July 01, 2016

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

Source: Bigstock

The fallout among Brexiteers is likely to be sharper and quicker. Even if the U.K. broke all ties with the E.U., it would still be difficult for both economic and humanitarian reasons substantially to lower the level of new immigration, even if a Brexit government led by Johnson and Gove had the will to try to do so. Evidently, however, that will isn”€™t there. Their favored solution seems to be the so-called Norway option: Associate membership of the E.U. to secure access to the single market. But a condition of such membership is the continued free movement of labor, as well as capital. Norway accepts this, and also has no say in the framing of regulations that it must nevertheless accept.

Yet millions voted Leave because they were told by Tory and UKIP Brexiteers that this was the way to curb immigration. How will they feel when they realize they have been conned, and that Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, etc. are still free to come find jobs in Britain? If you think they were angry and resentful before the referendum, you ain”€™t seen nothing yet. They will feel they have been betrayed yet again, and they will be right. They would indeed have been betrayed, and the guilty men would be Johnson, Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, etc.

Of course, the E.U. may choose differently. It may refuse to grant the U.K. the Norway option. Brexiteers may say this would be stupid. Indeed it might be, but divorce is a painful business in the course of which people do not always act wisely or even in their own best interests. We simply don”€™t know what will happen, but we do know it’s unlikely that the E.U. will happily agree to whatever the U.K. demands.

We also know that this vote has put the future existence of the U.K. itself in doubt. It threatens the still-fragile stability achieved in Northern Ireland; the mad dogs may be released from the kennels where they have been penned. Scotland voted to remain in the E.U. The Remain majority was 24 percent, far bigger in percentage terms than the majority for Leave in England. Now Scotland faces the prospect of being forced out of the E.U. against its will. The Scottish government is playing it cool; it’s not rushing into another independence referendum. It knows that the economic and fiscal case for independence is weaker than it was two years ago. On the other hand, the political case is stronger. If there is a right-wing Tory government in Westminster, if the informal Leave coalition breaks up in anger and there is xenophobic, even racist agitation in England with the Old Labour vote transferred to UKIP, then the political case for Scottish independence will seem attractive to Unionists now despairing of the Union. Ifs and ifs, certainly, but in a time of “€œchassis”€ the previously unthinkable may easily seem reasonable.

There is black comedy in “€œchassis,”€ and the law of unintended consequences operates with bitter irony. The UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, declared June 24 to be “€œIndependence Day”€; in breaking free from the E.U., the Brexiteers may have prepared the way for the breakup of the United Kingdom.

Goodbye, Great Britain. Hello, Little England. And it will be no use to the likes of Johnson and Gove protesting that this isn”€™t what we meant at all. They saw advantages for themselves in “€œchassis,”€ and they must reap the harvest, however bitter it may be.


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