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July 6, 2016
A COUP AND A VERY BRITISH COUP: THE CHAOS OF BREXIT
Arshad M Khan
Source: Modern Diplomacy
In 1952, a group of army officers mounted a successful revolution in Egypt. King
Farouk was sent into exile and his son Fuad put under house arrest. His was the first
Arab monarchy to fall, others would follow later. Soon a General Muhammad Neguib
appeared as the face and ostensible leader of the revolution. It was only a couple of
years later that the true architect and mastermind, Gamel Abdel Nasser, came to the
By coincidence both Brexit and the Egyptian revolution share the 23rd day of the
month, the one in June and the other in July. And, in a very British coup, the face of
Brexit was out in exactly a week.
Boris Johnson, the brash, mop-haired, vivid blonde MP was set to make a speech
announcing his candidacy for party leadership -- and hence the new Prime Minister
after David Cameron's departure -- when five minutes before he was to step to the
microphone, he received a phone call from Michael Gove his buddy-in-arms and
principal backer. Michael Gove was withdrawing his support and with it a host of MPs
who were now backing Gove.
The 'worst act of treachery in my lifetime' became a common refrain. Poor Boris! Left
with a speech extolling his virtues as the previous Mayor of London, the audience
expected it as a preliminary to the eventual announcement of his candidacy for
leadership, only to be told (to loud gasps of shock) that he was no longer in
contention -- Boris knew full well that without Gove's backing, he did not have the
votes among the Conservative MPs to win. So it was ... a quick, bloodless knife in the
back after Boris the superb campaigner had done his job. Of course, the way it was
done is unlikely to help Michael Gove's candidacy, leaving Theresa May, the Home
Secretary, as the odds-on favorite.
Trying to put a cheerier face on a difficult outcome for Western cohesion, particularly
in light of tensions with Russia, the US president offered Norway-EU relations as a
template for future UK-EU stability. Yet there are caveats: First, Norway is a puny
economy compared to the UK and can be accommodated by the EU with much
greater ease. Second, Noway has never been a member of the EU nor has it caused
rancor by disrupting it.
The EU negotiations, therefore, are going to have to balance an emotional desire to
punish Britain versus the rational economic need for stability in Europe -- as well as
world markets, which have reacted already in fear. A long laundry list of issues are
involved and the negotiations will be complicated and prolonged. World commerce, on
the other hand, would like them to be settled quickly, amicably, and with the
continuance of tariff-free trade under a different regime, perhaps the WTO.
Add all these reasons to the consequential expectations of the final outcome, and the
general consensus by a wide margin among economic forecasters is that with Brexit
the normally sober British have collectively shot themselves in the foot. Perhaps it was
the lies advertised by the 'Leave' campaign; perhaps it was the swell of East
European immigrants threatening working class jobs. Whatever the reasons, the less
educated and the old voted to leave, while, significantly, the young and well-educated
demographic chose the alternative.
We have representative democracy, electing leaders more capable than we, who we
hope will do their best to guard the interests of the majority -- an aim not realized
always in today's world, one must add quickly. Direct democracy or referenda can be
dangerous as the British have discovered to their cost. Susceptible to demagoguery
of the Donald Trump type, is the British vote also a warning to the US voter.