By Jonathan Power*
“It’s not over until the fat lady ends her song” – so goes the adage, referring to the often-overweight soprano who sings the last aria in Wagner’s opera, Götterdämmerung.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is not fat in a bodily sense, but she is fat-headed, convinced of her own righteousness over Brexit, although she herself voted Remain in the Brexit referendum and then changed her opinion so she could win enough votes from Brexit members of parliament to become Prime Minister.
Fortunately, for those who believe that the European Union is a force that welds together the former warring nations of Europe who precipitated World Wars 1 and 2 into a well-run economic and political union and thus has ensured that Europe has achieved its longest period of peace in 2000 years, the fat lady has just got going on her long aria.
Indeed, her voice is gaining timbre as it becomes clear that the Remainers still have a chance of defeating May and her inward looking, self-destructive, supporters who would have had Winston Churchill on their backs if he were still alive – he was a great believer in a unified Europe.
Fortunately for Europe, as Prime Minister May goes backwards, Chancellor Angela Merkel goes forward. Certain to win her re-election on September 24, and thus overtake Vladimir Putin for longevity in office, she has Europe sewn into her gut. She has lived through it all, in the sense that the Berlin she grew up in as a girl was a bombed-out ruin, slowly being rebuilt with concrete boxes.
Merkel is one to take her time and find the right moment to strike. She doesn’t believe that the UK leadership is being rational. How could it renounce its powerful position in Europe when only 37% of the electorate voted for Leave, many of them hoodwinked by the lies of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, the present foreign secretary? (Dominic Cummings, the chief organizer of the Leave vote, has now said it was all a mistake.)
Chancellor Merkel will continue to support a hard, even harsh, negotiating stance with the UK over Brexit. She will partner with President Emmanuel Macron of France to strengthen the EU’s financial management to ensure another Greek-type crisis is avoided and so that Europe can unleash further its economic potential.
I guess she won’t be averse to strengthening Germany’s and the EU’s links with Scotland, so to drive home that a self-confident Scotland could compel May to realize that if she leaves Europe Scotland will leave Britain – and be welcomed to stay in the EU. In short, a re-elected Merkel will fight very hard for the Europe she has long craved for – a united, anti-far right, anti-communist, pro-melting pot, peaceful, compassionate and cooperative continent. Merkel is a tougher and more experienced piece of work than May.
Jenni Russel wrote recently in the Guardian newspaper: “Nothing could be less helpful to our collective psyche as the country blunders toward Brexit. We hear much about American “exceptionalism”, but Britain feels it too. We are the nation of empire, whose recent ancestors once controlled a quarter of the globe, we are the mother of parliaments, we stood alone against Hitler; we have not been conquered for a thousand years. We feel remarkable.”
At the same time, the latest figures from the Western governments’ joint think tank, the OECD, show that scores for literacy and numeracy of 16-24 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rank in the lowest four of the EU’s 35 countries. Alongside the Americans the British have the worst technological skills. There aren’t enough British workers with the right attitudes and skills to fill the country’s jobs.
The result is that the UK imports large numbers of migrants. Nearly 25% of university staff come from other EU countries – some of them are already packing to leave. A third of new nurses each year come from the EU. A recent report by the non-partisan Office for Budget Responsibility, warns that public finances are in worse shape than before the 2008 financial crash. Rising debt, plummeting tax revenues, and the lowest economic growth rate in Europe are the curse of the UK.
Britain, as we know it, is on its way to self-destruction. How can this be stopped? Not yet. The government must go through the pain of intense Brexit negotiations with the EU; the economy has to fail even more than it is.
Is there a way out? Perhaps there could be a deal whereby the EU concedes that the UK has the right to control its own immigration flows, since immigration was the main issue in the Leave’s campaign. Sweden quite recently did that. It was no great big deal. Then British public opinion would shift to Remain.
At that point there has to be another referendum.
*Note: For 17 years Jonathan Power authored “Like Water on Stone- the History of Amnesty International” (Penguin). He was a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune – and a member of the Independent Commission on Disarmament, chaired by the prime minister of Sweden, Olof Palme. He has forwarded this and his previous Viewpoints for publication in IDN-INPS.