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The end of a dream, or new beginning for UK?

Sunanda K Datta-Ray is a senior journalist, columnist and author.
Published : Dec 18, 2019, 2:40 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2019, 2:40 am IST

Muslims expect humanity to persecuted Hindus abroad will damage their civic rights.

Boris Johnson (Photo: AP)
 Boris Johnson (Photo: AP)

Fears and phobias haunt many societies. The Assamese have always been neurotic about being overwhelmed by Bengalis. The fanatics of the BJP fear that Muslim “termites” will force another “twelve hundred years of servitude” on India. Muslims expect humanity to persecuted Hindus abroad will damage their civic rights. Tales of Poles and Rumanians, Slovaks and Serbs placing an intolerable burden on jobs, housing, schooling, medical care and other social services explain why northern English voters supported Brexit.  Britain has to leave the European Union, they reckon, to save itself.

They forgot that giving Boris Johnson what he calls a “powerful new mandate to get Brexit done” exalts the immigrant over the native. When the job first fell into his lap because of Theresa May’s ineptness, a front-page headline in the Turkish newspaper Sozcu screamed “Ottoman grandson becomes Prime Minister”. It meant Mr Johnson’s great-grandfather, Ali Kemal Bey, an Ottoman grandee and founder of its Anglophile Society, which had advocated that Turkey become a British protectorate like Kuwait or Qatar. Kemal was also a journalist who went into government but with disastrous results: he was captured in the Ottoman twilight and lynched by nationalists fighting to establish modern Turkey.

Perhaps it was to live down his ancestry that Britain’s new Prime Minister affects to despise his ethnic brethren. Some years ago, he won the first prize in a competition organised by the Spectator, the magazine he had edited from 1999 to 2005, asking readers to compose limericks that were “as filthy and insulting as possible” about Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There were fears that the abusive winning poem might be an impediment when Mr Johnson visited Ankara in 2016 as Britain’s foreign secretary. He says Turkey’s President didn’t bring up the poem at all when they met. He wouldn’t, would he, no matter how deeply it rankled? Mr Johnson charmed everyone by boasting of his Turkish forebears and – in the same breath -- of being “the proud owner of a digital, very well-functioning Turkish washing machine”.

Chutzpah is defined as murdering your parents and then seeking the court’s indulgence as an orphan. It goes with opportunism and a thick skin in ensuring political success. While EU leaders criticised Mr Erdogan for harshly putting down an attempted coup, Mr Johnson praised the suppression which left more than 240 people dead.  The Turks also appeared willing to forget his role in a Brexit campaign that frequently used Turkey’s EU application to warn of the dangers of remaining in the bloc. A Turk from Mr Johnson’s ancestral village proudly attributes his blond mop to his Turkish forefathers.

What next? An email from an English friend in industrial Lancashire on the morning of the victory claimed: “Each of us had come separately to the conclusion that Boris, as both a journalist and politician, was far better equipped to read the situation from both an insider and outsider perspective than the average parliamentarian, who has, these days, a very narrow experience of the world, and thus is in a far better position to act upon his evaluations. The average media person may have such blind spots too, as indeed the BBC seems to have demonstrated in misreading the likely outcome of the election right up to the exit poll at 10.00 pm. We find it hilarious that the media told politicians what it thought they wanted to hear, and vice versa. All the more hilarious that they repeated the errors made in calling the predicted outcome of the Brexit referendum in 2016.”

Others hold that in smashing the so-called “red wall” in the North of England, Mr Johnson did not win over millions of working class voters. On the contrary, suppressing his own impeccable upper class Eton and Balliol background, he pandered to the multitude by making common cause with them. No wonder a principled Jo Swinson, the plucky young Liberal Democratic Party leader who had promised a coalition to defeat Brexit, lost her seat and resigned.

My Lancastrian correspondent concluded: “Although there will be snags, the process of departing the EU will now proceed apace.” The January 31 deadline has been revived. If so, it may be the end of a dream of regional cooperation that inspired multinational groupings in Asia, Africa and America and nourished the distant hope of global unity. But some more rational Brexiteers claim that rejection of the EU might in fact be its saving. “Do not despair over our exit”, my friend writes in a second email.  “I suspect some other nations will wish to follow, at which point the bureaucrats and politicos will finally accept that the EU needs drastic overhaul to make it fit for 21st century purposes and beyond. The organisation has become ossified very quickly, and those with a vested interest in obstructing reform have ensured frustration would boil over.”

He finds it “unacceptable that by far the richest EU country should be one of the biggest net recipients of subsidies — Luxembourg.” Apparently, the EU is riddled with corruption, which is justified with numerous creative excuses. “We’re tired of them. We’re tired, too, of a system in which the European Parliament is a cipher for the mandarins who cut deals in backrooms, a mere ratification chamber without legislative powers. The EU will implode when the next country quits, and be replaced by one built on democratic principles. I am a reluctant Brexiteer, and although I shall not see the day, I hope and believe that within a generation or so there will be a new European framework which is open, adaptive, and accountable. Britain will then proudly participate.”

Amen to that, although I am not sure that Mr Johnson wants a strong and revived EU. Or, indeed, anything beyond his own continuation in office.

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