20 May, 2024


Brexit: A Modern British Tragedy!

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Will a sloshed Britain stutter and stumble out of the European Union? Brexit: A modern British tragedy!

Unless the countries of European Union unanimously agree to defer Article 50, at 23:00 GMT on 29 March (midnight in Brussels) the UK will leave the EU with no negotiated exit. At the stroke of the clock British goods going to the EU will be subject to duty and will need to be checked for compliance with its regulations. Goods from the EU arriving in the UK could face checks though not straight away because the government does not have the infrastructure in place. Air-traffic, fishing and nuclear power could face disruption. “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen” and Britain will inflict upon itself the tragedy lamented by King Lear for which it has no one but itself to blame.

This is the excellent foppery of the world that
when we are sick in fortune — often the surfeit
of our own behaviour– we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves and thieves
by spherical predominance: …. an evasion
of a whoremaster to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star.

One must admire the dogged determination with which Theresa May persevered up to the 59-th minute to fashion a deal which Parliament would endorse. Her negotiating team will be bogged down till the deadline, I fear to no avail. Her effort suffered a huge defeat on 12 March in the House of Commons – 391 to 242 votes – a margin of 149. On 15 January her penultimate effort suffered an even bigger defeat by 432 votes to 202, the largest parliamentary defeat in history for a sitting UK government. These follow the 23 June 2016 referendum when 51.9% voted in favour of leaving the EU and 48.1% against.

Neither Leavers nor Remainers are happy; many Labour and some Conservatives MPs back a closer arrangement with the European Union which would see the UK remain in the EU’s single market as part of the European Economic Area. Brexit will incur a GDP loss of 2-2.5% and cut income by an annual of £400 for an average household due to cost increases. It will crop students from Europe and damage higher education and research. Then there is the “divorce Bill – the UK’s share of separation costs and settlement of dues; at best guess about Euro 50 billion. Polls show that the public is aware that Brexit will hurt the economy and that a No-Deal Brexit will leave the country in shambles, but Leavers are determined to “Get Britain Back” and be free of EU restrictions on sovereignty (laws, regulations, justice, EU courts, immigration and emigration from and to EU countries, and trade policy).

The choices

For arguments sake let me postulate a second referendum. Options are changing fast but at the time of writing (21 March) there are four distinct variants. The routes that can be offered at a second referendum follow. I do not conceal my preference for option (d) though (c) seems be the choice of a public ensnared by its own hubris into concealing from itself its stupidity at the previous referendum.

1. Accept Theresa May’s final deal as the best possible compromise with the EU.

2. A No-Deal Brexit; that is crash out and face the consequences as they arise.

3. Postpone the divorce and continue negotiations – EU unlikely to grant open ended extension.

4. Reverse the 2016 Referendum result; annual Article 50 and remain in the EU (EU sure to agree).

A good referendum is designed as a simple two-option choice: Approve XYZ or reject XYZ; cut and dry, clear and simple. Referenda with more than two options are a nightmare; controversy will linger forever. The Condorcet Method (named after a French mathematician) is a way out in these intractable cases. It seeks to identify the option that is most acceptable (least unacceptable). The two tables provide an illustration. (If the first column had read 50%+1 instead of 40%, that would be the end of the matter and option-A declared the winner). 

The Commons rejected option-(a) May’s “best possible deal” on 12 March and on 13 March rejected, in perpetuity a No-Deal Brexit, option-(b).  On 14 March it voted 412 to 202 to request the EU for a delay in Brexit, option-(c). The call for a second referendum option-(d), was defeated by 334 votes to 85 but with 213 mostly Labour MPs, abstaining. But Labour is vacillating and may eventually support a second referendum. Repeated Commons defeats prove Prime Minister May has lost control of her party, Cabinet and Brexit policy. More significantly, Referendum, Commons, PM, and Government are all at cross purposes. Corbyn and the Labour Party are also all in a muddle about how to deal with this confusion. Chaotic! Chaos unprecedented in English history since the Civil War of the 1640s. 

The Commons, in effect, has voted to reject quitting the EU. This puts it in conflict with the 2016 Referendum. Constitutionally, Parliament is supreme in Britain; it can disregard result of any referendum. The defeat of No-Deal is proof of a conflict between the Commons and the Referendum, but it is bad for democracy if the Commons were to overrule a referendum without getting its decision endorsed at a second referendum or a general election. As an alternative Labour’s Hilary Benn vainly offered an amendment to allow MPs (not government) to take control of Brexit.  “People are watching chaos and uncertainty and we have a responsibility to demonstrate that Parliament can and will do its job”. 

Prime Minister May tried to make a vain third attempt to get her package through the Commons but was hit by Erskine Mayhem when Speaker John Bercow relying on precedents as far back as 1604 – and well-thumbed copies of Erskine May – refused to let the government submit the same motion for a third time. Mrs May has now written to Brussels asking for an extension of time till 30 June. At this time of writing the EU’s response is not clear. The Scottish National Party, Liberal Democrats, Welsh Plaid Cymru’s and the Green Party have released a joint statement calling for another referendum. “The best, most democratic way forward is to put the decision back to the people in a new vote – with the option to Remain on the ballot paper” they said. 

[House of Commons: Government – Tories 314, Democratic Union (N. Ireland) 10. Opposition -Labour 245, Scottish Nationalists 35, Lib-Dems 11, Sinn Féin (boycotters) 7, Plaid Cymru (Wales) 4, Greens 1 and Independents 10. Total 648 + Speaker + 1 vacancy. The House of Lords is not of much importance in these crucial matters].

Labour Party bewilderment

The Labour Party is not playing a leadership role; it is hardly centre stage. Jeremy Corbyn’s performances in the Commons are pathetic. Very late in the day he agreed to meet Tory MPs since he is adamantly opposed to a No-Deal exit and wanted to hear “their ideas and options”. Labour wants an agreement encompassing customs union, unhindered access to EU markets and legal protection of worker’s rights. In a newspaper article Corbyn said a close economic relationship was “the best Brexit compromise for both 17 million leave voters and 16 million remain voters”.  While he “respected the result of the 2016 Referendum” he reiterated that Labour would back another referendum “to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous No-Deal outcome”.

Although young people voted in overwhelming numbers to reject Brexit at the Referendum the dying generations have had their way. Labour, which basked in the sunshine of a youthful flourish after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, has been unable to the bridge the gap between its traditional working class base and the millennial new generation on this occasion.

First weeks of a No-Deal crash out 

The government will declare a ‘Critical Incident’, akin to a State of Emergency in our country, except done responsibly not as an attack on human and democratic rights such as has invariably been our experience. An army of 9000 civil servants will move into position on Brexit-night and operate 24 hours a day seven days a week in command and control mode. A “Cobra” emergency committee will meet at Cabinet Office; the Ministry of Defence will mobilise and there will be 14 military planners working in Whitehall (Sethsiripaya). Unpredictable delays at airports and severe slowdown on the critical Dover-Calais ferry and Channel Tunnel routes will be unavoidable and lorry traffic will grind to a halt. The effect is likely to include unpredictable delays at airports. The Department of Health is stockpiling six weeks’ worth of medications. Other departments are recruiting staff for exit-emergencies and teams will operate 24×7. There is concern about fresh food and live animals if they cannot be exported in time. 

Police forces have stopped leave for the first weeks after Brexit though the risk of disorder is low. One effect of leaving the EU without a deal is that the police will lose access to EU criminal justice tools and sensitive information. It has recruited staff to use the less effective Interpol systems. UK will need to patrol its fishing waters more extensively than it has for many years so the Royal Navy has reprieved ships that were to be taken out of service. It is not good days for Britain; to quote Lear for one last time: “The weight of this sad time (they) must obey”, but my hunch is that Brexit won’t happen; the Brits will find a way of muddling out of it.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Yesterday, I was listening. Some one said, It is HITLER who made the Empire with the Ever rising Sun to lose the prestige. So, they had to withdraw from the Greater Indian-Burma Kingdom and Srilanka also became fortunate. BREXIT is, one like RANIL’s FCID, Lichchavi Malla Yahapalana Kingdom, given by the then British PM just a election promise which went wrong. But, British Hopes didn’t go that far. The reason is European Union is trying to be another USA with a bunch of bankrupt European countries. Asians Which Believe the Eastern, Hindu or Buddhist philosophy believe every thing is temporary and cyclical while the International community which believes the Almighty Creator or the King think they are invinsible and immortal. So, here they are..
    News is USA has selected one Anti-Russian former Latvian politician to head EU. and she says Russia is the enemy of EU. That philosophy will never works. that is the almighty X-tian thinking.

    • 0

      Thanks VERY much for the valauble Article Dr DK. I also read a lot about BREXIT related stuff all these days. We the ones living in Germany having discussed it with our English colleagues realize, that many brites work out of UK have not had the chance to take part in that referendum. Most would not want to return to UK.
      Japanese companies hold their head quarters in LONDON and other parts of UK, are pla nning to move to Germany. It is not all it’s cracked up to be , now many of brites would remain as part of EU.
      You may be right there will very like be no BREXIT, once they understand leaving EU would be akin to committing suicide.UK’s in economy, many would suport for it. People living in most deprived areas are not aware of the ground realities with them being part of EU. NHS issue is also believed to be no right, since the financial advantages they the brites get being part of EU is indispensable. There are also

  • 4

    Aah, methinks the good Professor underestimates the British, again. Did the good professor bet that the little island kingdom will capitulate within weeks in 1939?

    No Sir, come what may, Britain will get on with whatever the fates decree. The doer folk who nurtured a whole Empire in bygone days will once again step up to ‘fight the good fight’.

    Meanwhile, whilst the spotlight is on the Brits, nervous European nabobs are just beginning to count the cost to themselves. I had to emit a nervous chuckle when I heard the plaintive cry of the Italian FM as he asked ‘who will drink the 614,000 litres of wine we export to the UK?’

    • 0


      The Fates decree they will use all resources at hand to consolidate the South Asian region within the British commonwealth of former empire. They will kiss goodbye to drug and sex-addicted EU once and for all, and do the Victorian thing once again. Dravidians will work very hard and bow down like mutts and ensure the “New World British-Empired Order” (NWBEO). Consider the UNHRC-Tamil deal thing done, prosecuted and persecuted.
      Option A: Brexit + NWBEO

      Option B: BREXIT + ½ NWBEO + ½ BREXIT

      Option C: BREXIT delayed for 10 years to check out either A or B

      Option D: Second Referendum to decide on options A, B, C.

      Option A will win unanimously. Rest of Europe will strive very hard to follow suit. History will of course repeat itself. Some arch-duke will be assassinated on European racial issues ; WW3 will ensue in a matter of a decade or so.

      Best for ancient land Sri Lanka and the whole world: Britain to endure EU through thick or thin. Sri Lanka Motherland to remain perpetually Ind-exed.

    • 1

      Had the USSR been kept out of the war, the little island kingdom may have become part of a Great German Empire.

      • 0

        SJ –

        Come on, dear Chap. It was the entry of the USA into WW2 that
        changed the equation. Give the Yanks due credit, old boy. Good
        ole’ Soviet Joe S was a clever bloke. He broke the ideological barrier and joined the Capitalist Brits and Yanks to get a slice of Prussia post-WW2. And he did.


        • 0

          When did the US get involved?
          If Japan was not dragged into the war, the US would have been happy selling arms and making a huge profit.
          Sacrifice by the USSR in every respect far exceeded that by the entire West.

      • 1

        “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
        we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
        we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
        we shall fight on the beaches,
        we shall fight on the landing grounds,
        we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
        we shall fight in the hills;
        we shall never surrender,.”

        Winston Churchill

        Was it a hollow victory for him just like the one Mahindawamsa had in 2009?

  • 1

    The Brits are too busy meddling with other countries and causing chaos elsewhere for their gain, they have completely slept through this process. There is no leadership anywhere in Britain. Divide and conquer was their historical mantra. They are being divided and conquered as we speak. Jeremy Corbyn is too busy whoring for votes to be the next PM and has offered no leadership to this crisis. Less said about Teresa May, the better. There is no leadership anywhere in Britain. Let them stew in their own juices.

  • 1

    It is not a tragic one rather it tell us how they think, how they differ, how they debate, how they respect public opinions, how they marry and how they want to divorce. These countries have been married financially, politically, legally, and socially. Now, for some reasons or other they want to go for a divorce, It is not like me and you divorce people in Sri Lanka. They plan every thing,, even birth and death but we Sri Lankans wait and see until nature decide on us… Do not we see what happened in recent political coups. Sri Lanka lost billions of rupees directly and indirectly still president does not have any remorse or any apology for what he did,, This is Sri Lankan mentality. Do not this British people think as we do, they do politics as we do.. so, it is not a modern tragedy rather it is a modern politics. wait and see.

  • 0

    Shouldn’t’ve have joined the EU in the first place, should they!

    // (parallel) SL situ : Wouldn’t want to suffer thro’ the Ind-ex in 43 years time.

  • 1

    The stupidity of the exercise of deciding to join and to leave based on a simple majority in a referendum has exacted its price.
    Joining and leaving are matters too serious to be decided by a simple majority. A 60% vote would have made sense to commit a country to a future about which there was some doubt. The same would apply for leaving.
    Britain lacked a sense of belonging in Europe: the dominant psychology has been conditioned by a longing for the days that were when Britain claimed to rule the world. It is still more comfortable with a weakening Commonwealth, which was headed by the Queen.

  • 0

    The Brexit drama is not a ‘King Lear ‘ tragedy but is a ‘Mid-summer nights dream’ comedy.
    Europe will wakeup to win win win. The lesson learned is “Do not prod a sleeping dog”.
    In spite of Charles de Gaulle’s opposition, UK got into EU but kept the GB Pound, less shillings, but a metric pence. They kept the mph but accepted all the other metric units.
    Enter pro-EU David Cameron. For political reasons he went for the Brexit referendum.
    Much to his chagrin Brexit won. Cameron quit politics.
    Baffled, the pro-Brexit Nigel Farage quit leading UKIP.
    EU decided to grind UK down to size. Brexit was made hard to teach potential exiters a lesson.
    Enter Theresa May to save Brexit.
    She has to go for a second referendum.
    Europe will wakeup to win win win.

    • 1


      The British establishment knows what is best for the UK and continues to whittle down minority force of Brexiteers. The simmering contradiction within the Conservatives had to be dealt with. Cameron tried to cut down noisy minority right wingers among the Tories to size. Now it is time for the British politicians to educate their people.

      Its no different to the Sri Lankan situation, the noisy minority islanders cannot accept the progressive changes taking place in the globalised world.

  • 0

    Referendum was the blunder!
    Democracy is more than referendum or any election.

    A matter of far reaching consequences should not be decided on elections especially by a simple yes and no?

    Consensus may be a way out,but it takes time.

    it is really not a single and simple issue,but complex and complicated series of issues.and ordinary people however advanced they may be may not be able to really comprehend the issues and the consequences of their action.
    The question put forward in a referendum may not be clear and unambiguous!

    British made a blunder and unable to come out from their foolish act

  • 0

    I heard some new Idea. That is EU does not want BREXIT to succeed because that would demolish even the Megastate of EU. Instead, once the Maelstrom is over, they would bring the 13th amendment to keep the country together. So, no one thinks about going away as one will lose.

  • 1

    Pankaj Mishra recently authored a piece in The New York Times titled ‘Malign incompetence of the British ruling class.’ It dealt with everything from colonialism, the mistreatment of the Irish, Churchill’s crimes in India, Brexit, and the Eton-Oxbridge cabal’s ‘chumocracy.’ Now when I see the flailing over Brexit, the words keep echoing in my mind: ‘malign, incompetence, chumocracy.’

    Mishra is a wordsmith and his words are like arrows that take down the pretenses of the British, even the entire West. He is actually married to a cousin of David Cameron, the former British PM who was one of those chumocrats, but Mishra has made clear that the cousin in question was diametrically opposed to Cameron’s politics and had met him only once in her life.

  • 2

    Some say stick it to Brussels and some say stick with it.
    Which is better financially, depends on the circumstances and aspirations you have.
    Some wants their borders protected. Some are worried about losing cheap labour from eastern Europe. Some are worried about the export and import industry due to probable tax issues.
    I believe Brexit is better in the long run. In the short-term Britain won’t have many issues other than the value of British Pound decreasing compared to Euro.
    Positives are locals will have more Jobs due many will have to leave UK and also because of the booming production in-house.
    British owns the majority of the shares, in many Banks of the world. Hence, Britain won’t topple that easy.
    The hype is not because of fear of sustainability in the short-term but the reduction in the profit margins.
    In the final analysis it’s better for the general public but not for the greedy business owners.

  • 0

    Thank you for an interesting article.
    For what it’s worth, as a British citizen living in Batticaloa, the view from my armchair is that while a majority of the public and MPs want to remain within the EU or at least attached to it via a Customs Union and/or Single Market, there is not an absolute majority for one of these options. This will be tested in Parliament this week.
    There is still a significant minority in favour of leaving with no deal a.s.a.p.
    Think of these as a Trumpish tendency. They may well end up getting their way due to the default of others and they will ditch Mrs May at the earliest opportunity in favour of a buffoon like Boris Johnson.
    Not a nice prospect.

  • 0

    Writing ability of Prof. Kum is one thing. The reality is another. We all know that the pro-Brexit vote came in with a narrow lead entirely due to last minute campaigning, consisting of matters that cannot be raised in the open, costing David Cameron’s premiership. The call for Jeremy Corbin to step down as labor leader was ignored. Now Theresa May has tried negotiations of all sorts but all have been rejected, politically motivated or otherwise. The salient point is to treat the Referendum as sacrosanct and the submission of the same proposal to the house within the same session is OK. (Erskine May and the precedents be damned.) Let us be clear. The pro-Brexit vote had an element of racism colored by an immigration issue. That is why the referendum is sacrosanct and THE QUESTION SHOULD NOT BE PUT TO THE PEOPLE BACK AGAIN. Clearly the conservatives want the best of both worlds. Can it happen? Britain once went in for an early vote through an early dissolution of parliament. Can that happen now? This is a good lesson for any country trying to manipulate things to have the best of both worlds.

  • 0

    Once again the Professor sees the World through his Leftist lens
    Our Politicians have made a mess – nothing new there. That’s about the only thing this article contains that I agree with.
    The EU is nothing more than modern Communism. Un-elected Leaders telling me what to do. I didn’t vote for them and have no way to get rid of them. To Hell with them!
    I don’t accept these people destroying the Sovereignty and Culture of my country – I don’t want more low IQ, Culturally Incompatible people in my country. It’s a disaster.
    BREXIT is the will of the people – that’s called Democracy. EU doesn’t like that. They want me to give all my hard earned freedoms to them and they will then decide which ones I get to keep!
    This is the year we take back our countries from the Globalist Elites and institute the will of the people. Just look at what is happening in France and the Netherlands.
    The sooner the EU ends up on the ash heap of History the better imho!

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