“What Brexit has shown again is our inability to think anew about what the state and the economy are for, to sketch out what a different future might look like.”
It’s no great stretch to suggest that Americans resemble these remarks, and best not be chortling with more of the same tired exceptionalism. I’m reminded of the recent quip to the effect that the Democratic National Committee is 100% in favor of reform, so long as nothing changes.
Britain is in the grip of an existential crisis that reaches far beyond Brexit, by Aditya Chakrabortty (The Guardian)
Nearly three years after the referendum, Westminster has still not come to terms with the grievances that drove the result
The person who is best qualified to hold up a mirror to British politics today is neither a minister nor an academic. He is not even British. No: he is, of course, Michel Barnier, the French-born servant of Brussels. In his 1,036 days as the EU’s chief negotiator, he has sat for numbing hours opposite Theresa May, haggled with David Davis and Dominic Raab and their junior ministers and faced down countless Whitehall officials. He is the outsider who knows our system inside out. So when he popped up right at the end of the BBC’s fly on the wall Storyville documentaries on the Brexit negotiations, I leaned in to listen.
Filmed in March, as it became clear that Britain would not be leaving Europe any time soon, Barnier is shown briefing senior European parliamentarians. This latest breakdown is “more than weariness”, he tells them. “There is a very serious crisis in the UK which … isn’t linked to the text of Brexit and even less to the Irish backstop. It’s a much deeper crisis. An existential crisis.”
Barnier doesn’t do florid, so his words leapt out. After almost three years with his eye pressed to a microscope trained on the British elite, here was one of the EU’s finest declaring that the real failure wasn’t this clause or that loophole. It wasn’t even Brexit at all. The UK is in a crisis as big as the country itself.
There are times when some politicians and pundits remember this, when they jerk awake to the reality that the country stands at a moment of reckoning more profound than Suez – one in which our institutions, our economy and our system of representation are all being shown up as simply not up to the job. This week is plainly not one of those times. I watched Barnier’s remarks on Sunday night, as the first UK results from the European elections began to roll in, showing a far-right party as the clear winner. I woke up to a righteous hailstorm of commentary about What Jeremy Must Say Now and Who Replaces Theresa. Such debates can satisfactorily steam up the sash windows of central London, but set in any context they seem almost recklessly marginal …