This article was written by Jibrin Ibrahim originally for Deepening Democracy Column, Daily Trust, 20th September 2019
I wrote a column on Brexit on 27th June 2016 trying to describe the spectre haunting Europe since 1992 related to the on-going transition from the Westphalian State to Supranationalism. Brexit, I argued, is not about the United Kingdom alone, it’s about the much larger question of the State as Europeans know it – the expression of national sovereignty. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty was formulated to move Europe much further, from economic integration to political and monetary union.
At that time, Euro-sceptics all over the continent called for caution arguing they did not want to go that far, that quickly. It was at that point that fingers started pointing to Eurocrats, that set of bureaucrats committed to carrying the integration project to its logical end. The way the Maastricht Treaty was framed was to force through convergence criteria that all countries must follow. Of course, the United Kingdom was not ready to go that far and opted out of monetary union. In June 1992, Denmark posed the first real challenge by voting out the Treaty in a referendum that had been designed as a must sign for all countries.
Following the Danish revolt, the Edinburgh Agreement made a number of alterations to carry the Danes along. Luckily, the Parliament in the United Kingdom had powers to ratify the Treaty without going through a referendum. There was no way John Major’s Government could have got the British people to ratify the Treaty in a referendum.
Europe continued the march towards complete integration in 2001 by proposing a new Treaty for a European Constitution in 2005. The new Treaty was rejected by 54.67% of French voters and by 61.54% of Dutch voters who understood largely that the march was inevitable but movement was too fast. It was in that context that the more realistic Lisbon Treaty of 2007 tempered the European Constitution project. For both the French and Dutch voters in 2005, what were most unacceptable were their governments telling them that there was no alternative to voting yes. Why pose yes/no questions if the response is decided? Rather than respond to the question posed, most voters simply asserted their right to say no, correctly affirming that in a democracy, voters have the right to say no. Experts on referenda point out that in many cases, voters do not respond to the question posed on the ballot. They simply express their emotions concerning the political system or the government of the day.
This was what happened in the British Referendum of June 2016 when the majority voted for Brexit because they were pissed off by being warned by the British and international establishment that they had no right to leave the EU, and if they dare leave, they would face dire consequences. I remember that it was only after the referendum that there was a reported spike in Google questions on what was the EU and what were the implications of leaving. The people used their sovereign right to vote before knowing what the implications were. It is called democracy but it is problematic and that is why the Brexit conundrum persists. The fact of the matter is that a dummy was sold to the British people – 47% of British trade was with the EU so whether or not they were in the EU, they would have to agree to their trade terms and could not therefore eat their cake and have it.
The best liar in the UK, one Boris Johnson, told a white lie that Brexit would release British 350 million pounds a week to save and pay into the national health service and there would be no negative consequences. The British ruling class had of course blocked referendum on Europe for over forty years because they suspected that they could not trust the people to do what they were told. One member of the ruling class was stupid – Prime Minister Cameron took the gamble to increase his chances of winning elections. He failed and became the first victim of Brexit.
The real story of exiting the union can be traced to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia when the then European powers – the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish, French, Swedish and Dutch Republics agreed to end the 30-year war by recognizing the sovereignty of each other. This principle of international law had become sacrosanct until new principles started knocking on its door. One was the effort of the EU and other similar structures to voluntarily transfer some of the State’s sovereignty to a collective organ. Other pressures, in particular the principle of responsibility to protect and the doctrine of war crimes and crimes against humanity have over the past decade opened the path of non-voluntary loss of full State sovereignty. The world, I suspect, is never going to return fully to the principles of Westphalia. As we all know, the struggle between nationalism and xenophobia on the one hand and supra-nationalism on the other will dictate international politics in the coming years.
The real issue on the table about not just Europe but the entire world is that for the first time since the end of the Second World War, a generation is born that is economically worse off than their parents. Meanwhile the number of billionaires is rapidly increasing while the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. As inequality grows, austerity, low salaries and joblessness is the fate of the majority, especially the youth. As misery grows, scapegoatism becomes the dominant refrain leading to the rise of xenophobia. These are the issues that we need answers to if supranationalism is to continue its march.
For too long, the English masses had been constrained by their ruling class to bottle their xenophobia against everybody else and Brexit liberated them. The Referendum was run on the official platform of restoring the sovereignty of Parliament. Now we know it was a ruse. It was about the superiority of the English tribe over the Irish, Scots, Europeans and all the others. Today, they are ready to break out of not only Europe, but even out of the United Kingdom. Their Oxford trusted leader, Boris Johnson, formerly of Turkish origin is ready to take them on the journey inwards even if it means destroying the prosperity of the country. I suspect it is the fault of the Africans whose leaders have destroyed their countries to keep power and Johnson has accepted the script of African dictators. From the Empire where the sun never set, the end game for the UK now is the powers of the tribal leader of the English. It’s the law of Karma because for centuries the English despised the colonies for their tribalism so now it’s their turn.
When Scotland’s highest civil court ruled that Johnson’s prorogation of the UK parliament was illegal, a government minister, Kwasi Kwarteng said that the judges are biased and are “interfering in politics” like any African dictator would say. In 2005, the Constitutional Reform Act was passed to create the Supreme Court outside the House of Lords. There were concerns about Blair’s lying to Parliament and his high-handedness such as the illegal decision to wage war on Iraq. The Johnson government shut down Parliament for an unprecedented five-and-half weeks and claimed it was normal to prepare a Queen’s Speech. Yet, everyone knew it was to stop Parliament from contesting his Brexit plans. The same man who campaigned for parliamentary sovereignty is determined to destroy it to stay in power.
Currently, the decision of the Scottish Court that prorogation was unlawful “because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament” is now before the UK’s Supreme Court. Can they be truthful and admit that constitutionally sovereign power is vested in the majority will of the two Houses of Parliament “fully and freely” representing the people? We will see after all when Parliament passed a law that Johnson must seek extension on Brexit, he announced he will not do so. As the Brits have lost it, African activists now have a duty to start lecturing British leaders about the importance of good governance, respecting laws and constitutions.
The most fascinating aspect of the current crisis in the UK is Johnson’s CV that qualifies him to rule. He was sacked from his job at The Times newspaper for fabricating a quote. He moved to the Observer where he told lies known as “Euromyths”, including plans to introduce same-size “eurocoffins”, establish a “banana police force” to regulate the shape of the curved yellow fruit, and ban prawn cocktail crisps. He disgusting blamed “drunken Liverpool fans” for the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and suggested that the people of the city were wallowing in their victim status. We can skip the stories of affairs with women. Look around the world, more people with similar CVs are emerging as leaders. My dear friends in the United Kingdom, welcome to the politics of the tribal leader whose only rules are the promotion of despotism.