“No man is an Island, entire of itself; Every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” – John Donne
BY SHASHI P.B.B. MALLA & CHANDRA BAHADUR PARBATE
The U.K.’s referendum which went in favour of leaving the European Union (Brexit) has had wide ranging consequences not only for the country as a whole, but also for Europe and the world. It has cost the country its top credit rating (AAA), pushed the Pound Sterling to its lowest level against the US dollar and wiped a record $ 3 trillion off global shares. London may very well lose its prime function as Europe’s financial centre. EU leaders are struggling to prevent further fallout in the bloc that has contributed greatly to promote peace and security in post-Second World War Europe. After UK premier David Cameron’s decision to step down (he was the main luminary in the ‘Remain’ campaign), an intense struggle has now emerged for the succession. In the Labour party also, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the parliamentary party has been challenged. Now, Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s insurgent right-wing populist UK Independent Party has resigned, bringing the country’s chaotic politics in further turmoil.
Cameron’s successor as leader of the Conservative Party and ipso facto prime minister (the party has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons) will be elected by party members with the result on 9 September. Five Conservative members have been confirmed as candidates. Unlike in Nepal or India where political ‘leaders’ are self-appointed and self-anointed, choosing leaders is a very clear cut, transparent and utterly democratic process. The party’s special committee which is composed of backbenchers oversees the contest. Candidates need the support of at least two MPs to be able to stand. These nominations have now already closed. From July 5 onwards, a series of secret ballots will be held every Tuesday and Thursday to reduce the number of candidates to two only. At each ballot of the party’s 330 MPs, the candidate with the least support will be eliminated. The two remaining candidates will then go forward to a postal vote of the entire Conservative membership. The winner of that final vote will then become the new Conservative parliamentary leader and prime minister.
The former colourful mayor of London, Boris Johnson was widely expected to be the lead candidate for PM, but at the eleventh hour he was metaphorically stabbed in the back by his co-leader in the Brexit campaign, Michael Gove, the Minister of Justice. His decision to throw his hat in the ring to replace Cameron brought British politics in turmoil after he had previously backed Johnson. His comment that Johnson, with whom he had campaigned intensely across the country to secure the vote for leaving the EU, was not fit to lead effectively ended the former frontrunner’s hopes. Many colleagues and observers have termed this an act of treachery. Britain’s largest selling tabloid “The Sun” wrote that Johnson had been “Brexecuted” and one Conservative MP wrote on Twitter that “there is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he”. Gove himself maintained that he was driven by conviction and not ambition and had reluctantly come to the conclusion that Johnson was not the right man for the top job.
The four other candidates hoping to replace Cameron are Theresa May, one of the longest-serving interior ministers; Stephen Crab, the minister of work & pensions; Liam Fox, a right wing former defence minister, Liam Fox; and Ms. Leadsom, a junior minister in the energy department. Gove has said that the next PM should be someone who supported exiting the EU, a wallop at May who, like Cameron was in the Remain camp, but maintained a relatively low profile during the campaign – potentially appealing to all MPs. She has now underscored that she will implement the voters’ will and negotiate to leave: “Brexit means Brexit…There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempt to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.” May is a party stalwart in charge of the law-and-order portfolio, often described as the most sensitive cabinet job, and is considered one of the toughest and shrewdest politicians. She has quickly manifested herself as the frontrunner in a field without Johnson. Britain’s “Daily Mail” newspaper, a strong backer for Brexit, has endorsed her as the only one of the five candidates who was capable of doing the job.
Alongside the contest to lead the Conservative Party, the main opposition Labour Party is also involved in an intense internal party conflict, with most of its MPs having voted to withdraw support for party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a man on the far-left fringes of his party since he was first elected to Parliament in 1983. Many in the party accuse him of leading only a half-hearted campaign to stay in the EU, and also maintain that he is too weak to win a general election if the new Conservative leader’s government falls. Corbyn himself claims that he has the mandate and support of the grassroots and will, therefore, not resign. Nevertheless, some leading Labour politicians are attempting to persuade him to do so this week. They are very concerned in making Labour an effective opposition and governing alternative to the Conservatives.
Yvette Cooper, who lost the leadership post to Corbyn last time, has accused him of ‘administrative incompetence’ and ‘lack of leadership’, and above all, for losing support in the former industrial hubs and Labour strongholds. The general election of 2015, and above all the recent referendum has amply demonstrated that many of the working-class voters in Britain are not attracted to theoretical socialism. They are infuriated about immigration and competition for jobs from eastern Europeans. The result: many traditional Labour voters are moving en masse toward the far right – to the UK Independence Party and Nigel Farage. The same phenomenon can be observed in France, where the Socialist Party of President Francois Hollande has lost considerable ground to Ms. Marine Le Pen and the far-right National Front.
According to the INYT, “Le Pen and her ilk have found a receptive audience for their nativist and isolationist views because many people have lost faith that the E.U. and its officials can deliver the stability and prosperity that was the purpose of the European project”. In scathing terms, she has said that the EU was “the death of our economy, our social welfare system and our identity.” This is no doubt a gross exaggeration, because the EU has indeed achieved the goal of guaranteeing peace on the continent and with a single market ensured greater prosperity. However, the EU’s prestige has been impaired (not beyond repair) by the inability to achieve a common response to the flow of refugees from the Middle East (above all Syria), North Africa and elsewhere. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s unilateral decision to allow one million (!) refugees to enter Germany may have been praiseworthy from the humanitarian point of view, but it also exacerbated the problems for the EU as a whole. EU leaders have to seek immediate solutions to such pressing conundrums and also urgently reform its institutions – otherwise its credibility and effectiveness will be further eroded with incalculable consequences for the member states in particular, and the bloc in general.
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Next Week: “Is the South China Sea a Chinese Lake ?” The writers will explore recent developments in a potentially explosive conflict in one of the world’s most sensitive geo-strategic regions.