It is a busy week in the UK House of Commons. At this writing, Meaningful Brexit Vote 2.0 (We Really Mean It This Time) has failed by 149 votes. This deals an apparent death blow to PM May’s attempts to negotiate an orderly retreat from the EU. The likely result will be a lot of hand wringing and a vote to delay the process.
The entire exercise appears to be based on what Winston Churchill once accused Americans of doing, namely “Once we have exhausted all the other possibilities we do the right thing.” Ignoring the will of the people after a referendum requires a period of slow torture and likely another popular vote (We Really, Really Mean It, We Promise).
All of this is quite impossible for one simple reason: Brexit isn’t really about Brexit. Like most political issues in developed nations today, the cause of all this noise and nonsense isn’t really the issue at hand. It’s not about whether the UK should be in the EU or not – in an ideal situation it’s rather obvious that it should be. The problem is that we are so far from ideal that no one can make any sense of anything. And that’s where this American politely, humbly, offers his opinion on this situation.
Jo Cox, MP, was killed today in Birstall, West Yorkshire. She was leaving a “surgery”, the British term for what we in the US call a “town hall”. The attacker was reported to have shouted, “Put Britain first!” a reference to the referendum in one week on whether the UK should leave the European Union (EU).
If you were thinking the whole world has gone mad, you are right.
While we in the US are shaken by a horrific attack on ordinary citizens, the UK now has to contemplate political violence – something it has not seen since the end of the IRA’s campaign in 1990. There is no comparison between terror inflicted on the public and on the political system, as each is horrible in its own way. But we can reasonable expect there will be more of each until something dramatic happens.
Greece and Europe managed to find a way to kick the can down the road a bit, giving them four months to come up with a larger agreement. It’s exactly the kind of solution that we cynically expected here in many ways. But is there more to it than that?
The letter sent by Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis to the EU outlines exactly where Greece is coming from, and it tells us a lot more about the problem at hand. What he asked for was nothing more than the kind of consideration any other nation would want in this situation. That it was received so badly at first, then ultimately accepted in at least some form, speaks volumes about either the dysfunction of the EU or how bankrupt Greece is.
I believe it is the former, and the EU is nowhere near developing a stable process for dealing with issues like Greece or even calling themselves a real political or financial arrangement for the long haul.
Pity poor Europe. 2014 was supposed to be the year that they finally put the Eurocrisis behind them, culminating with a stress-test of banks to prove they could weather the next downturn. There has always been hope for a little bit more growth, too, showing that the forced marriage of nations had benefits beyond just staying together for the kids’ sake.
Then, it all blew up in Ukraine.
Like the previous crisis Europe faced as a freshly united single entity, this one was partly their own making. Ukrainian President Yanukovych was clearly fishing around for about $15B to stabilize his country – and when Europe couldn’t offer reasonable terms he went over to Russia for it, sparking this whole conflict. Europe eventually had to offer the new, less legitimate government the same aid when things turned again. But unlike the previous Eurocrisis, this is an external conflict that will test their determination to stand together to face a more horrible threat – war.
This was the week that World War III was supposed to erupt across Europe if you listened to the most alarmist reaction to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Ukraine mobilized their reserves and prepared for the worst while the whole world held its breath. So far, however, nothing has happened.
That is, the missiles aren’t flying and the troops aren’t advancing. There has been action, which is to say a lot more than a visit to Kiev by Secretary of State Kerry and some sternly worded European Union (EU) missives. The money has clearly been bet that there won’t be a war and even more money has been put down on making sure it doesn’t happen.
Think of it like the currency war that is going around the globe right now. This is the primary way that wars are fought now – with money.