance that Johnson will ignore Parliament, refuse to seek an extension, and allow Britain to leave the European Union on October 31, it appears more likely that the prime minister will reluctantly seek an extension and the country will have a general election.

If this happens, the Conservative Party—threatened on the right flank by Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party—will be forced to run a campaign promising a timely exit from the E.U. There are even indications that they will run on an explicitly “no deal” platform. The other parties will scramble to take the other side of the issue—even if, as in the case of Labour, their hearts are not in it.

Issue - EU - Issue - Parties - Order

It may appear strange that such a fundamental issue as leaving the E.U. has become effectively an electoral issue, with parties positioning themselves in order to maximize their political power. A naïve observer might question why politicians would put party over country and engage in such opportunism. But this would be to misunderstand not only the nature of E.U. membership, but also British politics in the postwar era.

Since the E.U. question arose in the 1970s, there has always been a sharp divide between opportunists and principled politicians. From the beginning, this divide was not along a left-right axis. The two leading politicians advocating for remaining outside the E.U. in the 1970s were Tony Benn and Enoch Powell. Powell was a right-wing Tory known for his opposition to mass immigration. Benn was a left-wing radical in the English mold. He saw the E.U. as a “capitalist club” and a threat to the British democratic institutions that he believed were...
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