Like Sleeping Beauty, British politics has been in a deep slumber since June 23rd, 2016. Will 2018 by the year the UK wakes up?
The decision of 37% of the electorate to vote to leave Europe has cast a spell on UK democracy. What no one foresaw was the way Brexit would become the Ebola Virus of normal political activity. It has sucked all life out of British democracy.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest attempt — a cabinet reshuffle — merely rearranges the chairs on the deck of her Titanic.
May’s other Brexit-related gimmick – the announcement to turn the colour of the UK passport away from the EU’s burgundy color into a nice shade of Tory blue in the future – is telling. It would be the same colours as Croatian and North Korean passports.
Better yet, finding £500 million to introduce and run her new Brexit passports shows how far Brexit has sunk. What once were the lofty proclamations of “Independence Day” by Brexit enthusiasts has now turned into a Twitter scorn storm about “Colour Me Blue.”
The Brexit spell
But the real damage is found elsewhere. The UK Government has not taken a serious measure since June 2016 to deal with any of the many pressing national problems. The cabinet reshuffle isn’t going to change much other than perhaps firmer planning for a “no deal” scenario.
Nothing is really moving in Britain because of the spell Brexit has cast over Westminster. It is not just Big Ben that has fallen silent for three years of restoration. So have all British MPs. Of course, they can still while away their time on Question Time, LBC or the Today program. And they can denounce each other as sex maniacs, as has become the fashion lately.
Meanwhile, these politicians have nothing to say on how to solve homelessness, the terrifying crisis in UK health care or the poisonous pollution of our air. Not to mention the most broken down railway system in Europe or mending the most pot-holed pavements in the industrial world.
Mrs. May, for her part, has wasted the past 12 months on licking the boots of the most rabid xenophobic elements of her anti-European Tory right. Ever wonder why? Well, the average age of a Conservative Party member is 71.
No wonder Mrs. May dare not appeal to younger generation voters. Doing so would lose her support as Prime Minister in her own party.
The “Three Musketeers of Brexit”
Her supposedly smart move had been to appoint the “Three Musketeers of Brexit” – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – as top rank cabinet ministers. The hope was that, by rising them up from their political graveyard where previous Tory leaders had buried them, they would be fenced in.
So far, they have delivered nothing – even though brand new government departments were created for David Davis and Liam Fox at huge taxpayer cost.
Their political “skill” has been to show a lot of bluster – and get basically nothing in return from their negotiating partners. After trying to bully the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, David Davis has rolled over and accepted all EU demands on money, EU citizens living in Britain and Northern Ireland.
Liam Fox has clocked more air miles than all other Tory ministers. Alas, so far he has not found one country that thinks Britain walking out of the world’s biggest market is a good idea and is willing to sign a trade deal that benefits British exports.
Boris Johnson is a global embarrassment, widely derided as a clown and a liar by the establishment British press. He is treated with scorn around the world as he makes his jokes about local people that go down disastrously.
Mrs. May also called her election a year after the Brexit vote — and lost 40 MPs. Even so, Mrs. May is seen as a more impressive leader than Corbyn.
Labour has failed to make any impact on the biggest issue in British politics since 1945 – how to handle Brexit. Most Labour MPs know that leaving the EU’s Single Market – the official position of Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow cabinet – would kill foreign investment.
Britain would face the biggest de-industrialisation crisis since the 1980s. Tax revenues are already shrinking as a result of the Brexit slowdown in the economy. As EU economies grow strongly, the UK economies have registered the lowest economic growth in decades.
This should be a heaven-sent chance for Labour to tear into the Tories. Along with the other opposition parties, it should create a force-field for radical change in Britain.
At a minimum, Labour should offer a new referendum once the facts of a final deal are clearer in 2019. But Brexit is sucking the entrails out of Labour as much as it does to the Tories.
This paralysis cannot last much longer. The Brexit agreement must be finalised by October of this year. Do British politics have to wait that long to come back to life?
Denis MacShane is a former Minister for Europe in the UK and a Senior Advisor at Avisa Partners.