2016 will in many ways be seen as an annus horibilis. To take just a selection, we’ve seen: austerity measures, Brexit, the consequent resignation of the prime minister whose whole re-election campaign was, you know, based on a referendum, a replacement Conservative Prime Minister who wasn’t elected but was at least less revanchist than her competitors, the Nice terrorist attack that killed 86 festival-goers, acceleration in climate change and the progressive destruction of the great barrier reef, Zika virus, the ongoing destruction of Syria, a redoubled effort by SNP to separate Scotland from the UK, a refugee crisis, the Calais ‘jungle’, the election of Donald Trump as president of America (truly an example of the power of post-fact politics), Russian hackers infiltrating US voting protocol, North Korean nuclear weapons testing – and the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Prince, Harper Lee and Muhammad Ali amongst others.
Hey, it’s not been all bad, but as the year I chose to start blogging on technology, politics and the media, I certainly haven’t been short of stories to follow. I don’t want to end the year on a down note, but I really do think 2016 is key in global politics: a series of interlinked events that can be seen as eruptions resulting from the breaking point of unbridgeable gaps in equality, politics, and wealth. Angry people do all sorts of reactionary things; the depressing thing is that so many of these protest actions ultimately end up hurting themselves more than they will ever hurt The Establishment.
I’m focusing on just Brexit as synecdoche for the larger picture, because there are questions that are still not answered. Six months on from Brexit, how much more do we know? Well, laughably little, basically. The fact that we don’t know how to leave the EU rather suggests that inviting us to do exactly that without preparation wasn’t David Cameron’s brightest idea. The way that the Conservative government have handled not just the planning of how to extricate themselves from the union but also how to deal with the associated political fallout has been farcical, although Labour and Liberal Democrats haven’t done much to shout about when it comes to post-Brexit planning either.
It feels like the whole political establishment has yet to pick their jaws up off the floor at the result, and to be fair, I can see why. This was a serious step-change for British politics, with implications for an unbelievably wide network of related issues, from immigration to banking. It goes to show that what many people suspected is reality: Westminster didn’t have any back-up plans in place for the possibility that the referendum would result in a ‘Leave’ vote.
Six months on and in the absence of a concrete procedure, we’ve witnessed various political gags. Having confirmed that, yes, ‘Brexit means Brexit‘ (which means, what, exactly? Inquiring minds want to know), one would think that Theresa May might refrain from soundbytes to define the seemingly undefinable. Nope: she now promises a ‘Red, White and Blue Brexit’. I know, right. I told you 2016 was a strange year.
The UK’s ambassador is now warning us that Brexit could take up to ten years due to the complications of finessing a trade deal. Not only could negotiations limp into the mid 2020s, but the deal reached might still be rejected by any of the 27 other countries involved during the ratification process. Still, David Davis – actually one of the better Conservative cabinet members – is more optimistic, citing 2 years as a reasonable target. This optimism overlooks the fact that the remaining EU member states can now reasonably be expected to make an example of us and could easily do so via soul-crushing bureaucracy.
It all testifies to how manipulated the debate became in the run-up to the election, with the false promises of funding for the NHS that still anger me now, and dog-whistle speeches designed to foment ethnic tension in the electorate. Sure, the EU wasn’t perfect, but extricating ourselves from an imperfect relationship with its rather downplayed benefits, from cultural exchange to trade collaboration, makes so little sense economically and politically it’s a wonder the idea hasn’t just been put out to die. Of course, it can’t: there was a referendum, remember! Meanwhile, Cameron is back to enjoying the piece and quiet of North Oxfordshire, whilst his pet project for re-election in 2015 threatens to mire the British government and taxpayer in debt and stasis.
As The Guardian notes, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, did warn us all before the referendum that if Brexit came to pass, it would happen slowly and painfully. He estimated it would take 7 years, with no guarantee of success in coming to a new arrangement in the partnership. The fact he isn’t shouting ‘I told you so’ to anyone who’ll listen shows how miserable the whole fiasco is to all involved, whether members of the leave or remain camps.
Through all this, while government stay tied up in Brexit, there are bigger fish to fry – not least the future prospects of Russia, a country capitalising on our European destabilisation episode in order to boost its hold on Eastern Europe for future collateral. I’m reading The Next 100 Years by George Friedman, published in 2010, and some of the predictions didn’t take 100, they’re happening now. So, 2016: it’s been newsworthy.