This is a very, very strange time for British politics. The Article 50 period runs out in a mere 81 days. Having thought it through, I don’t see how we’re not on the verge of a new political era, very different even to the one we’ve inherited since June 24th of 2016. Yet it doesn’t feel that way, on the street, in the media, online. Everyone seems convinced somehow that things will just continue on as they have done.
Let’s briefly run through every believable scenario and examine the political aftermath of each. Although it looks unlikely at the moment, we’ll start with May’s deal getting a majority in parliament. This is the scenario that offers the least scope for radical change – but it will still deliver plenty. For a start, Brexit will happen and we’ll be thrown into the next set of negotiations with the EU. May will hang around and insist that she be the one to guide Britain through that process, still clinging to the myth that this can all be wrapped up in less than two years. This will cause both huge disruption inside the Conservative party, more than we’ve already seen even, and simply kick the next Brexit related crisis down the road. Meanwhile, bad blood over Corbyn’s conduct regarding Brexit, combined with the fact that leaving the EU means there is no point in at least half of the PLP bothering to stick around anymore, means the party system could still crumble.
And again, that is the least likely, most stable outcome ahead of us. What if we leave with no deal? The potential messiness of this is too much to begin to accurately predict. Even if the disruption is moderate – which I severely doubt – the fallout will still be immense. A civil war within the Right will almost certainly erupt, alongside an equally virulent dispute on the Left. If the disruption is bad – I really have no idea what happens then. But I just don’t see how either of the two large national parties remain anything like intact whatever the outcome of no deal, if it should take place.
If there’s a second referendum, that will see massive fireworks and again, major splits in both major parties the likes of which feel like they could be terminal. If Article 50 is simply cancelled on the proviso we’ve run down the clock, we need to stop it and figure out what to do later? Again, I have no idea what happens then. Does the ERG bunch leave en masse to join some Arron Banks funded monstrosity? How does Corbyn react to this dashing of the Brexit dream?
Coming back to my original conceit: taking into account all of the above, it remains the case that most Britons do not feel panicked about the current political state of affairs, nor does it feel like, a few yobs in yellow jackets occasionally disturbing traffic in central London aside, revolution of any description is in the air. One could come to the conclusion that the masses are ignorant of what is coming; polling would support this conclusion, if you of a partisan mindset to jump to it. A lot of people seem to think “no deal” means no change whatsoever, and even those who understand it enough to realise the change, feel like all of the negative prognostications, both from the government and from Remain leaders, is just another phase of Project Fear.
Yet, I don’t think it is down to mass ignorance. Part of me has always felt that what drove the Leave victory was a desire to smash the system on the part of enough people to make the electoral difference in June 2016. And if that hypothesis is correct, then a lot of people are getting – and about to get – a whole lot more of what they voted for. I don’t think a lot of people who voted Leave will shed tears if one of the end results of the Brexit process is the extirpation of both the Labour and Conservative parties. Perhaps that is why everything feels so calm despite the backdrop.