May’s result tonight was more than a stay of execution for herself. This was a stay of execution for the British union state. Brexit, as it works itself out, has a number of grimly inevitable conclusions. It will leave the United Kingdom poorer and in a long-term downward economic decline; a weight that will be disproportionately carried by the poorest. Social tensions will be stretched to breaking point, with a sharp increase in racism and race-related hate crime.
The British government is expecting the entire UK economy to dive four times deeper over the 15 years after Brexit than it did during the last recession. Will it recover, we might ask, after those first 15 years are over? No. There is no reason to imagine it will. Removed from the wider European bloc, it is likely that over a protracted period the British economy will sink to a new normal. This much was predicted some time ago by arch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg when he admitted that the recovery after Brexit may be 50 years down the line.
To put this is Texas terms: We’ve struck oil. We are rich. We are richer than our wildest dreams! But, wait, we’re not. We are not an independent country. We voted No to independence in 2014, believing we were broke, and that the oil was running it. We bought the lie that what oil we had left wouldn’t be worth a pittance. The same people who were laughing at us then are laughing at us now; that oil bonanza – which they knew was in the pipeline – will not be coming to us. It will be going right where it has always gone, to London.
Getting the proposal through the Commons will require 325 votes. Before this crisis the government had, together with its confidence and supply purchase, a majority of one – with 326 seats. It no longer has this. With a conservative estimate of losses, the government’s vote is reduced to about 276; that’s 50 votes shy of the majority it needs. So, can this vote be passed? Of course, but nothing is guaranteed. We can exclude from the equation Sinn Féin’s 7 seats. The Irish republicans refuse to take their seats in the British parliament. This brings May’s shortfall to somewhere closer to 40-45 votes.
In practical terms this divergence means that British rule on the island of Ireland will come to an end, ultimately bringing about the conditions in which a border poll on the constitutional future of the six counties will be reduced to little more than a legal formality. Given the population demographics of the province and the mutual economic interdependence of Ireland and the six counties, the long-term consequence of this deal – if agreed – will be the eventual unification of Ireland.
Special status for Northern Ireland, which rejected Brexit, will be a slap in the face for Scotland – which also rejected Brexit. As the six counties do not have significant oil and gas resources and Scotland does, no such arrangement will be considered for the Scots. This cannot play out well for British unity. The majority of Scotland – including its unionist base – rejected Brexit, Holyrood has refused legislative consent to any deal that does not consider the interests of the Scottish voters, and those voters themselves know what’s best for them.
The use of emergency powers in the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit nightmare scenario will not look pretty. Such powers will focus on focal points of resistance, be that local communities like the Ballymurphy estate in Belfast (1971) and the Bogside in Derry (1972) or democratic institutions like the Dáil – the Dublin parliament (1919); using force of arms to bring the population to heel. This was the same playbook put into operation by the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be the same or similar playbook that will be used to restore order in the UK after Brexit.
Many influential Brexiteers will be able to offset any negative effects of Brexit with their savings, shares, bonds, inheritances, and work expenses. This will be possible, of course, because their wealth has already been off-shored. Their wealth, under the protection of wealth management firms, is far away making money off of the backs of exploited workers, child labourers, and in some cases from arms sales in conflict zones and even from slavery. No matter how tough Brexit gets in the UK, people like Philip and Theresa May, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Boris Johnson will be fine.