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#EndorseThis: David Cameron’s Swan Song

Much as aluminium tends to oxidise into rust, so too has British Prime Minister David Cameron’s time come to be replaced by a newer, shinier premier — in this case, Home Secretary Theresa May, who was named the next Tory premier faster than you could say, “Bob’s your uncle.”

The news came out at 10 Downing Street yesterday as Cameron spoke in front of the press. But as he turned around and returned to his erstwhile residence and the soft purrs of the cat that his government acquired in 2011 to deal with a rat problem, he hummed a mysterious little tune.

Internet commentators suspected that the Prime Minister was rather happy — singing, though it is something British people have been known to do, was not normally associated with Cameron. However, Cameron might well be relieved. He promised a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the European Union as part of his previous general election campaign, yet despite his efforts as part of the “Remain” campaign, the country narrowly voted to leave (although Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London overwhelming voted to stay in the union). Now, the new PM must manage the exit from the European Union while mitigating any economic shocks and attempting to reunite the country.

Musicians around the British internet took advantage of the rare opportunity to transcribe the haunting melody, create remixes, and analyze the song. But Cameron is only one of a chain of musical ministers — who can forget Gordon Brown’s rendition of a folk song about an old Scottish farmer?

 

Photo: Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron leaves Number 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions at parliament in London, Britain June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Ex-London Mayor Upends Race For UK Prime Minister By Quitting

Former London mayor Boris Johnson, runaway bookmakers’ favorite to become Britain’s prime minister, abruptly pulled out of the race on Thursday in a shock announcement less than a week after leading the campaign to pull the country out of the EU.

Johnson’s announcement, to audible gasps from a roomful of journalists and supporters, was the biggest political surprise since Prime Minister David Cameron quit on Friday, the morning after losing the referendum on British membership in the bloc.

Johnson’s withdrawal makes Theresa May, the interior minister who backed remaining in the EU, the new favorite to succeed Cameron.

She announced her own candidacy earlier on Thursday, promising to deliver the EU withdrawal voters had demanded, despite having campaigned for the other side.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she told a news conference.

“The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

Johnson, whose support of the Leave cause was widely seen as delivering its victory, saw his bid suddenly crumble after his Brexit campaign ally, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, withdrew his backing and announced his own leadership bid.

“I must tell you, my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” Johnson said at the news conference in a London luxury hotel.

Supporters in parliament, who had gathered expecting to hear him formally announce his candidacy, were left stunned.

Gove, a close friend of Cameron’s despite differences with the prime minister over Europe, had previously said he would back Johnson. But in an article in the Spectator magazine on Thursday, Gove wrote that he had come “reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.

Conservative lawmakers said Johnson may have been undone by supporters of Cameron exacting revenge for his decision to defy the prime minister and back the Leave campaign.

“He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” said one lawmaker, describing internal party conflict on condition of anonymity. The lawmaker told Reuters that Johnson had realized his bid would fail after lawmakers defected from his campaign overnight.

Johnson became the latest political casualty of a civil war in the ruling party unleashed by Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum on membership in the EU, an issue that divided the Conservatives for decades and now divides the country.

JOKEY MANNER

Johnson, known for a jokey public persona and a mop of unkempt blonde hair, became a popular national figure during eight years as London mayor, and used his charm to aid the Leave cause after deciding only late in the day to push for Brexit.

Several leading Conservatives questioned whether Johnson had the gravitas to run tough talks to mend the broken relationship with the EU and drive the country’s future on the global stage.

In an article in the Times newspaper, May took aim at Johnson’s persona by saying government was not “a game”.

She also appealed to the working classes, many of whom voted to leave the EU in protest at an elite who, they say, failed to cushion their lives from increasing competition.

One senior Conservative lawmaker, Crispin Blunt, said Gove had probably withdrawn his support because Johnson refused to promise him a job.

Britain’s new prime minister faces a huge task to unite the party and country, and persuade the EU to offer some kind of deal — balancing the desire expressed by voters to reduce immigration with London’s hope to maintain access to EU markets.

In the week since the referendum, Johnson had published a newspaper column promising curbs on immigration and continued access to the European common market, a position European officials say is untenable.

Conservative Party lawmakers will narrow a field of five leadership candidates down to two, and party members will then vote on which of them will become party leader and presumptive prime minister.

In addition to May and Gove, the candidates are Stephen Crabb, the cabinet minister responsible for pensions, Liam Fox, a right-wing former defense secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, a minister in the energy department.

Aware of the uncertainty in Britain, the party has said it is moving as quickly as it can to replace its leader and would do so by Sept. 9.

The main opposition Labour Party also faces a potential leadership battle, with lawmakers having voted no confidence in left-wing party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who refuses to step down.

The vacuum at the top of both major political parties has added to the political uncertainty at a time when Britain faces its biggest constitutional change since the dissolution of its empire in the decades after World War Two.

 

(additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Estelle Shirbon, William Schomberg, Guy Faulconbridge, Editing by Peter Graff)

Photo: Former mayor of London and Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson speaks during a visit to Reid Steel on a campaign stop in Christchurch, Britain, May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Staples

To Brexit Or Regrexit? A Dis-United Kingdom Ponders Turmoil Of EU Divorce

To leave, or not to leave: that is the question. Still.

After Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, there is no indication that a so-called Brexit will happen soon. It maybe never will.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who is resigning, has said he will not take the formal step to an EU divorce on the grounds that his successor should. Because the referendum is not legally-binding, some politicians are suggesting a parliament vote before formally triggering Brexit.

A petition on the UK government’s website on holding a second referendum has gained more than 3 million signatories in just two days.

European leaders, facing the biggest threat to European unity since World War Two, are divided over how swiftly divorce talks should start. Paris wants haste and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging patience. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he wanted to “start immediately”.

And on Sunday, Scotland’s leader said Scotland may veto Brexit altogether. Under devolution rules, the parliaments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are required to consent to any EU divorce, according to a report by the House of Lords.

Most British politicians agree such a decisive 52-48 win for Leave in the referendum means a divorce must happen. Anything less would be a slap in the face of democracy.

“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” a choking Cameron said in his resignation speech, which marked the most tumultuous end to a British premiership since Anthony Eden resigned in 1957 after the Suez crisis.

Still, the upswell of chatter – #regrexit is trending big on twitter – over whether Britain might be able to reconsider speaks to the disbelief gripping this continent in the wake of a vote that has unleashed financial and political mayhem.

Sterling has plunged, and Britain’s political parties are both crippled. Cameron is a lameduck leader, and the main opposition Labour party on Sunday attempted a coup against its leader, with nine top officials resigning.

“The kaleidoscope has been shaken up not just in terms of our relationship with the EU but in terms of who runs our parties, who governs the country and what the country is made up of,” said Anand Menon, Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London.

“It is very hard to see where the pieces are.”

 

ARTICLE 50

The law provisioning an EU member country’s exit from the union is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that is effectively the EU’s constitution. It has never been invoked before.

Before the vote, Cameron had said Article 50 would be triggered straight away if Britain voted to leave. Over the weekend, several EU officials also said the UK needed to formally split right away – possibly at a Tuesday EU meeting.

But officials of the Leave campaign – including former London mayor Boris Johnson – are stepping on the brakes. They say they want to negotiate Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU before formally pulling the trigger to divorce.

European officials and observers say such a deal is unlikely, especially considering the thorny issues involved.

For example, it is unlikely that the EU would grant Britain access to the single market – key to allowing Britain trade goods and services in the EU – without London accepting the free movement of EU workers. But the biggest issue for those who voted to leave the bloc was limits on immigration – something the Leave campaigners promised.

 

DIVIDED UK

On Sunday, a petition to call for a second referendum was gaining supporters, reaching 3.3 million signatories by the afternoon. David Lammy, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said it was within parliament’s powers to call a second referendum and urged that it be done.

Perhaps the most vocal resistance to a British exit is coming from Scotland.

Scotland, a nation of five million people, voted to stay in the EU by 62 to 38 percent, compared to the 54 percent in England who voted to leave.

Under the United Kingdom’s complex arrangements to devolve some powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, legislation generated in London to set off an EU divorce would have to gain consent from the three devolved parliaments, according to a report by the House of Lords’ European Union Committee.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC on Sunday that she would consider urging the Scottish parliament to block such a motion. It is not clear, however, whether such a scenario would ever materialize or be binding. Sturgeon’s spokesman later said that the British government might not seek consent in the first place.

Moreover, Sturgeon is simply laying out the groundwork for a new referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom –something the first minister said was “highly likely.”

 

WITHDRAWAL

While there is no precedent for Article 50, the House of Lords has discussed how any Brexit would work. In May, it published a report after consultations with legal experts.

In the report, Derrick Wyatt, one of the professors involved, said that while it would be politically difficult, the law allows the UK to change its mind after invoking Article 50.

“In law, the UK could change its mind before withdrawal from the EU and decide to stay in after all,” said Wyatt.

 

(Editing by Alessandra Galloni)

Photo: A woman holds a sign in Westminster, in central London, Britain June 24, 2016.     REUTERS/Phil Noble 

Cameron’s Folly: The British PM Calls An Election He Hopes He Will Lose

Published with permission from The Washington Spectator.

David Cameron is the most unusual leader of any major power, due to his background, his unsuitability for his position, and his seeming success at it so far. Not only did he go to Eton and Oxford, but he may have, as was once written, “placed his non-parliamentary member inside the mouth of a dead pig” to gain entry to an elite club at Oxford. On top of this lewd education, Cameron’s only work experience before becoming an MP was as a political aide during the Thatcher and Major years, and heading “Corporate Affairs” at a London TV company, a PR job secured for him by his soon-to-be mother-in-law, the Viscountess Annabel Astor. In 2001 he entered Parliament, by 2005 he was leader of the Conservative Party, and five years after that he kissed Her Majesty’s hand for the prime ministership.

The son of a stockbroker, the grandson of a general-cum-baronet and the son-in-law of a baronet and a peeress, Cameron seems to confirm the Tory Party as a collection of “six-toed, born-to-rule ponyfuckers”—as an Armando Iannucci character put it in the British sitcom “The Thick of It.” Cameron’s entire background teaches him to make the smallest decision possible, to delay and fudge big things, and to gladly accept a hamburger today no matter what the cost come Tuesday. To evade a decision for a fortnight is the signature mark of success and no issue that can be decided next year should ever be considered this year. The astonishing thing is not that such a person should exist in England, but that he should have been head of a major government for six years with hitherto great political success.

Cameron put himself forward as the candidate who would finally end the wrangling in the Tory Party over Britain’s place in Europe. Between 1990, when the issue contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, through the John Major government, which was kept in a constant state of distress, and into the early 21st century, the European Union had nearly destroyed the Tories as a party several times.

Cameron’s promise was that he would oppose British adoption of the Euro currency and regain some powers from the EU in Brussels, but preserve the basic British membership in the free-trade-and-movement bloc.

So how did Cameron end up calling, in late February of this year, for a June 23 referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the EU, a move English legal and political commentator David Allen Green called “baffling” and compared to “watching someone deliberately drive their car in to a ditch”?

Back in December of 2012 the BBC’s “Poll of Polls” showed that if the election were held on that day, the Conservatives would receive 31 percent, Labour 41 percent, Liberal Democrats, (then in the coalition government) would get 9 percent, and the newly resurgent (anti-EU) UK Independence Party (UKIP) would also receive 9 percent.

Cameron’s entire background teaches him to make the smallest decision possible, to delay and fudge big things, and to gladly accept a hamburger today no matter what the cost come Tuesday.

As UKIP was correctly thought to draw more from Conservatives than Labour, this insurgent anti-UK party threatened the Tories’ ability to win the next election, scheduled for 2015. Cameron also faced unrest from the most conservative members of his own back benches, which potentially threatened his position as PM.

So David Cameron, to quiet back-bench angst (there is always back-bench angst) and improve his chances in an election a year and a half away (basically an eternity) announced in January 2013 that he would “renegotiate” the terms of Britain’s membership in the EU, then hold a referendum by the end of 2017. He indicated he thought he could get a good deal from Europe and then campaign to stay in the EU.

Cameron had two pillars on which to rest his confidence. The first was that he believed he could extract major concessions from the EU. The second was the history of the last EU referendum Britain held in 1975 to decide whether Britain should stay in what was then the European Economic Community.

Britain had refrained from joining the EEC and its predecessors early on, and only decided to do so in the 1960s when it was clear that its overseas empire was a net financial drain and would remain so, and that future prospects for economic growth involved fully joining the European economy. So Harold Macmillan, that arch Tory grandee, applied in 1963. Charles de Gaulle vetoed their entry then, and then again in 1967. In 1973, with de Gaulle dead and Britain having closed down its empire “East of Suez” (except for Hong Kong), the UK entered the EEC.

However, before the EEC added its “social chapter” in the 1980s, many on the left disliked what they considered a free-trade bloc that would erode British industry and workers. So Labour promised a national referendum on whether to stay in the EEC, which was held in 1975. Both parties went into the referendum split, but the establishment was overwhelmingly pro-EEC. The Confederation of British Industry and many major corporations were publicly pro-“Yes,” desperate to stay in the “common market.” By a vote of 67 percent, Britain voted to stay in the EEC.

It must have seemed to Cameron as if history were bound to repeat itself. Business is mostly pro-EU, he knew, and thus the same establishment pressure could be brought, and economic collapse threatened if Britain withdrew. And this time the whole Labour party, the Scottish National Party, and the Liberal Democrats would be solidly pro-EU. But between his public promise in 2013 to hold a referendum and the actual referendum now scheduled for June 23, something happened: Cameron got bounced into holding an independence referendum in Scotland, where it seemed as if the pro-UK side held such an advantage there was no risk.

Polls showed “No”—staying in the UK—nearly two-to-one against “Yes”—leaving the UK. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box in September 2014. The Scottish National Party and “Yes” forces created a vibrant campaign that tapped into people’s austerity fatigue and hope for civic renewal. Threatening economic disaster if Scotland separated from England had little noticeable impact.

“Yes” surged ahead and by just before polling day was slightly ahead. In the final days, even the Queen condescended to indicate she supported “No,” as every lever was pulled to save the United Kingdom.

Late-breaking voters went for “No,” and that side prevailed by a vote of 55–44 percent, on a turnout of 84.5 percent, the largest in any UK election since universal suffrage. Scotland stayed in the UK—for now.

Cameron’s second pillar was that he would be able to compel 27 other EU members to revise the basic tenets of membership, a tough ask. His salvation, he believed, was Angela Merkel. Germany’s chancellor is without a doubt the EU’s most powerful politician by several orders, and Cameron believed she wanted the UK in the EU at almost any cost to help control French-driven dirigisme. Concessions on terms of EU membership would make it easier for Cameron to campaign for a vote to stay in the EU.

Cameron turned out to be right. Or, somewhat right. Merkel did want the UK to remain and was willing to pressure other European countries. Cameron’s starting positions were so insane—like a UK veto on decisions made in the Eurozone, of which Britain, which uses the pound sterling, is not a member—that it took Merkel’s political muscle to secure the pathetic concessions Cameron ultimately received. They range from small changes in child benefits to the meaningless inclusion in the European treaty canon of the inimitably Euro-ese clause: “References to ever-closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.” Cameron emerged from a marathon summit and declared he was coming home with the Holy Grail. Even his own mother probably doesn’t believe it.

The best average numbers from polls taken just before Cameron announced his “deal” was 54 percent to stay in the EU and 46 percent to leave. Currently, the preference to stay is at 47 percent and to leave at 40 percent, with 11 percent undecided. If the leave campaign generates a comparable surge in political engagement, civic nationalist renewal, and support as was seen in Scotland, where separatists began at a more difficult starting point, then the UK will easily leave the EU after June’s referendum.

The UK, especially England and Wales, and Northern Ireland (two of the three component “nations” of the UK), has been suffering under punishing austerity for years. The immigration crisis, though miniscule by the standards of continental Europe or the United States, has nonetheless been whipped up by the media into something that genuinely worries people. Distrust of career politicians and politics is at record levels. Last May, Labour candidate Ed Miliband, an unappealing figure, lost the national election; Cameron won by default.

If people are angry at the Tories, and there is much indication that they are, but unwilling to trust Labour, what better way to give the status quo a kicking than to vote to leave the EU? Two years ago the Scottish National Party and the “Yes” coalition argued that the answer to Scotland’s problems was a new, independent state with a vigorous new national life. What if the “Out” campaign can stir up the same emotions in England?

Soon after the official start of the campaign on April 15, leading figures, including Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and possibly Cameron’s successor, began coming out for the “leave” position. With his support eroded, and the electorate almost evenly divided, one of Cameron’s former ministers has compared him to Charles I and declared that like the 17th century English Civil Wars that led to the beheading of the monarch and continued long after, the battle over separation won’t ever end, even with a vote to stay. Polls show that 80-plus percent of Britons think the country will vote to leave, and no matter the outcome roughly half the population will be unsatisfied with the outcome.

It’s hard to predict which side will prevail, but London’s bankers have been told to cancel their summer holidays until after the vote.

Leaving Europe would be a disaster for the UK. Europe is the UK’s largest trading partner, and the City of London financial institutions are bankers to the whole continent, so Britain’s entire political economy would be destabilized along with London’s. A free-trade agreement would be necessary and after Britain’s exit EU terms will not be generous. The UK would take its place alongside other non-EU states like Norway and Switzerland, which are forced to comply with European Common Market rules regulating goods and trade (some of those most hated by the British) and to contribute to the costs of operating the EU, all with no say regarding rules and how the money is spent. There is no telling how combustible the political situation in England might become when Brits are subject to rules on cheese-labeling and taxes, but have no ability to affect any of it.

And a UK exit from the EU would undoubtedly raise demands for a second Scottish referendum. It is impossible to imagine that Scottish separatists could lose, if faced with the prospect of perpetual English Tory rule unleavened by Brussels. So the UK would become the Residual UK: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The Residual UK would be more economically unbalanced than the UK is now, basically a prosperous southeast anchored by London and an impoverished anywhere else. As Scottish bases are necessary to maintain the nuclear-missile carrying submarine fleet, Britain’s status as a nuclear power would probably be sunset.

This would all call into question Britain’s presence on the Security Council. The City of London, the financial juggernaut that provides a staggering 9.6 percent of national output would be, at best, weakened. U.S. interest in the remnants of the UK would fade, the “Special Relationship” no longer special (as Barack Obama publicly warned on his recent trip to the for-now United Kingdom).

It is a grim future. And thanks to David Cameron’s feckless decision-making it may be here this month.

 

Noah McCormack is a writer and the publisher of The Baffler.

Photo: Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (R) makes a joint appearance with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan as they launch the Britain Stronger in Europe guarantee card at Roehampton University in West London, Britain May 30, 2016. REUTERS/Yui Mok/Pool