If Australia were the UK and heading for a suicidal plunge off an economic, social and cultural cliff-face, wouldn’t you be worried?
If Australia were told by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that its growth rate for 2017 had been downgraded from a previous prediction and it was the biggest downgrade for any developed country, wouldn’t that be worrying? If it is combined with a haemorrhaging of jobs such as the Bank of America moving jobs and future growth from your largest city to Dublin, Morgan Stanley moving jobs to Frankfurt and EasyJet moving its hub to Austria (just to name a few), wouldn’t you be scared at this consequence of the decision that a small majority of Australians had taken in an ill-informed and mendacious referendum? Add to that a registered fall in consumer confidence, a plummeting Australian dollar, think tanks reporting ruin for everything from university research grants to an undermining of workers’ rights; from billions of dollars lost to Aussie cities because they would be hardest hit by leaving the world’s largest trading bloc to predictions of lowered agricultural standards leaving you with chlorine-washed chickens from Trump’s America while your own agricultural industry shuts up shop, wouldn’t you fret, emigrate or join the Cistercians in Tarrawarra Abbey?
And that’s before Brexit has actually begun! Back to the beleaguered UK, now ruled by a minority Tory Party in office through a £1 billion bribe to the ten members of the Northern Irish anti-Catholic and homophobic Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of whose MPs stated “the future is Orange” but whose present, frankly, is back in the 17th century. He was, of course, not referring to the mobile phone company or sunsets over Belfast Bay but the Orange Lodge which promotes bigotry under the Union flag. There are creationists, climate change deniers and millenarians among them too. In Glaswegian, the collective phrase for such people is heidbangers.
In the midst of such chaos, Australians might think of a national government of all parties, the involvement of the nation’s most brilliant thinkers to steer them into clear, harmonious waters with the negotiators from the other side, working throughout the summer to ensure a suitable deal. But no. Theresa May is away with her husband, Philip, for a three-week walking holiday in Switzerland after allowing a statement to be disseminated that she in future will not meet with the First Minister of Scotland but leave her to talk only to the Scottish Secretary, David “Fluffy” Mundell, as Nicola Sturgeon is not Empress Theresa’s equal; her chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis who chuckles like a schoolboy whenever a cogent question is put to him, is described as ‘thick as mince’ and ‘lazy as a toad’, not by political rivals but insiders in his own Party; Boris Johnston, Julie Bishop’s chum, while on an Asian and Antipodean tour begging for future trade grabbed the headlines while participating in a hongi greeting in Aotearoa/New Zealand, not by boasting of bagging deals but by saying such a greeting might be misinterpreted in a Glasgow pub and it would end in a head butt (he has form on this type of ethnic racism); to cap it all, there is also a move afoot to unseat May in the not too distant future. This has led to some members of the Cabinet taking their eye off the day job of figuring how to negotiate a deal with the EU which does not render the entire population to Dickensian poverty by, in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s words, gossiping about the new leader “under the influence of warm prosecco”.
As for the actual EU negotiations, Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, held a meeting with his UK counterpart, David Davis, earlier in July. The official picture summed up dramatically the difference between the two sides. Davis and his two aides had no paperwork in front of them – not even a notepad and pencil – while Barnier and his two aides had piles of papers in front of each of them, ready for business in one of their three or four languages. After an hour, Davis left for a three-line whip in the House of Commons, with a cretinous, schoolboy smile still afloat on his face. I sometimes wonder if this is really a mockumentary penned by Chris Lilley rather than reality.
The UK approach to the Brexit talks has at various times been called ‘shambolic’, ‘unprepared’ and ‘arrogant’ and all these epithets are true. But the most appropriate epithet, proven on a daily basis in UK media, is “stupid”. Sheer, rank stupidity. The lack of competence, intellectual capability and savoir faire of Davis, his colleagues and team, beg belief. But, as Napoleon whispered in Gallic tones, “in politics, stupidity is not a handicap”.
Duncan MacLaren is an Adjunct Professor of Australian Catholic University but writes in a personal capacity from Glasgow.