“What the heck’s happening in Britain?” an American friend recently asked. “You guys voted to leave the European Union, but you’re still inside.”
And, he might have added, Nigel Farage is back with his Brexit party. Boris Johnson could be about to become Prime Minister. And then there’s a mad Marxist, Jeremy Corbyn, only a few thousand votes away from power.
What’s going on?
To understand what’s going on in British politics, you need to begin by appreciating the scale of the British political establishment’s failure.
Three years ago, in a free and fair referendum, the voters were asked if they wanted Britain to quit the European Union. They voted to leave by a million strong majority. More people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything in our history. On top of that, in the Parliamentary election that followed, every major party promised to honour the referendum result.
Yet we still have not left. Not only has the date of our departure been put back. There’s now talk of cancelling the referendum result altogether, either outright or with a second referendum to overturn the first.
It’s as if after America declared independence in 1776, your Founding Fathers then decided that self-government was just too difficult. Imagine if, instead of getting together in a court house in Philadelphia to hammer out a constitution, George Washington and Ben Franklin instead sent emissaries over to London to ask George III how best to arrange things.
British politics is shaping up to be a contest between three maverick outsiders – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn – precisely because the mainstream has failed so emphatically.
In a country that has always had a touch of deference towards government officials in the mistaken belief that they might know best, it has come as a profound shock to much of middle Britain to discover that they are governed by people capable of catastrophic incompetence. It is not only the hapless – soon to be replaced Prime Minister, Theresa May, that’s at fault.
When trying to fulfil the referendum mandate, Britain’s top officials and ministers started out by agreeing with the EU to a negotiation timetable that required us to first commit to pay billions of pounds each year before even getting around to discussing any kind of trade deal.
Next, politicians ruled out any prospect that we might leave the EU without a deal, thereby handing the EU the leverage to insist on more or less whatever terms they wanted in the deal, safe in the knowledge the government would not say ‘no’. Which is precisely what then happened.
Britain had foisted upon it the kind of terms that you would impose on a country defeated in war. Under the terms of what was negotiated, the so-called ‘Irish backstop’ was deployed as a device to ensure that we were obliged to apply EU rules in our own country after we had left – forever. We would not be allowed our own trade policy, or the ability to agree a free trade deal with the US, for example.
The aim of all this, it seems, has been to impose such bad terms on the UK that it forces us to abandon entirely the idea of self-government.
It’s not just official incompetence that landed us in this mess. There seems to have been collusion, with back channels used between the administrative state in London and Brussels, in order to subvert the referendum result.
For the past three years, the public has seen a consistent attempt made by many of those in positions of authority within the country – MPs and the House of Lords, civil servants and broadcasters, even by judges and archbishops – to stop Brexit.
Broadcasters, particularly those at the BBC, have taken every opportunity to try to delegitimise the referendum result, reporting as fact absurd stories of Russian intervention and implying that those that voted to leave were motivated by nothing more than nativism.
Rather than accept the referendum result as a legitimate expression of the public’s desire for self-determination, the political class has behaved as if it was all a massive mistake made by their social inferiors that now needs correcting.
The consequences of this could not be more serious.
Three times in the past century, Britain has been saved by the good sense of ordinary people. In 1941, when Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, we were able to do so because working class Britain rallied behind Winston Churchill. They did so despite, not because of elite opinion formers who were overwhelmingly in favour of appeasing the enemy.
Then in 1979, blue collar Britain rescued this country when they backed Margaret Thatcher, rejecting the socialism of the elite. Despite endless expert economists objecting to the tough economic medicine Mrs Thatcher prescribed, it was blue collar Britain stuck with her as she turned our country around. She was elected four times in a row, never losing an election.
Again, in June 2016, ordinary folk came to rescue our country from the delusions of the elite. Blue collar Britain called time on a forty-year experiment in merging our country into a European super state. Again, they did so in defiance of what those that believed they knew better told them to think.
The danger this time is that the ruling elite in Britain have become so detached from what the rest of the country thinks, they lose any sense of self preservation and persist in trying to overrule the electorate.
If they keep on trying, the key question in British politics will become to which of the three anti-establishment outsiders – Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage – will the public turn? When that happens, the liberal elite will only have themselves to blame for what comes next.
Douglas Carswell was a Member of Parliament. His book, Progress Vs Parasites, a brief history of 3,000 years of human progress, will be published by Head of Zeus in August.