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Brexit Britain Is on the Brink of a Breakdown
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I felt frustrated over the past three years at what appeared to me to be the shallow and Westminster-obsessed coverage of the Brexit saga by the media. Here was a crisis like no other in recent British history that was shaking the bedrock of society and government alike, but the reporting and commentary on it were over-focused on party politics and the process of Britain leaving the EU, and not on the reasons it was doing so.

Why were the divisions so deep and the debate, often the polite word for a shouting match, so angry and uncompromising? What did people really believe about Brexit and why did they defend their beliefs with almost religious fervour? Is it true – in the words of the former head of MI6, Sir John Sawyer – that Britain is having “a nervous breakdown” and, if so, why?

Brexit can be compared to an earthquake in which pent up forces are suddenly released, tearing open new fault lines and energising old ones such as inequality, de-industrialisation, globalisation, imperial retreat, immigration and austerity. All these have always had the capacity to provoke crises, but they had not previously done so on anything like the scale that many had forecast. Now they seem to be combining to provide the explosive ingredients in what is shaping up to be the greatest British general crisis since the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. The date is not chosen at random: in the 17th century the British Isles were a byword for instability and violence and there is no reason this could not happen again.

But for now the British, though not the Northern Irish, are over-accustomed by four centuries of relative domestic stability to assume that this is the natural state of things. This contrasts with the experience of every other European country – they have all suffered calamitous defeat in war, foreign occupation or revolution during this long period. The British attitude to the past is therefore more nostalgic than that of its neighbours, fostering a conviction that Britain will always win through whatever the odds, and a feeling that “things will be alright on the night”.

I have spent the past six months travelling around the UK outside London trying to identify the different aspects of this national “nervous breakdown’’, if that is the right description. I chose cities and places in the interests of diversity and because they seemed to be particularly representative of different political, social and economic trends that were part of the Brexit story.

I went to a deprived district in Canterbury, which had once been regenerated by a large EU grant but had still voted Leave; I travelled a little further south to Dover whose great port will be in the frontline of a no-deal Brexit. I visited Cardiff, which, like many metropolitan centres in the EU, has benefited from being plugged into the global economy; this makes it very different from the Welsh Valleys an hour’s drive away which have never recovered from the closure of their mines and steel mills.

Birmingham has bounced back after from the collapse of its automotive industry in the 1970s and 1980s, but one of the architects of its regeneration, Sir Albert Bore, told me that he was fearful that the city’s economy could once again capsize outside the EU, which invested heavily in its renaissance. He says that “my mind almost explodes with rage” when he hears people blame the EU for problems caused by the failures of the UK government. In the northeast of England, the devastating shock of de-industrialisation, exacerbated by austerity, largely explains the region’s negative vote in the referendum.

Northern Ireland is a case apart but is the region in the UK where the decision to leave the EU is already having the greatest destabilising impact. I was struck by the fecklessness with which British politicians were unpicking the Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of guerrilla war, the most intense to be fought in Europe since the Second World War. The commentator and historian Brian Feeney explained to me that “all this stuff about bar codes and cameras [monitoring the border] is nonsense. They would not last a weekend because people would pull down any cameras or similar arrangements.”

People on mainland Britain are ignorant of Northern Ireland, but the whole country has become more segmented and ill-informed about what other regions are thinking. Chris Day, the vice chancellor of Newcastle University, says he was surprised when the UK voted to leave the EU: “It is the company you keep – university and London people didn’t understand what Sunderland and Wales were thinking.”

In some places, the motives for voting Leave – and the reason why the voters have not changed their minds – are clear enough: why should any of the “left behinds” and the “left outs” vote for the status quo at the behest of powers that be who had ignored their troubles for decades? More mysterious is why well-off farmers in bucolic Herefordshire should have voted to leave the EU, which has always paid them big subsidies simply because they own land. A feature of EU referendum often commented on is that so many people voted against their own economic interests, none more so than sheep farmers in the Welsh hills, who face extinction without the EU but voted Leave because, according to local sources, they feared immigration – though immigrants are almost entirely absent from the Welsh hills.


Some advantages spring from looking at Brexit Britain after working in the chronically unstable and divided countries of the Middle East where I have spent most of my journalistic career since the 1970s, with stints in Belfast, Moscow and Washington. The experience makes certain elements in the Brexit crisis jump out at one as having similarities with what I had witnessed elsewhere, while other developments are unique to Britain. Leavers tend to be, consciously or unconsciously, believers in British “exceptionalism’’ who bridle at the mention of parallels between Britain and other nations. Remainers pride themselves on being more globally minded than their parochial opponents, but their preconceptions often turn out to be equally insular.

In one respect, the ideology – if that is not too grand a word – propelling Britain out of the EU is easy to understand: the Brexiters are a nationalist movement like many others, from Baghdad to Caraccas and Melbourne to Quebec, that have shaped the modern world. A desire for self-determination, for national freedom, is a universal political instinct that is usually accompanied by promises of economic benefits though these seldom materialise.

Ireland was certainly worse off for half a century because it separated from Britain in 1922, but few Irish would have considered this a persuasive argument to give up on independence. Nationalist and revolutionary movements almost invariably blame a foreign power or a homegrown tyrant for the ills of their society, often with good reason. But shifting the blame usually hides a strong dose of politically convenient scapegoating.

In Iraq, for instance, opponents of Saddam Hussein accused him of fomenting religious divisions between Sunni and Shia Iraqis. The impression was given that once he was gone such animosities would end while, in the event, his fall opened the way for a sectarian civil war of extraordinary savagery. Closer to home, colonies of Britain and France in the 19th and 20th centuries denounced London and Paris for being the source of their problems, just as the Brexit Party and the Conservatives accuse Brussels today, though with far less justification.

Talking to Leavers around the country, I felt that the riskiest part of their version of English nationalism was that it was suffused with wishful thinking about English superiority in all things. Such assumptions were never true even in the glory days of the British empire. But such fantasies stop Leavers having a realistic view of the political and economic balance of power in the real world, particularly in the most deprived regions of Britain that voted solidly for Leave: “People say ‘we did it before and we will do it again’,’’ says David Hardman, a former Labour councillor in Newcastle. “But we are not competitive in terms of skills and education. The northeast’s economy will be massively hit. We simply do not have a competitive edge.”

Mistaken assumptions of national superiority have been at the root of some of the greatest miscalculations in recent European history, luring France into a disastrous war in 1870 and leading Germany to do the same thing in 1914 and 1939. Could the same thing now be happening to Britain?

Over the past three years, the Brexiter leaders have been perplexed and angered by British negotiators’ inability to get their way in talks in Brussels, blaming lack of will power, commitment to Brexit, and even treachery for their failure. They ignored the obvious fact that in any negotiations or confrontation with the 27 EU states combined, they, as the more powerful player, will hold the whip hand. Boris Johnson reportedly plans as soon, as he is installed as prime minister, to seek a trade deal with the US to compensate for reduced access to the EU, but 45 per cent of British exports went to the EU in 2017 and 53 per cent of its imports came from there. The comparable figures for the US are 18 per cent and 11 per cent. Proximity matters: exports to Ireland are four times higher than those to Australia.

This imbalance of forces should be self-evident, yet, everywhere I went in Britain from Dover to the Welsh Valleys, Leavers would discount these facts of economic and political life. In south Wales, I was told that such concerns were all part of “Project Fear” and assured that the French would always want to sell their cheese to Britain and the Germans their cars. A student at Birmingham University, Michael Douglas, said he had voted Leave because he “felt that the EU was a bit undemocratic” and they “need us as much as we need them”. A well-educated and intelligent Leave campaigner in Newcastle, who did not want his name published, said that Europe was stagnating and Britain needed to look to wider, more global horizons in choosing trading partners such as China, India and Brazil.

Remainers tend to curl their lips at what they see as culpable and wilful ignorance of economics on the part of their opponents. But here they make a damaging mistake and fail to see that in socially unequal Britain, where prosperity is skewed towards London and the southeast, that potential damage to the economy as a whole is not necessarily a compelling argument for much of the population.

It might be convincing in the metropolitan core of cities such as Birmingham, Cardiff and Newcastle, but not in marginalised places like Dover, Hartlepool and the Welsh Valleys. Eddy Moreton, a musician, pub owner and convinced Remainer, speaks sympathetically about the people in Walsall, where he originally comes from, who voted for Brexit. He says Walsall “has had no investment for 40 years since Thatcher destroyed the manufacturing industry. We are now a finance-based economy [in Britain], but there is nothing in it for them and that is what they are revolting against. They don’t care if the GDP goes down because, as the man said, it is not their GDP.”

Alex Snowden, a left-wing Leave supporter in Newcastle, made much the same point about the northeast: many people he spoke to at the time of the referendum were not passionate about it, but they would ask: “What do we have to lose? Things are already desperate, so let’s see what happens, let’s give it a go.” This mantra is the same throughout de-industrialised England and Wales: whatever the EU has done it has not done nearly enough to turn their lives around and they also note that the period of decline seems to fit rather neatly with Britain’s accession to the EU in 1973.

Snowden makes another point worth considering because its impact is yet to come. He says that people’s sense of identity and their image of themselves and their country has become much more wrapped up in Brexit since 2016, with the result that positions, for or against leaving the EU, are harder and more uncompromising than they were three years ago.

This picture of Brexit as the outward and visible sign of a deeply divided Britain is confirmed by polling data. It shows that those in wards where educational qualifications are lowest and the average age the highest are precisely those that voted Leave. Out of 1,283 individual wards studied by Martin Rosenbaum, an expert in this field, the biggest Leave vote was the 82.5 per cent cast against the EU in the Brambles and Thornton ward in Middlesbrough, which also has less people with a degree, only 4 per cent of the population, than any other ward in England and Wales.

Why do such people in deprived areas single out the EU as the source of their troubles? It is not as if there were not plenty of other candidates who might be blamed. I asked an independent councillor in Caerphilly in south Wales, Graham Simmonds, why this was so, and was it not unfair to scapegoat Brussels when the British government and, to a far lesser degree, the Welsh assembly, deserved most of the blame?

Simmonds agreed this might well be so but “it was the EU against which the people decided to push back”. Again and again, wherever I went in the poorer areas of the country, those I spoke to complained that their views had been invariably disregarded in the past and the referendum was the first chance for them to have their say. Eric Segal, a trade unionist from Folkestone, said he had seen people vote who had never voted before which is why he thought “there would be blood in the streets” if their vote was disregarded or there was a second referendum.

No generalisation about Brexit is ever entirely correct. The EU may have failed to do enough to help the victims of de-industrialisation and austerity in most of England and Wales, but there were specific areas where it did a great deal. It turned out that I lived near one of them in Canterbury: a poor urban district called Thanington with a population of 2,794 on the outskirts of the city.

Twenty years ago, Thanington was nicknamed “Little Beirut” because it was notorious for violence and many of its houses were empty. A local children’s play group had to keep their toys in a gravediggers’ hut next to the cemetery. What turned the district round was an EU grant of £2.5m to refurbish the houses and build a community centre with the result that crime fell and children had a safe place to study and play. Even so, a majority of residents are reported to have voted Leave in what many Remainers might see as one more example of a self-destructive act of ingratitude.

Nick Eden-Green, a Liberal Democratic councillor for the area, says there were two main reasons for the outcome of the referendum: voters were saying “a plague on all your houses” to the political parties, and that they felt threatened by immigration. “If you knock on doors people say ‘it is all these bloody illegals’, [who are clogging up the NHS and living on benefits],” he says.

Immigration has a curious position in the Brexit crisis. Everybody agrees that it was one of the two overriding issues that gave the Leave campaign its narrow victory three years ago. Since then Brexit leaders, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, along with the pro-Brexit media, have downplayed the immigrant threat which they once promoted.

Liberals draw solace from polls showing that the public feels less strongly about immigration than it did three years ago. But I doubt if the issue has gone away or, if it has temporarily disappeared, that it has not gone very far. Dover is a good example: it has a reputation for racial tension because of the Slovakian Roma or gypsy community that migrated there in the 1990s, and locals are very conscious of the trickle of mostly Iranian asylum seekers who make their dangerous way across the Channel in fragile rubber boats.

Sam Hall, a local teacher, says residents complain to her, saying: “If we can’t look after our own, why should we extend a hand to others?” A trade union leader in Dover, who wanted to stay anonymous, told me: “The Leave vote was sold on one subject and one subject only which was immigration.” He dismissed the notion that people were motivated by the idea that Britain should become a great nation again in some Churchillian version of Trump’s America. There are those who think that way but they are not the dominant component in the Leave coalition.

Remainers and many economists say immigration does nothing but economic good, replenishing an ageing indigenous labour force. They downplay the belief that immigrants keep down wages and take jobs that might otherwise go to local people. But for those who are just getting by, immigrants pose one extra pressure, real or imaginary, on top of many others.

The latter is an important point: we know the world around us not only, or even primarily, from personal experience but from what others tell us or what we see on television or read in a newspaper. An Ipsos Mori poll six years ago, in the lead up to the rise of Ukip and the promise of a referendum, gives a fascinating picture of public perception of what is happening compared to the reality. On immigration, the poll showed that people believed 31 per cent of the population were immigrants while the true figure was 13 per cent; the black and Asian population was estimated by members of the public to be 30 per cent while the correct figure is 11 per cent. A quarter of people believed that foreign aid is a top item in government expenditure while in fact it is only 1.1 per cent of the total.


People have frequently asked me over the last six months what I think the outcome of the Brexit crisis will be. I always reply that I do not know and that is early days, which is true. But that is true only of the economic consequences of Brexit, which are still in the future because Britain remains in the EU. But the same is not true of political change, which is already with us, with the Conservative and Labour parties both split and under siege on different flanks by the Brexit Party.

Polarisation is deep and getting deeper but even if Brexit occurs that is not going to be the end of the story. A former Ukip member, who campaigned all round the country, said that if the Brexit Party ever got into power it would immediately split because its activists tend to be ultra-Thatcherites seeking to create a free market neoliberal Britain closer to the US model than the EU. But the mass of Leave voters he had encountered in the northeast and in the coastal towns of Essex and Kent – and he believed the same was true of the Brexit Party support – wanted more not less state intervention.

A further political change that is already with us is the weakening of the British state. It has become less influential in Europe because it is leaving the EU, while nationalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland see separatism as an increasingly feasible option. The French see the revolutionary nature of what Britain is proposing to do more realistically than the British themselves.

French journalist Adrien Jaulmes, writing in Le Figaro, neatly encapsulates the shifts that have already happened saying that “the UK has built its power on two principles: keep the British Isles united and the European continent divided. Today it is close to succeeding in doing the opposite.”

There is something absurd about the candidates to be the next prime minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, saying they will unite the country when they are widening its many fault lines. Remainers continue to make the mistake of presenting themselves as the party of the status quo. Economic disaster may or may not be around the corner, but Brexit has already produced irreversible political reformation and disintegration which will not go away whether or not Britain is inside or outside the EU.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Brexit, Britain 
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  1. “we are not competitive in terms of skills and education” – says a councillor for the party that claimed to have produced “the best educated generation in history”.

    How can these two claims be reconciled? Unless the councillor’s right, and our educational establishment and teachers (who, almost to a woman, voted Remain) have perpetrated the greatest fraud in British history.

  2. Kali says:

    Dear Mr Cockburn,

    Whilst I see from your article that you seem to have covered many of the concerns on both sides of this debate, there remains one small but significant demographic which remains unmentioned.

    Whilst I myself do not participate in elections, and have refrained from doing so since getting my degree in Politic and Sociology from the Univercity of Liverpool around 10 years ago, knowing that to participate in what is, at best, a pschological misdirection which affords the electorate very little say in the political direction of the State and, at worst, a sham, had I voted in the referendum (I gave it serious thought) it would have been to Leave the EU.

    Not because I fear immigration, or believe Britons to be in any way ‘exeptional’ (though we do have the best sence of humour!) but because as power becomes further centralised in fewer (not kess!) hands and away from our shaws, it becomes more and more impossible for the British people to hold it accountable, or (my own dream) to take it back into our own hands, as the Portuguese did (albeit briefly) in 1974.

    Many, many of my friends and aquaintences voted ‘leave’ for similar reasons. And whilst we are a small minority, we are also quite determined that the only kind of ‘democracy’ which truely ‘represnts’ the will of the people is a direct democracy!

    The elites, be they in Brussels or Whitehall, have systemattically enriched and empowered themselves and theur (((pay-masters))) at our expence for qiite long enough. But untill the power they weild is once again centered within our shaws, there will be very little we can do to wrest it into the hands of the people themselves.

    And whilst an exit from the EU offers only a slim hope of that hapoening, it is still the best hope we have.

    And unless we can manage to turn the tide AWAY from neoliberalism, multiculturalism (which is double-soeak forb monoculturalism) exploitation of global and national resources for the proffit of the few and their (((cronies))) at the expence of the many, wars for ‘israel’, etc, then we face an Orwelian future much worse than that envissioned by Orwell!

    You mention in your article several times that the EU has funded many regeneration initiatives througjout Britain but seem not to notice the financial burden of our membership, or to realise that that financial burden would be better spent at home, thus cutting out the middle-man.

    I think that you may be in a better possition than I am to discover just how much farmland is lying uncultivated thanks to the CAP. Land which would be better used to produce food for home consumption (and export).

    Big government has failed entirely in its commitment to the oeople. I have no doubt that smaller government will also fail (those who seek power over others are decidedly unfit to hold it) but smaller is easier for the people to control and even to overthrow.

    I’m under no illusions. I realise that the vast majority are in no fit state ti govern themselves, thanks to crappy education and crappy tv culture, but I do not think they are beyond hope and feel quite sure that once they have learned the art of critical thinking and of personal responsibility they will practice these things enthusiastically.

    Insidentally, you state that Briton hasn’t experienced violent upheaval for three hundred years, then go on to duscuss Northern Ireland as if the mainland went unaffected by the troubles.


  3. @Kali

    Excellent report filling in ground level details of the conflict.

    I was thinking along similar lines.
    First exit the most remote power, the EU.
    Next exit the UK.
    Dump the Parasites. Governments work for the Elites. A study of US Legislation found that laws are passed only when a bill correlates to the values of the extremely Wealthy.
    Base national government on a confederation of local units.
    National Referendums held on important issues.

    The Elites fear a “Christmas Truce” more than anything else.

    • Replies: @Kali
  4. Kali says:

    Thank you for the ‘vote of confidence’ SaneClownPosse.

    I think this is the only way for the people ever to regain any semblence of dugnity and control.

    I read reports of calls from various States in the US to secede, and pray that will happen for exactly the same reasons as every EU member State needs to withdraw from the ‘union’.
    And, despite what reporters such as Cockburn woukd have us believe, many people, I know, in France, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain feel the same.

    During the 74 revolution in Portugal a Direct Democracy was formed. Workers took over factories and agrivuktural land, etc, and everyone had a say in how their workplace operated. And it worked!

    How and why the people then traded in their new, functioning system for the sham which is ‘representative democracy’ (a contradiction in terms) is beyond me! – But it does serve a a lesson for people everywhere, should we manage to wrest power away from the parasites, never to relinquish it back to them in any form.

    I think/hope/believe (which means I don’t actually know!) that enough people are waking in time to halt the rush to global governance by (((despotic elites))). But even if I’m wrong, I have a basic, ethical duty to keep on pushing in the contrary direction to that unholy juganaught (sp?).

    Peace brother.

  5. Sean says:

    Birmingham has bounced back after from the collapse of its automotive industry in the 1970s and 1980s, but one of the architects of its regeneration, Sir Albert Bore, told me that he was fearful that the city’s economy could once again capsize outside the EU, which invested heavily in its renaissance. He says that “my mind almost explodes with rage” when he hears people blame the EU for problems caused by the failures of the UK government. In the northeast of England, the devastating shock of de-industrialisation, exacerbated by austerity, largely explains the region’s negative vote in the referendum.

    First of all, Saudi money has more than a little to do with Birmingham’s regeneration. Secondly de-industrialisation happened a long time ago, but then came a Tsunami of EU freedom of movement workers that held down wages and increasingly monopolised work in the construction and service jobs that the regeneration of Birmingham had created. It was like that all over Britain especially the SE; the gov had to outlaw recruiting en mass from abroad for jobs never advertised in the UK.

    The days of the farmers being pampered are ending because the money is needed for countries like Romania, which make Wales and Ireland look like Switzerland. To get down to brass tacks, there is no high street in Britain you can walk down without hearing Polish and even Romanian. Flooding in, no end in sight, and no way to stop them under the rules of the EC. We asked about altering the rules and were told, if you want the benefits of EC membership then free movement of labour and equal treatment–Poles claiming British benefits for their children back in Poland–is a principle that must be accepted. Very well then, said the majority of the British people, we will leave.

    “But we are not competitive in terms of skills and education. The northeast’s economy will be massively hit. We simply do not have a competitive edge.”

    Forcing the ordinary British family breadwinner (a lot of who have no skills) to compete with the cream of young people from Poland prepared to live ten to a house was fine though. Merciless ever intensifying competition is great when it’s between indigenous workers and an unlimited supply of Poles ect, but business leaders are not so keen on it otherwise. Well now business are going to get a taste of their own medicine, I am sure it will do them a great deal of good to have to do more with less.

    French journalist Adrien Jaulmes, writing in Le Figaro, neatly encapsulates the shifts that have already happened saying that “the UK has built its power on two principles: keep the British Isles united and the European continent divided. Today it is close to succeeding in doing the opposite.”

    Maybe so, but the rationale for pursuing those policies was they were the best way to ensure Britain was not subject to an invasion. By my way of thinking, to allow an invasion by Poles ect in order to try and act as a political wedge on the continent is putting the cart before the horse.

  6. @Kali

    Whilst I myself do not participate in elections, and have refrained from doing so since getting my degree in Politic and Sociology from the Univercity of Liverpool around 10 years ago, knowing that to participate in what is, at best, a pschological misdirection which affords the electorate very little say in the political direction of the State and, at worst, a sham, had I voted in the referendum (I gave it serious thought) it would have been to Leave the EU.

    I have never voted in a UK election either, since graduating from the University of Liverpool in 1972 with a degree in English Language and Literature.

    Even at the time that I was at university, the city of Liverpool was in rapid decline as a going concern, mainly due to the containerization of the port and docks and ongoing industrial relations problems at the Ford factory at Halewood, and was surrounded by horrific crime-ridden “slum-clearance” dormitory towns such as Huyton, Kirkby, and Skelmersdale.

    Britain has had 70 odd years of relative prosperity since the end of World War II, with major developments in my lifetime including the glories of the BBC, the Beatles and pop music in general, the development of the motorway network, winning the Word Cup in 1966, entry into the Common Market, the ending of coal fires and widespread installation of central heating, the arrival of self service supermarkets and petrol stations, cheap jet-plane package holidays in Europe, computerization, debit cards, and Automatic Teller Machines revolutionizing the handling of money and doing away with long lines on paydays, and the Internet leading to a much greater awareness of global concerns and commerce.

    People of my parents generation, born in the 1920’s suffered in Word War II, but did very well afterwards in a world where THEIR parent’s generation had been drastically thinned out by World War I. The first black-and-white talking pictures were invented in their lifetime, but by old age they were watching digital satellite TV in full color in their homes.

    Middle class people and land and residential property owners have done well in the London, the South of England and many rural areas of the Midlands and North, but the old industrial cities and ports have become obsolete and their populations left behind.

    Many of the descendants of the old factory, agriculture and servant classes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have not shared in the prosperity and are resentful of a perceived increase in foreigners coming to use the taxpayer funded NHS and benefit from free or subsidized public housing and/or unemployment and disabilty benefit payments.

    Even children of the middle classes are squeezed and find it hard to get good jobs.

    My sister is a doctor and her husband an engineer, and yet their three children who are smart and high achievers have had a hard time getting good jobs. My nephew was a recording engineer and an associate of Sir George Martin, but now he lives in Canada with his Vietnamese wife and designs Web sites. My niece obtained a degree in physics and maths and played soccer for England ladies, but ended up with a job in the police.

    My nephew via my other sister is a football (soccer) coach, but ended up going to Mexico to work, married a Mexicana, and is now living and working in China. Another nephew now works for a building society who educated him for free, thus avoiding the cost of university.

    The referendum on Brexit was a piece of foolishness introduced by Cameron as a wheeze to defuse the chances of UKIP dividing the Tory vote and letting in Labour. No one in politics had any idea it could go the way it did. The referendum was naively set up so that only 51% was needed for Brexit, because nobody considered the possibility of a Brexit majority. Like the Scotland independence referendum, it was just supposed to be a sop to the nationalists.

    At the time of the Brexit referendum I said that I would vote for Brexit, because the EU seemed to have gone way past the original idea of a Common Market and freedom to travel and work within Europe, and membership of the EU was giving access to any non European who could get into the EU. But by that time I was a citizen of the US, though I retain UK citizenship.

    Now I can see that it will do a lot of harm to the most vulnerable parts of the population of the UK. Those with inherited wealth, land, residential property, and so on will continue to do well, but despair may increase in the cities where previous form has shown that riots are always waiting to break out at any convenient excuse.

    Really there is no scientific law that guarantees that any country is governable. Even the US sometimes seems to be teetering on the edge of anarchy, suppressed by armed police and residential areas penned off by freeways, which are the equivalent of moats full of alligators for pedestrians.

    • Replies: @Kali
  7. In 2015 the EU admitted a million+ Muslims, and threatened member states who would not take their quota.

    In 2016 British voters voted to leave the EU.

    Sometimes, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
    , @Saxon
  8. @donald j tingle

    In 2015 the EU admitted a million+ Muslims, and threatened member states who would not take their quota.

    This is the reason why there is hardly any discussion of WHY the UK is Brexiting, as indicated in the article. Actually the K is no longer very U, since Scotland and Northern Ireland did not want out of the EU. The Brexit movement is English to the core.

    Any discussion of the real reason is verboten under the no freedom of speech laws in the UK. Were I to mention such a thing in the comments section of The Guardian, for example, the comment would quickly be deleted.

    • Agree: Miro23
    • Replies: @Sean
  9. Looting and vandalism. Not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Nigeria but Birmingham, England.

    Immigration has been a total disaster. To keep pretending otherwise is sheer lunacy.

    Then you have Bojangles Kemal Atatürk who wants to give amnesty to an estimated 500,000 to 1 million illegals. An online petition to parliament against this absurd idea has already started.

    Meanwhile the so-called Scottish National Party recently brought a mosque to ‘enrich’ the Hebridean island of Lewis where El Trumpo’s mother Mary Anne was born.

    Perhaps all the peoples indigenous to the British Isles should be considering independence from Londonistan with its Sadiq Khan, Etonian and Oxbridge snobs, Guardianistas and Independent readers, multiculturalism zealots, millionaire members of parliament and unelected lords, moneychangers plus Zionists.

    I am not a fan of Billy Bragg but even he has talked about York becoming the capital of England like in the Viking Age.

    • Agree: El Dato
  10. El Dato says:

    The UK today:

    UK taxpayers funded Grand Theft Auto V devs to tune of £42m while biz paid no corporation tax and made BEEELLIONS: Put the money in the bag

    The financial aid was awarded to Rockstar by the UK government under the Video Games Tax Relief scheme, introduced in 2014 to support Britain’s burgeoning games sector, especially the titles identified as “culturally British”.

    Tax Watch noted this £42m equated to 19 per cent of the total relief paid to the entire UK industry since the programme’s start, which it found odd considering the scheme was ostensibly targeted at small and medium-sized businesses.

    Rockstar North, on merit of being part of a multinational games publishing empire and responsible for generating revenue in multiple billions on its own, likely qualifies as neither small nor medium.

    • Replies: @Stebbing Heuer
  11. Jake says:

    Here is a way to see what is wrong, so dreadfully wrong, with old fashioned, well-meaning Liberals (as opposed to the overtly Leftist monsters who are always monsters of self-righteous fury and endless desires of growing empire so they can save and uplift more people and lands): “A feature of EU referendum often commented on is that so many people voted against their own economic interests, none more so than sheep farmers in the Welsh hills, who face extinction without the EU but voted Leave because, according to local sources, they feared immigration – though immigrants are almost entirely absent from the Welsh hills.”

    First, young Cockburn either is too stupid to realize that immigrants in London and Birmingham and Rotherham, (and in the EU, in France and Germany and Belgium and the Netherlands) etc. can and will vote in ways that could destroy every remaining aspect of Welsh culture, or else he assumes that the Welsh farmers should be that stupid.

    Second, and related, is that Cockburn’s attitude is that what he sees as economic benefits to various peoples should outweigh other matters, which have to do with local history, local identity, local customs, all of which are destroyed by large scale immigration. All problems of nationalism are, at their base, about centralization lording over then necessarily destroying localism. Globalism does not solve that grave problem; it makes it even more overwhelming.

    The EU is opposed by very large numbers of people across the EU. And immigration is bound up with all large scale anti-EU feeling. If the EU leaders gave a shit about the people they rule, they would virtually end immigration and thus dampen the growing hatred for the EU as too big and too rich and too ready to bulldoze opposition to fit to rule.

  12. Saxon says:
    @donald j tingle

    Yes but comfortable bourgeois Cockburn cannot imagine why the rubes and proles cannot just enjoy Pakistani (and other global south) foreign men raping their daughters and turning them out as whores. Or why farmers may be looking on in trepidation on what is happening to farmers in South Africa and consider their own family’s future in their own country if this immigration continues. Can’t happen here? Don’t bet on it.

  13. “Brexit Britain Is on the Brink of a Breakdown”

    I think it’s more Mr Cockburn who’s on the brink. And I see the “Independent” as well as the Evening Standard is now 30% owned by the Saudis, the rest by a Russian oligarch.

  14. plantman says:

    another typically dreadful column by Cockburn.

    Cockburn begins his piece by drawing attention to the factors that have precipitated Brexit including “pent up forces … such as inequality, de-industrialisation, globalisation, imperial retreat, immigration and austerity”

    Got that? In other words, Cockburn admits that these are the issues or policies that triggered the populist rage against the EU superstate.

    But then, Cockburn does a quick reversal and blames the impending crisis on the people who want to leave the EU.


    “Brexit has already produced irreversible political reformation and disintegration which will not go away whether or not Britain is inside or outside the EU.”

    This is flawed logic. The Brexiteers did not create “the inequality, de-industrialisation, globalisation, imperial retreat, immigration and austerity” that caused Brexit. The problem was caused by the globalists who implemented the policies that led to the erosion of living standards and economic security. The people are merely reacting to the mismanagement of the state in the interests of the 1 percent who control everything.

    Brexit is a rejection of elitism and its defenders like Patrick Cockburn.

  15. Kali says:
    @Jonathan Mason


    I enjoyed reading your comnent. Thank you.

    Despite that I got my degree a little over 10 years ago, I was actually born in 1967 and spent the first 11 years of my life growing up in one of those godawful ‘dormitory towns’ you describe (Netherley) whilst my father worked (when he wasn’t on strike) for Fords and later TR7.

    My grandfather was a docker at Garston docks.

    I went to an all-girls comprehensive school which taught me little more than how to properly iron and fold my husbands shirts (seriously!).

    Following many aimless years, bouncing from one menial job to another I decided to see if I could return to education, get mysekf a degree in politics and, from there, change the system from within.

    What I discovered was the same ‘leftist’ rhetoric I could read in the pages of the Guardian and Indeoendent newspapers, Cultural Marxism and only ‘mainstream’ /establishment thinking.

    I did whst I had to do to earn that scrap of paper which left me thousands of pounds in debt, knowing, by the end of my time at uni, there was no way to change the system frim within.

    Now I live in a caravan on a mountainside in beautiful Portugal, as far outside the system as it’s possible to get.

    I was very politically active whilst still on the island, and would be still if life had not, very ynexpectedly, brought me to this little piece of baking hot paradice.

    Here I live as I choose to live. I care for my animals and my hubby, I grow and preserve as much food as I can. Our home is powered by the sun and our water comes direct from the mountain. Friends come and stay and leave and return… we support out nieghbours, who also support us.

    Slowly our dream of establishing a community (of sorts) is coming to fruition. – Mutually supportive, entirely autonimous households is really the only way for communities to work, in my experience. Of course, there are exeptions to this rule, but not many.

    I miss England. Whilst I reside in this blazing hot paradise, I feel I’m a political exile. – Our lifestyle here was not possible on the island. We, like so many others, tried several times to make it work there, and found ourselves fighting legal battles every time.

    Britians membership of the EU has done remarkably little, besides the occassional redevelopement project, to improve the lot of odinary people, who suffer under osterity in support of globalist bankers whilst continuing to fund the Eropean Project to the tune of billions.

    Not long before I left Liverpool the numbers of homeless natives was rising fast, alongside homeless immigrants.

    These days people litterally starve to death on the streets and in theur homes.

    And until we exit the EU we stand no chance what-so-ever of putting an end to this increasingly desparate situation.

    Remainers compain that the current government is planning on scrapping the human rights legeslation which came to us through the EU without realising that even with that legislation in place their god-given rights are not being protected.


  16. @Kali

    Thanks for your interesting post. I sometimes think back to my days as a student in Liverpool, but I have not been there for many, many years. I actually worked at the Royal Liverpool Hospital from 1979 to 1980 when I left the country to live and work in a small Caribbean island. In fact I have not been back to the UK since 2002, for a funeral, but plan to visit next summer.

    My life is very different now and I have two small children. We went to Jacksonville Zoo today. I always felt that one of the benefits of my UK citizenship would be that my daughters could travel to the UK, maybe study there, and possibly live elsewhere in Europe, possibly in Spain, as we all speak Spanish.

    But I guess it will not be with Brexit. I have always kept in touch with Britain via newspapers and then the Internet. I don’t think I will recognize it as the country where I grew up in the 50s and 60s when I go back for probably my last visit next year, but I do have three sisters there.

    Will you be able to continue to live in Portugal after Brexit?

    • Replies: @Kali
  17. Kali says:
    @Jonathan Mason

    Yes. My residency is good for the next 4.5 years.
    Portugal has a very small population and central Portugal, where we live, would be deserted in a few years if it wasn’t for the immigrant population here.
    I understand that the Junta (government) has made special provisions for Brits, post Brexit.

    One of the features of Europes ‘open boarders’ is the very Hard Borders with which it surrounds itself! My husband is from New Zealand, which has caused no end of trouble with the immigration office here (hence my appling for official residency last year and myself and hubby getting ‘officually’ married two weeks ago!).

    I hope you enjoy your visit next summer. Reports from family and friends there tell me it’s increasingly desparate socially and politically.

    I’d love to read something of your experiences after your visit… maybe thread will become some kind of travelog when the time comes. 🙂

    Wishing you a wonderful day. Xxx

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
  18. @Kali

    Interesting that Brexit is more nuanced than it appears. I would have thought that Brexit with no deal would mean the instant recall of all British residents in the EU and the expulsion of all EU citizens from the UK, but apparently it is not the case. which would mitigate some of the most severe effects of Brexit, at least for a while.

    You might also be able to live the life you want in New Zealand. I have a cousin there who lives in Nelson and was taken there by boat as a teenager in the 1960’s. Eventually all his family returned to the UK, except him.

    On my trip to England next year I will be reporting on developments in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District and the shopping centers of Harrogate and Leeds.

    Hopefully political correctness will not have taken over completely, as I see that Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe in Settle is still in the business of serving tea and cakes, and that global warming has brought outside tables.

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
    , @Lurker
  19. @Jonathan Mason

    I should point out that even in the bucolic setting of a market town in North Yorkshire, depicted in this picture, you can see, if you look carefully, the jet trails of an airplane that is probably en route to North America via the northern circle route.

    • Replies: @sailor1031
  20. The citizenry suffer while the elites try to assure them that bringing in more cheap foreign labor will solve all of their problems. It’s a tale retold at many times and places.

    • Replies: @Herald
  21. @El Dato

    I suppose it would be fair to conclude that the title ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is ‘culturally British’ these days.


  22. @Kali

    Thanks for this. Pleasant to read.

  23. Sean says:
    @Jonathan Mason

    Actually the K is no longer very U, since Scotland and Northern Ireland did not want out of the EU.

    No, Brexit will never lead to Scotland leaving the U.K. Not a chance. The SNP ran on “Independence within Europe” during the Scottish Independence referendum and they clearly lost, and lost at a time the economics were far more favourable to them. For the avoidance of doubt, in september 2014 a majority of Scotland voted against leaving the UK even though there would have been no barriers worth speaking of between an independent Scotland and the rest of Britain (and NI) because at that time both Scotland and England were in the European Union. And even then it would have hurt.

    My nephew worked for an extremely high tech international manufacturing company in Scotland and on the day of the Scottish independence referendum the boss said ‘If it is Yes (to independance) we are all out of a job’. The oil price has fallen greatly since the referendum. Fracking killed the SNP and its decline is epitomised by the recent former head Alex Salmond recently being arraigned to be tried on a charge of attempted rape. The SNP were back where the were before the Scottish Independence Referendum boosted them before the 2016 EU referendum. After the Brexit vote the SNP strategy of a independence while still under the same economic regime as the rest of Britain in the EUis a fantasy.

    100th Scottish-built satellite enters orbit
    By Kenneth Macdonald
    BBC Scotland Science Correspondent
    1 April 2019

    I completely disagree about the million Merkel Muslims being the cause of Brexit. Sad to say people are too intimidated about protesting about no European immigrants. They are scared to organise against non white immigrants and right to be, I think it was the vast number of Poles who are actually already in the UK–everywhere– that people who voted Brexit objected to.

    The Poles ect were so numerous and coming in at such a rate (with no way of stopping them while Britain remained in the EU) that they were very obviously keeping wages from rising, and to an non trivial extent probabally keeping people out of work altogether. Britain sick of being was a mulch cow for the EU. British productive capacity was declining year on year and the freedom of movement was all one way in practice. It was only getting worse The voting population were being hit in their wallets in a very obvious way, and these EU freedom of movement immigrants were white, thereby invalidating much of the conditioning that intimidates the British in relation to blacks and asians, who are not in such direct competition for jobs anyway.

    • Replies: @Jonathan Mason
  24. Herald says:

    You have it right. Brexit or no Brexit, the poor will keep on getting poorer and the rich will get richer, it’s just the natural order of things.

  25. @Sean

    Fracking killed the SNP and its decline is epitomised by the recent former head Alex Salmond recently being arraigned to be tried on a charge of attempted rape.

    It is purely a convention these days in Britain and other countries that any male entertainer or politician who has fallen out of public favor and/or made enemies is accused of rape and thus declared to be a non-person. Even Buck House and the White House are not immune to the old rape trick.

    The Scottish independence referendum was a bit of a joke, as UK referendums tend to be.

    For a start only local electors in Scotland were allowed to vote, so millions of Scots living in England and the rest of the world, who would have been entitled to Scottish citizenship and eligible to play soccer for Scotland, were disenfranchised.

    Secondly no one had figured out what an independent Scotland would look like, not even simple details like what currency the new Republic of Scotland would use, or whether the Royal Family would have its Scottish estates confiscated and whether the Open golf tournament would be ever played at St. Andrews again, whether the new Scotland would have an established church, and so on.

    However the fact remains that voters living in Scottish parliamentary constituencies overwhelmingly voted to stay in the Brexit referendum, and that the result of the Scottish independence referendum might have been different had it been known that the UK was leaving Europe.

    But Mouse, you are not alone,

    In proving foresight may be vain:

    The best laid schemes of mice and men

    Go often askew,

    And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

    For promised joy!

    [Robert Burns]

    • Replies: @Lurker
  26. Lurker says:
    @Jonathan Mason

    Anecdotally – Scots I’m acquainted with (living in England) would have voted ‘no’ to independence.

  27. Lurker says:
    @Jonathan Mason

    I was in Settle a year or so ago, got talking to a young local lad and before long we had agreed that London was no longer British and that, in so many words, we needed to take our country back. And we weren’t talking about Brexit.

  28. @Jonathan Mason

    and your point about the contrail is…..?

  29. Lurker says:

    What turned the district round was an EU grant of £2.5m to refurbish the houses and build a community centre with the result that crime fell and children had a safe place to study and play

    All very laudable. But overlooks the wider truth about EU grants. That every year Britain has been in the EU she has made a net contribution to EU funds. The UK government could maintain all current EU funded projects in Britain and still have change left over.

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