The news headlines from the British capital on the other side
of the Pond are unsettling to any admirer of British democracy
and sovereignty. That small island nation has played an outsized
role in modern global history, and although like all human
endeavors it has not been without its shortcomings, its current
peril should be of concern to all who have benefited from its
contributions to the rule of law, culture, human freedom and the
emergence of representative democracy.
For almost two centuries, the British empire through its naval
resources was the greatest world power. As a colonial power, it
exhibited arrogance and imposed itself on, and exploited, faraway
places. That included a period when the U.S. was a colony, and
ultimately felt the need to declare its independence. Even after
that was won, the British attempted to retake its American colony,
even sacking and burning Washington, DC before finally
withdrawing to its English shores and other colonies.
Its era of empire ebbed after World War I, and was finished by
the end of World War II. Most of its colonies became serious
representative democracies, including the U.S., Australia, New
Zealand, Canada, India, Nigeria and other nations. Unlike the
new nations formed from the lands of the colonial powers of
Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands,
Austria-Hungary and Germany, the British left important civic
legacies that were largely beneficial to most of its former
One of those legacies was the Westminster (parliamentary)
system which traces back about a thousand years to the Magna
Carta. English imperial rule evolved into a powerless (but
usefully symbolic) monarchy. The U.S. adopted a different
system, but kept many British traditions of law, language and
In the evening of its waning global power, in the desperate days
of Nazi aggression, the United Kingdom and its people
demonstrated remarkable resiliency, resolve and courage in their
Today, the U.K. is a shadow of its former naval and military
prowess. Yet the British pound is still an independent global
standard currency. The U.K.remains an economic presence in
international trade, but its long-uneasy membership in the
European Union (E.U.) has reached a crisis over sovereignty,
and the U.K.electorate has voted to leave the E.U. The process
of this departure, known as Brexit, has been quite complicated,
primarily due to minority and regional opposition to Brexit in the
Conservative (Tory) government and the parliament it has, until
Two years ago, a new Tory prime minister, Theresa May, was
elected by the party to make Brexit happen in an orderly fashion,
but she failed to do so, and the formal break has been delayed.
A new prime minister, Boris Johnson, was chosen to finish the job,
and he has promised to do so, even if a transition agreement
cannot be reached with E.U. leaders by an October 31 deadline.
Such a “no deal” outcome is unacceptable to a majority of
members of Parliament, including several Tory members, and
Mr. Johnson’s efforts to finalize Brexit have been apparently
blocked. His parliamentary majority is now gone. Not only can he
now not make a no-deal Brexit happen --- and given this
circumstance, E.U. leaders have no reason to make a new deal ---
the Parliament also will not allow Johnson to call a new election
which current polls indicate he would win.
Further complicating this unprecedented impasse, Parliament so
far is unwilling to dismiss Johnson with a no-confidence vote,
and replace him with the minority Labour Party leader who is
widely disliked for what his opponents call his anti-semitic and
An independent pro-Brexit party, led by nationalist Nigel Farage,
has already won dramatic local elections, and if Prime Minister
Johnson is unable to make Brexit happen on October 31, it is
poised to devastate the Tory Party in a national election --- just as
it did in the recent local elections.
All of this could precipitate not only a constitutional crisis,
it could lead to an attempted secession of Scotland and perhaps
other parts of the United Kingdom (which also includes England,
Wales and Northern Ireland).
In short, it is a colossal political mess with no apparent way out.
The fact is that the British electorate voted for Brexit, and failure
to make it happen could bring some very hitherto un-British
activity to the streets of the now not so United Kingdom.
Copyright (c) 2019 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.