End of Empire 2.0

Imperial simulacra: British bomb disposal specialists, Afghanistan.

The UK is on course to exit the European Union with no clear game plan. The Chequers deal was dead before it was put in writing. It was too much for the Tory hard-right to accept, and too much for the EU to concede.

The Conservative Party has been tearing itself apart over the Chequers deal and the possibilities of a no-deal exit. At the same time, the Labour Conference has waged a debate on the need for a second referendum on the Brexit deal. Meanwhile, Theresa May remains in office by default but not in power.

The difficult task for Labour is to appear ready for government and poised to take power, while, in actuality, the opposition must wait until the Tory government either falls or calls an election. The Fixed Terms Act allows the Conservative Party to effectively hold on and stall until 2022. But there are no certainties anymore.

Hello Chaos, My Old Friend

The political consensus is crumbling before our eyes. Yet the political class remains in place, while the scenery collapses around it. Strangely, it’s Jeremy Corbyn who is left looking increasingly statesmanlike. It’s not just the order of the last few years that’s breaking down, it’s the status quo of several decades – perhaps the whole post-war consensus is coming to a close.

As a major Conservative donor told The Guardian: “It is like the Suez crisis. You just don’t know what the unintended consequences will be. The next three weeks could change everything. The Suez crisis went on for months and this is up there with some of the great turning points in British political history.”

The invasion of Egypt in 1956 was a blunder that brought down Anthony Eden and signalled that true power laid elsewhere. Not only was it the end of European empire, particularly the British empire and its French counterpart, it was also one of the key moments that led to the emergence of the New Left. Yet the British elites did not realise what had hit them.

The British establishment decided to follow the lead of the US in world affairs. The United States was now the only game in town. The Wilson government was soon backing the US war against Vietnam and clearing off the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands to make way for American troops. This was the new normal.

There was no deviation, and there still hasn’t been a major fracture, since. The 2013 vote on Syria may have been an early sign of the coming breakdown. If Labour wins the next election, Corbyn will be the first PM to potentially take British foreign policy out of US influence. What this will look like is a huge discussion in its own right.

Left Exit Here

What is clear is that Brexit was the catalyst for this state of affairs. Say what you will about the flaws of the Lexit argument, the possible break with the EU has produced some progressive outcomes: David Cameron is gone, TTIP is dead, the Tories are doomed to infighting and Corbyn may be on the road to government. It’s quite something to behold.

We can now add the possible end of the empire-state to the list. It’s not just that Britain is an irrelevant country in so many ways. It’s that the UK has few things to hold itself together – especially once it is cut loose from the warm embrace of Europeanism.

No longer will the UK be an asset in international relations, whether it’s in the EU or the UN. It’s not just unclear what the Brexit deal will look like, it’s unclear what Britain will look like once this is all said and done.

Photograph courtesy of ResoluteSupportMedia. Published under a Creative Commons license.