Brexit divide threatening to shatter Britain’s ‘keep calm and carry on’ stoicism
A protester screams at a police officer during an anti-fascist march in London. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
As police clashed with an anti-fascist crowd in London on the weekend, it was a reminder of the fragility of calm and order.
They had gathered to counter a rally by a pro-Brexit crowd led by controversial activist Tommy Robinson.
Far-right figure Tommy Robinson was one of several thousand that turned up to the Brexit Betrayal march. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
Many had faces covered and seemed ready, willing and even wanting to fight. In the end there were only a few arrests and the crowds dispersed.
But when a nation is divided on an issue as polarising as Brexit, the potential for civil unrest is very real.
For now the pause button has been placed on what was gearing up as one of the most important weeks in Britain’s long political history.
The Brexit deal vote was delayed by an embattled and desperate Theresa May, who was facing such a crushing defeat in the Parliament it would have been difficult to see how her leadership could have survived such a blow.
She’ll now go begging to Brussels to get further concessions, but with the European Union leaders already stating the previous deal was the only deal, it’s hard to see how they will budge.
There are really only three options going forward.
- There will be a divorce deal done with Europe
- There will be no deal and the UK will leave in March with limited arrangements in place
- There will be no Brexit
After drumming the line that this deal would be the only Brexit deal, Mrs May said she would go back to the European leaders and ask them to negotiate further on a divorce deal.
The EU have said they won’t give any ground in further negotiations; that they won’t reopen the 500-page deal they clinched with Mrs May after long Brexit negotiations.
There is a possibility they could talk around the edges; if Europe is also wanting the deal to go ahead they could give some ground in annexes or side notes, although it’s difficult to see what is going to change — so dramatically — that Mrs May could then get something through the Parliament.
Ultimately it’s the no-deal scenario that brings the greatest uncertainty with it.
Mounted police clash with protesters on the streets of London during an anti-fascist march. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
A police document leaked to the press in September warned of civil disorder and widespread protests if no deal is done.
That would be linked to discontent over the potential shortage of medical supplies and food and the rising cost of living.
Under that scenario, contingency plans are in place where police chiefs would call on the military to restore order. The uncertainty surrounding a watershed moment in the history of the UK means nothing can be ruled out.
On the economic front the greatest hit — a predicted 9 per cent downtown — would come under a no-deal scenario. The pound sterling is already taking a beating, dropping to a 20-month low against the US dollar.
At all costs Mrs May is trying to secure and then pass a deal through the Parliament, but others are pushing for a second referendum where the people would essentially be given a chance to change their minds and stay in the EU.
That scenario has been made easier by the European Court of Justice, after it ruled on Monday the UK could cancel Brexit without the approval of the 27 other union states.
Protesters at the Brexit Betrayal march at Wellington Arch in London. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
Although it is almost impossible to imagine after more than two years of negotiations, the UK would just stay put.
Winston Churchill’s wartime words of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” ring true now in what is one of the most complex political periods in British history.
We can’t know what one of the founding fathers of the European Union would have thought of Brexit, but you can only imagine he would have wanted the UK to remain.
In black cabs, in the pubs and on the streets, Brexit is all the talk.
For some Brits it weighs very heavily on their minds, while for others it’s an annoyance they are sick of speaking of.
The UK is due to leave the European Union on March 29 next year but it is hard to see how, or even when, the uncertainty will end.