#Brexit: A Revolution Drifting Towards Failure

It is a matter of historical fact that most attempted revolutions fail. Sometimes the ancient regime reasserts itself in a counter-revolution. In other cases, the revolution clears away a creaking old order only to be itself swept away by a third force. The two most significant revolutions of the 20th Century were of the latter type: the double revolutions in Russia in 1917 and Iran in 1978-9.

It is worth giving this preamble as Brexit now looks like a revolution doomed to failure: that is not to say it will not happen, perhaps even on schedule in March 2019, but if it does, it seems fated destroy its architects in the process.

It was always an unlikely candidate for success. Revolutions are not, as a rule, led by coalitions of the elderly and the least able. Moreover, as in 1917 Petrograd or 1978 Tehran, the revolutionaries barely seem to comprehend the forces that propelled them to success. As in both those cases, a heady cocktail of frustration, inequality, and a desire to dismantle traditional power structures sits strangely juxtaposed with intense nationalist sentiment. Like those fulcrums of history, this revolution was powered by contradictory demands. The millions who delivered the vote to Leave mostly have a very different vision of Brexit than their political leadership, and neither vision is remotely deliverable.

Whatever the plebeian element of Brexiteer opinion wishes, a country like Britain, whose prosperity has been based – for nearly two centuries – on international openness can only slam shut the drawbridge to the rest of the world with unacceptable damage. Still, such an outcome would be achievable at a cost.

The world the patrician Brexiteers fantasise about, the Empire 2.0 of British-led global deregulation, is simply not deliverable. Even beyond their over-estimate of British power, the world has changed in the past decade, and the global political growth sectors, from Pennsylvania to the Philippines, are security and nationalism, not free trade and libertarianism. This is, of course, a major reason why the Brexiteers won the referendum in the first place.

The raft of position papers published in recent weeks by HMG is weak. On the three ‘key issues’ that must be resolved first (the UK having yielded to EU demands on sequencing), the UK has not even published a paper on a final financial settlement or residual rights of citizens, while that on Northern Ireland is riddled with wishful thinking.

The press sentiment on both sides of the Channel has turned negative. The Spectator’s editorial this week calls on the UK government to make plans for a no-deal crash Brexit. A senior Sky News correspondent has opined bluntly that Brexit talks cannot succeed. In Germany, the press has moved beyond incredulity at British incompetence into outright ridicule (see the Süddeutsche in English or Germany’s equivalent of the BBC World Service in German).

It strikes me that the next six weeks are so are quite risky for the UK as a country. The perception of ridiculousness internationally is so bad that markets and international business may lose confidence that this is a credibly run country. This year’s Tory Party Conference is a moment of acute danger. With a leadership election in the next two years more than possible, top Tories will be making speeches, and commitments, with their eye primarily on London press headlines, rather than board meetings and foreign ministries internationally.

Helped by Mark Carney’s adrenaline shot of credit last summer, the dire pre-Referendum economic warnings of Remainers started to look like crying wolf. In recent months, however, against a worldwide upward trend, UK growth has slowed to the lowest of any EU or OECD economy, and Sterling has started sliding against the Euro again. Analysts have again become bearish on the UK. There are a number of major structural problems with the UK economy: the most worrying of these being a decades-old and very serious balance of payments problem, high and rising levels of personal debt, poor productivity, and overvalued homes. If the pound continues to slip, for example, that is quite a toxic cocktail.

In terms of pure politics, any serious economic stutter will shatter the credibility of Tory Brexiteers. They may continue to be in power for a while, and may even deliver Brexit on schedule in March 2019. But like the Kerensky government’s pursuit of the war in the summer of 1917, it will simply make their eventual collapse all the more implosive.

So if this strange revolution of the least revolutionary is botched, who fills the vacuum? It’s far too early to tell.

My instinct is that there is limited short-term potential for the populist right in a post-Brexit UK. In winning the Brexit referendum, it achieved what had been its key goal for a quarter of a century: if Brexit is a failure, so is the right. The populist right may well come back in 5, 10, or 15 years’ time, but it will not step into a post-Brexit credibility vacuum.

If Brexit collapses and the UK does remain in the EU, I’d imagine a new electoral coalition of the Tory right and some of UKIP’s footsoldiers will become a significant force. For Brexit to collapse, however, it will have to go badly wrong in a way that significantly shifts public opinion in the next 18 months. Not only that, but a bigger UKIP would also be a broader UKIP, which to succeed would have to accommodate culturally liberal Brexiteers and probably at the same time promise meaningful economic change to working-class voters. A party of that uneasy coalition would not only have some tempting contradictory rough edges to attack in a General Election, but would have to govern for some time while making a second attempt at Brexit. It’s a tall order.

The old cross-party establishment of liberals looks utterly bewildered. Having set the agenda in the UK for most of the period since Disraeli was Prime Minister, it seems incapable of carrying out guerrilla war from the fringes. The next two years may teach it to – the Labour Remainers seem to have won a significant internal battle recently. But that would have been impossible without the strong Remain tilt of most of Corbyn’s allies, if not the Labour leader himself. As of now, of its own strength, the old establishment seems unable to imagine how to attempt a counter-revolution, let alone deliver one.

That seems to leave first dibs to setting the UK’s future direction in the hands of the radical left – and I say that as someone who is by no means a worshipper of the Cult of St Jeremy. It currently has the momentum (pun intended) and has played a blinder on Brexit politics and more generally over the past two years. It is also now utterly dominant within the Labour Party. Even if a centre-left figure like Sadiq Khan or Andy Burnham emerged as Corbyn’s successor, they will be will be tacking rather harder to port than they would have imagined a year ago.

The left also has demographics and the structure of the British economy on its side: Labour didn’t do well because of a surge of liberal students, an inaccurate myth the right has consoled itself with since the election, but won handsomely among all age groups under 45, including people with mortgages and kids at school. Corbyn brought young working-class voters out in numbers not seen for a generation.

More than that, the vast bulk of Middle England’s younger generation is caught in difficult thickets of insecure employment, even in ‘good’ jobs, and exorbitant house prices or galloping rents that make it impossible to save for a deposit. Both the liberal establishment and the right worked together to create an economy that cut a generation adrift. With the under 45s mostly defiantly hostile to Brexit and vulnerable to any downturn it might provoke – or be blamed on provoking – the big question might be whether the next phase in Britain’s political history is as a North European Social Democracy within the EU or with a sort of Socialism in one country not seen in modern times.

The left too, however, has its contradictions to manage. Corbyn has sensibly steered away from addressing identity politics issues that his most devoted supporters obsess about. Yet he cannot ultimately avoid them as a Prime Minister in waiting. Underneath the crisis in Western liberalism is its starry-eyed optimism about globalism and multi-culturalism that seems a long way from the reality of fascism and fundamentalist Islam resurgent alike and people being locked out of home ownership by middle-class Chinese buying properties online from the other end of the world for investment. The left, like the liberals, is ideologically locked into a universalist progressive humanism that seems increasingly at variance with the real world.

The old order seems doomed, but there is no obvious midwife of a new order. We are sailing in uncharted waters. Who in Petrograd could have imagined, as a baby democracy emerged in the thaw of 1917, that by the time the winter snows came again that the arcane, irrelevant, Bolsheviks would be in charge and would stay in charge for more than seven decades?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Why are you assuming I am angry here? More contrarian windbagging?

    It’s tiresome and a boring relic of a U.K who’s promoted its most “unskilled workers” into high office.

    I mean seriously Michael Gove a Environment secretary who doesn’t even know what region his government have taken him to.

  • Kevin Breslin

    He helped Remain close the gap, and he’s helping a younger generation reverse the decision, just by being who he is.

  • John Devane

    Without him I doubt the EU referendum would’ve taken place……the rest is pure conjecture. He won.

  • John Devane

    I don’t know Michael Gove’s personal credentials. There are many in positions of power that shouldn’t be.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Did he vote for the bill … no he didn’t as he was never an MP.
    Indeed UKIP lost a seat.

    The EU referendum was down to the Conservative Right primarily and their business interests.

    UKIP are just a splinter group who were living off Aaron Banks deep pockets, one to keep the party deadwood away from the main project and help fool the masses in the process.

  • Kevin Breslin

    He’s a tabloid journalist, just like Rees-Moog’s dad was. Empty headed opinion smiths who have no experience working in proper jobs.

    Very few of these Tory elites understand the hard work that Europe has done rebuilding from the nasty fascist ideologues that Brexiteers aspire too.

  • John Devane

    He spooked Cameron enough to include an EU referendum in the Tory election manifesto……TBF Tony Blair promised the UK electorate a referendum then reneged on the promise

  • Kevin Breslin

    You don’t get how party politics works … this policy was not some ad hoc reaction to Nigel Farage, but came from within the Conservative Party at a Conservative party conference.

    If Farage died in the helicopter crash, it’s likely all it would have done is give the Jacob Rees Moogs and Daniel Hannans a bit more airtime. He’s overrated even as a demagogue.

    I’ve compared him to Ian Paisley with a different religion, but I actually think he’ll be harder to find in the British history books.

    The fact you look to Nigel Farage, a person who’s reneged on every major promise that he has made, including cheating on two of his wives as some sort of beacon of integrity is quite laughable.

    Thanks for making me laugh.

  • John Devane

    Yes I once emailed him many years ago disagreeing with him…. he replied agreeing to disagree. He’s a hard line unionist.

    That said I don’t know if his qualifications / experience makes him any less suitable for the position than the next person.

    Elites exist in the EU hierarchy too.

    The correlation you make between UKIP and Nazi ideology is a gross exaggeration.

  • John Devane

    The only laughable comment is your innocence and naivety. No one should look to politicians as examples of moral virtue.

    The UK Referendum policy was included in the Tory manifesto as a reaction to the perceived electoral threat from UKIP. It was promised earlier by Tony Blair. Unfinished business

  • Kevin Breslin

    My innocence is that I don’t use the refuge of a scoundrel that is plastic patriotism. Face it UKIP were a sideshow, a sideshow created by the Tories in the first place. UKIP were even disowned by the offical Leave campaign in order to ensure some degree of public respectability.

    There really wasn’t any morality in the Leave side, not even in the grassroots level. It was driven by blaming others for the UK’s failures and spending money it would never get.

    No wonder why Brexit is so dysfunctional, there is still that refusal to take personal responsibility driving it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There really aren’t EU elites due to its multinational nature. There are only hierarchies in national governments.

    Still you don’t seem bothered backing a hardline unionist who may see it right to close down roads in Ireland to protect his selfish Brexit Britain.

  • John Devane

    The only scoundrels are LibDem democracy deniers like yourself

  • Kevin Breslin

    Democracy deniers that old stick. I’d assume you’d think the UK was the world’s ONLY democracy … (which may partially explain the attitude of it funding Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and politicians cosying up to the Sri Lankan regime.)

    Yeah, very little consideration made about the democratic will of the other 27 nations of the European Union to not offer the UK any undeserved special treatment I get. It’s clearly annoy to the Brexiteers that they made the job working with the nations of the European Union a lot more cumbersome.


  • John Devane

    You join a trade organisation. It transforms into a political federal union. You vote to leave it. The other 27 are free to do so. That’s democracy

  • John Devane

    As well you know Eurosceptic votes are found throughout Ireland. I do not conflate unionism with Brexit.

  • Kevin Breslin

    More old stick you’ve repeated from people who are clueless about Europe, and why the British public voted to join it in the first place.


    The 27 other nations are free to stay in the European Union and offer the United Kingdom no special sweetheart deal, since it is clear that it is not in the interests of any other EU nation to abandon its own political interests for the United Kingdom’s sake.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Ah I’m sure there is an ultra-British wing of Irish Eurosceptics, say around 2% or so including Hermann Farage’s bodyguard and Guido Fawkes Paul Staines … but neither has any real resonance trying to bring the likes of Identity Ireland into the Irish government.

    Most of the rest of Ireland either the majority of Irish citizens who don’t like Brexit and prefer the EU, or the majority of Irish Eurosceptics who just don’t like Britain and Brexit as well as the EU.

    The fact is that Irish unity has been boosted by the shambles of the right-wing Brexit and hard border approach emanating from Westminster.

  • John Devane

    Then you should welcome it surely? Of course your hypothetical united Ireland will be an emasculated one governed by Brussels / Berlin. No thanks

  • John Devane

    The UK were sold a lie. The 75 Referendum never envisaged a federal EU. Ted Heath obviously wanted it but it was never taken as a serious objective. The trade block was the important selling point and many assurances were given it would not lead to a federal EU.

    The 75 Common Market bears no resemblance to today’s EU…..Mass immigration, QVM, Eurozone, massive enlargement of much poorer member states, mass unemployment and more political union on its way

  • John Devane

    No EU elites in Brussels? Nonsense

    Not bothered? I share his opinion on the EU. His hard-line anti GFA opinion I do not share.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There really are no EU elites, no one holds a position in the place for longer than their national government remains in charge, except possibly the MEPs but people can vote them out.

    Nigel Farage given his long tenure in parliament is as close as you get to an EU elite within it and if Brexit happens he loses his job, and joins other political hasbeens on the sidelines.

    To the likes of Michael Gove, Ireland is just another nation of the great unwashed, like the Medeterrain nations, like Eastern Europe, heck even France and Germany when push comes to shove.

    They are jealous of Global Germany, they are jealous of Professional Poland, they are jealous of Innovative Ireland and want Britain to get by on nothing more than its historic privledge.

    Well the rest of Europe has moved on with a less Eurocentric world, the Problem behind Britain’s inferiority complex doesn’t end with Brexit, it is only just beginning.

    Enjoy your humility, the world doesn’t require the nation’s jingoism.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Not all fascists are Nazis … Look up Oswald Moseley and he’s remarkably similar to Farage.

  • John Devane

    No EU elites? The place is crawling with them yet you are in complete denial
    And if the EU responds to Brexit by consolidating more control, then they will have learned nothing from the yearning for people to free themselves from the yoke of unaccountable external EU rule, and the UK won’t be the first to leave.

    Nationalism can be ugly. But so can rule from a secret chamber abroad, for the benefit of corporations. The post-WW2 social order has failed too many, and people are desperate for an alternative. Ultimately the blame must be laid at the feet of those who bungled the EEC / EU project so completely.

  • John Devane

    You with your faux republican views are remarkably similar to Nigel Farage. A far more accurate and satisfactory analogy.

    You both stand outside your respective political status quo. Indeed, the political framework to which you both belong is the very thing you both want changed. In order to win votes both of you have to make the argument that the status quo is unsustainable,

  • Kevin Breslin

    Absolutely no elites, just foreigners that you are scared of.
    A little diplomacy, a little empathy and respect is all it takes.
    Otherwise you end up like the rest of the Brexiteers thinking you’re the elites who can spot the elites.

    Deep down it’s just pathetic insularism by a country which is run by diversity-phobes.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Ah yes unless I put on a Bowler hat and a Union Flag waist coat with suspenders or whatever you think the Irish equivalent is and march around saying I don’t need nobody then I’m somewhat a faux republicanism.

    British Nationalists, UKIPers and hardline republicans are all fakes and show offs with nothing below the surface of their bravado.

    The cutest thing however is you think this Brexit catharsis is going to last, as if Brexit is going to lead to entropy proof idealism in its purist form, it certainly isn’t. The most shameless thing is the UK government is not even going to take responsibility when things inevitably go wrong. It will be back to finding scapegoats.
    I could honestly see more chaotic British-European and chaotic British-Irish relations coming down the street.

    On what grounds is Brexit sustainable, it’s not based on resourcefulness or practical logistics, but middle aged men demanding to get fatter it would seem. Not the type of behaviour needed when you are trying to make it easier for yourselves and more difficult for your competitors.

    What annoys me is that Britain still expects Ireland and Europe to put their Brexit house in order … I’m sorry but it really is a case that smugness is a poor substitute for expertise.

  • John Devane

    Nope you miss the point. You’re a separatist like Nigel Farage except your separatism is not so genuine.

    He wants an independent UK free from the EU whereas you say you want a united Ireland but in reality you want a 32 county Ireland ruled from Brussels / Berlin inside a federal EU. IOTW you don’t want true Independence much like Nicola Sturgeon

  • Kevin Breslin

    Farage’s only sepratism is getting divorced from his wives, he needs the EU even more than any Europhile. Like a paracite needing a host to suck blood from. He needs the European Union to hate and blame things upon. Poor lad had his dad walk out on him and is probably trying to find someone to take that injustice out upon.

    Brexit is not about independence. Independent people don’t find scapegoats, Independent people don’t demand others adjust to their needs without compromise, Independent people don’t steal from their freinds or savagely kick them out of their house for nothing even though they were invited in. Independent people don’t try to make it up as you go ahead. Independent people don’t promise to spend money they do not have to bribe others to help them out. They don’t demand their friends to do more for them when they promise to visit them less. They don’t take their paranoia and jealous out on others. They don’t try to attack their freinds for their own sense of powerlessness.

    Brexit is built on a bigger sense of dependency and suplication than EU membership ever was. Honestly when the UK finally accepts its limitations and responsibilities and forgets its entitlement, it can fell as independent as the rest of the European nations.

    So honestly by all means believe in this Brexit farce, the fact you need me to shows exactly why independence is the wrong word to associate with Brexit.

  • John Devane

    Ah play the man when you have been well and truly rumbled. Your Anti Brexit bile is coloured by absolute jealousy. An independence movement that won by the ballot box.

    You can always console yourself with Nicola Sturgeon

  • Kevin Breslin

    There is really no jealously I have of any Brexiteer. There’s very few that seem to be capable of looking after themselves nevermind the concerns of their constituents.

    I hate to say it but that distance between the public and the parliamentarians is still very strong in Westminster.

    You have my absolute pity.

  • John Devane

    Westminster MPs were far too comfortable with their second bite of the cherry with EU jobs galore. Pleased to have voted to shut down that particular trough.

    I suspect the Brexit Majority is bigger today than last year. We will see how the EU copes after 2019 when the UK leaves. More deeper fiscal union, southern member states in disarray and uncontrolled mass immigration. I only hope Ireland escapes its more harmful effects. Be honest. Would you join the EU today if you weren’t a member state?

  • Stifler’s Mom

    Gerry, the UK economy has been on the up since the brexit vote. There is continuing investment here. There is growing support to walk away, pay no ransom, and work under WTO like the rest of the world does. In my opinion this is what will hopefully happen. As you well know, brexit is not about ‘shutting the door on the rest of the world’ its about returning to being an independent country, making our own laws and trading under our own arrangements.
    It has been pointed out several times that the MSM is a tool of propaganda to be pro globalist institutions, like the EU, and anti independence movements, like brexit and other populists in Europe and of course Trump. If you get your information from the msm, as you have mentioned in this article, then you haven’t a clue about what is really happening.
    Labour got its support by promising lots of free stuff. This is attractive to all those seeking benefits and the gullible students and young people. Older and wiser people know its a con.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I honestly don’t care what you suspect because while the UK is still in the EU the Brexiteers can still go on about having their cake and eating it.

    I see two types of frustrated angry Brits emerging after Brexit happens:

    1) People frustrated with the additional complexity and deterrence to British trade with other nations, and loss of market share.

    2) People still angry that Brexit doesn’t do enough to rectify the wrongs in people’s lives who are likely to become more paranoid of their own elected representatives.

    Brexit was presented as a panacea, that merely purging EU laws would somehow bring the nation together against a common enemy, I just see it as losing control of the enemy within myself.

  • John Devane

    That tbh is a very narrow analysis. Brexit was not just presented as an option in 2016; it had a ground swell of support built up over time.

    The crucial elements that swung the vote to Brexit when the Referendum was finally offered were manifold.

    Much to his eternal shame Tony Blair, the arch Europhile, was by his own hand a catalyst for the vote for Leave. The transformation of the trade block EEC into the federal union organisation EU was a game changer. The open doors immigration from the eastern block exacerbated disillusionment. The timing of the economic downturn in 2007/8 and the passing of the federal Lisbon Treaty all contributed to the feeling the UK no longer controlled its own affairs

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Real Leader of the Leave Campaign Boris Johnson said it best: (Daily Telegraph, May 12, 2013)

    “If we left the EU we would end this sterile debate and we would have to recognize that most of our problems are not caused by Brussels, but by chronic British short-termism, inadequate management, sloth, low skills and a culture of easy gratification and under-investment in both human and physical capacity and infrastructure.”

    So this whole attempt to present it as a resistance against federalism is actually a falsehood since the UK Parliament has always been sovereign and sovereign according to treaties it had passed through parliament to get co-operation with other states.

    Indeed your belief in British Democracy is only selective on saying its democratic when it backs your vote and undemocratic when it doesn’t, having no objective measure than your own ad hoc, id and ego.

    Brexit has been largely been driven by the need for political scapegoats, ethnic scapegoats and ideological scapegoats … a Northern Ireland like Them and Us attitude and no attempt to put practicalities and realpolitik on the agenda.

    I’ve grown up my life in that sort of hostile polarizing environment, jealous of the normal politics in London and Dublin. As far as I’m concerned London is just trying to be the worst of Northern Ireland on steroids.

    At least Southern Ireland is free of this political dysfunction with its need to attack the marginalized.

    Hardcore Brexiteers like extreme loyalists are slaves to Hatemongers. I see no freedom or independence in that.

  • John Devane

    Again a highly selective analysis and one that contains a contradiction. Highly polarised? As if you’re so above it all. You never acknowledged the failings of the EU state….. because that’s exactly what it is metamorphosing into.

    A falsehood? Really. You don’t believe the transformation into the federal EU was a turning point. It was for me

  • Kevin Breslin

    Brexit is not about self-reform or self-accountability … it’s driven by someone one to blame here’s an example.

    “As if YOU’re so above it all. YOU never acknowledged the failings of the EU STATE….. because that’s exactly what IT is metamorphosing into.
    A falsehood? Really. YOU don’t believe the transformation into the FEDERAL EU was a turning point.”

    Three mentions of me and Three mentions of the EU being the problem, my concern is the lack of effort made by Brexiteers to solve problems of their own making, such as the Irish border problem. I’ve no plans to sit back and give them a clear pass to causing chaos in my backyard.

    You literally are taking ownership of nothing, no decisions, maybe willing to abandon Brexit if it all goes wrong. You’re free to do that, but I’m not going to adopt that laissez-faire attitude to this.

    If that means helping to reform the entire United Kingdom and Ireland through my own networks so be it.

    Brexit does nothing to help Britain get what its people want, that’s a discussion it needs to have with itself without blaming other nations being free to make their own decisions. The problem has always been within, and no amount of foreign scapegoats or cultural scapegoats is going to change that.

  • John Devane

    Two mentions of You! What are you on? I am replying to your contradictions hence You….Duh!

    The rest of your post is just as senseless. The UK does not want to be part of a federal EU. You do…..there I go again mentioning You and your faux republicanism.

    You want a federal EU and you want all of Ireland….as in all 32 counties in case YOU have forgotten…..to be controlled and governed by it. You are an EU unionist. Just admit it

  • paulstaines

    I think you underestimate the levels of support for irexit.

    We haven’t started campaigning yet. Once the Brits make a success of Brexit the case for Irexit will make itself.