The absolute state of the Union

Union flag

The State of the Union is generally taken to be the annual reflection on the political, economic and social landscape in the USA, delivered every January to Congress by the incumbent president.

But I am going to commandeer the term and apply it to not only the state of the UK’s relationship with the European Union but also the divisions the Brexit vote has created within the mother of all unions – our bonds with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Polarisation and racial tension

In short, the situation is a mess the like of which few could have foreseen. The weakness of the UK government in the wake of the referendum (and the disastrous general election of 2017) has polarised British society, with near-civil war raging between Brexiteers and Remainers, stoking racial tensions around the country and renewed attempts to force a second referendum in light of the developments and realisations of the past two years.

Two years. That’s how long ago Britain narrowly voted to divorce itself from the EU (and its perceived bureaucracy and lack of accountability) and to “take back control” of our courts, our money, our borders and our parliament. So, how’s it all going?

Brexit means no Brexit department, apparently

negotiating for dummiesBadly. Two of the three government ministers responsible for negotiating our transition out of the EU are no longer in post, having resigned because of the Conservative Party divisions on Europe that David Cameron’s vanity referendum was supposed to put to bed once and for all. So badly are things going that the prime minister has now taken direct control of negotiations, marginalising the Department for Exiting the EU and the new secretary of state, Dominic Raab.

Whether that will improve matters, I will leave for you to decide, but the speed with which her hard-fought Chequers agreement fell apart does not inspire much confidence going forward.

So terrified of a ‘no deal’ Brexit are the government that they are making plans to stockpile food and medicine to ensure some semblance of order should we plunge from the cliff edge. Theresa May even has the gall to suggest that, far from being a nightmarish, dystopian vision of the UK’s future, we should actually be reassured by this course of action! I don’t recall seeing this on the side of a big red bus.

Lies, damned lies and Brexit lies

In fact, I recall a much more bullish and positive outlook, where negotiating our exit would be the making of Britain, that the EU had more to lose than we did and so it would be the easiest trade deal ever. Not to mention the £350m-a-week windfall for the NHS. Oh, and don’t forget those blue passports, which will probably be manufactured, with no little irony, by a Franco-Dutch company.

UK passports blue and burgundyThe stark reality of the situation, however, is that there will be no NHS Brexit dividend, not unless taxes are raised. We will remain tied to the EU for the foreseeable future to try and give business more time to work things out. Ah yes, business. Business which is relocating from Britain faster than you can say ‘no deal’ into European and other countries where they feel they will be better off, with more certainty and access to workers and worldwide markets than would be the case by remaining in the UK.

So far, so chaotic. It is becoming increasingly clear that, while the claims of Project Fear have (so far) failed to materialise, equally the jingoistic nationalism, anti-immigrant emphasis and downright lies (there’s that £350m again) from the Leave campaign has been shown to be just as inaccurate. Not only that, but the Vote Leave campaign itself has been found to have broken electoral law with regard to violating spending regulations, a claim Vote Leave predictably denies.

A second referendum?

As I’ve touched on, in light of this fiasco, there are increasing calls for a second referendum, now it has become apparent where Brexit is leading us. The default position of Brexiteers is still, “We won, you lost, get over it.” But surely the very principles of democracy allow for the people to have control, and the right to make changes as and when they see fit. There cannot be a single leave voter who expected or wanted the situation in which we now find ourselves.

As parliament heads off on its summer recess, we are no further forward than we were in June 2016. Two years of groundwork by David Davis, Boris Johnson and the other responsible for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU have produced nothing but more and more Conservative in-fighting, which has spread around the country, fracturing communities and creating a more divided Britain than at any time in living memory.

Scotland is now agitating for a fresh independence referendum, having voted Remain in the EU vote and feeling that the British government are not doing right by those north of the border. A similar unrest is happening in Northern Ireland, where the ham-fisted and ill-conceived plans put forward so far have raised the spectre of a hard border with the Republic and threatened the fragile peace which has developed over the past 20 years. Not only will we be leaving the EU, we may well be leaving each other.

It looks like we’ll be making more use of those blue passports than we first thought back in June 2016.

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