A selection of recent dark news out of the U.K.: Scotland leads the European Union (EU) in opioid-related deaths; two iconic British fisheries, cod and mackerel, are heading for collapse; more than 275 financial services firms have moved all or part of their business out of the U.K. in the past few years, taking more than £900 billion with them. And children are flooding the streets in mass demonstrations, desperate for action on climate change.
But you won’t hear much about these events in major British media, even though all should be matters of deep public concern. That’s because the overwhelming din of the so-called Brexit “debate” has drowned out all else – except, seemingly, soccer scores and hourly, endlessly detailed weather reports.
The referendum on the U.K.’s EU membership may have been held in 2016, but the wounds it inflicted are only deepening, with Brits seemingly torn between obsession and avoidance when it comes to decisions about next steps on their EU membership, which began in 1973.
Like an oppressive black cloud that never lifts, Brexit is always there. The Tories keep reporters busy producing daily, in-depth coverage of the proroguing of Parliament in early September – widely condemned as an effort to ram through economically disastrous “no-deal Brexit” legislation by the end of October.
Incredibly, the prorogation issue continues to provoke inflamed responses from all sides, even though the prorogation itself has been ruled unlawful by the U.K. Supreme Court. MPs are departing the Conservative Party in droves, too disgusted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conduct on various fronts to carry on.
And, if you haven’t heard a televised screaming match in a while and wonder what one sounds like, just turn on the tube; you’ll find many to choose from, disguised as conversations among panellists of so-called “Brexit experts.”
Many now say that, whatever the result of the next general election (expected within a few months) and whether or not the country remains in the EU, the U.K. will never be the same. There is much speculation, for example, that there will be fresh impetus for Scotland’s independence.
The Scottish National Party, which has ruled Scotland’s Parliament since 2007 and is committed to separation from the U.K., states it wants both a U.K. election, in which the party is likely to pick up more seats, and another referendum on independence. (The first, in 2014, led to a narrow victory for those opposed to separation.)
Party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon appears to believe that the solid majority (62%) of Scots who voted to stay in the EU in 2016 have been so alienated by the antics in Westminster over the past three years that they will vote to end the 300-year-old union with the rest of the U.K. and join the EU as an independent state.
The situation – often described as the U.K.’s worst crisis since the Second World War – would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic. The rumpled, unfocused but crowd-pleasing Johnson is constantly called out for deceitful bluster, while the Opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, is unfairly targeted as a demented fool who espouses communism.
Says one Edinburgh-born observer of U.K. politics: “Elections have become irrelevant in the U.K. Our style of democracy doesn’t work anymore. It’s over. The candidate may be a proven liar, but people will vote for [him] anyway because [he is] funny.”