By Brigitte L. Nacos
This weekend, as I was leaving Dublin, the Irish Times’s only front page story was an excellent commentary by Fintan O’Toole titled “Brexit fantasy is about to come crashing down.” Here are the opening paragraphs of O’Toole’s dissection of the equally surprising as shocking referendum result and its likely consequences:
“Did you ever see a slightly drunk man trying that trick with the tablecloth? He thinks he can whip the cloth off the table with a fast, clean snap, but leave all the crockery perfectly intact. He gives a sharp tug and stands back with a triumphant flourish as the plates and glasses come flying to the ground and shatter all around him.
That’s what Brexit is like. Those who have driven it have successfully pulled the cloth off the table – the underlying fabric of modern Britain has been whipped away with a shocking suddenness.
They stand in triumph, sure that they have pulled off the trick of removing a whole layer of political reality without disturbing all the family tableware. They have yet to notice that so much that was on the table is now at their feet, broken, perhaps irreparably.”
In the Brexit case the imaginary trick that O’Toole describes was not performed by drunkards but by opportunistic populists whose major appeals were not based on fact and truth. The public perceptions they strove for were that an EU exit would mean quick fixes for all the ills in the U.K.--most importantly, a stop of the transfer of huge sums of U.K. taxpayers’ money to Brussels and of the flow of foreigners onto the British isle.
One English woman interviewed by a TV reporter lauded the vote as a return to “normalcy” and to “things like they used to be.”
Ah, well. It took merely hours or days for some leaders of the Exit movement to admit explicitly or implicitly that nothing would change in the near future or perhaps not at all.
As Steven Castle reports in today’s New York Times, the most prominent Brexit populists Boris Johnson, the former London mayor, and Nigel Farage, leader of the far right Independence Party, along with others began to backpedal on their campaign promises that were all along based on misinformation.
The Brexit advocates expected to lose the referendum and win political capital among the divided conservative camp. As their underhanded tricks become increasingly exposed, they are in a pickle. As Castle put it, “Having now ousted Prime Minister David Cameron, they [the Exit leaders] face a political vacuum, with their base demanding that promises be kept. Mr. Johnson, the front-runner to replace Mr. Cameron, has not made any further pronouncements since a subdued statement on Friday that was restricted to generalities. If he does become prime minister, Mr. Johnson will face the task of carrying out a British withdrawal without provoking a backlash from those who believed campaign slogans or sentiments that he certainly appeared to endorse.”
In praising the Brexit decision and comparing its core demands to the fuzzy agenda behind his “Taking Back America” slogan Donald Trump will continue to copy the metaphorical table cloth trick of his British soulmates—regardless of the consequences.