Umbrella Man by Mayank Chhaya
For a power that arbitrarily drew lines across lands and created fractious partitions as part of its colonial legacy is now facing its own existential splits and splinters. I am, of course, talking about the Disunited Kingdom.
I had no personal stake in the leave or remain referendum that has just resulted in Brexit but to the extent that one is interested in current affairs as a journalist there are several rapid thoughts that come to mind. One of them is what I started this post with. Another is about the prospects of Scotland now reviving the demand to exit from the U.K. They can call the new campaign Sexit. It is ironic that a significant reason why the Scots chose to stay on within the United Kingdom in the 2014 referendum was because Britain was part of the European Union. With the E.U. out of the equation, there are already rumblings about a new referendum in Scotland. There are reports of restiveness even inside Northern Ireland.
Not that there is any comparison but June 23, 2016 might be remembered as a kind of partition that the retiring colonial power left behind in the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Suddenly the most powerful colonizer of the last 300 years appears so utterly diminished from outside. The sun might set several times on Britain if you look at the way the leave-remain vote has been divided between cities and towns.
What has surprised many is the assertiveness of the leave vote with 52% favoring it. It was expected to be close but it turned out to be quite emphatic even though only four percent separates it. Britain’s geographical preeminence in the context of the E.U. for the world outside will be considerably reduced. London will remain a great city but there will be a distinct shadow around it. Some major consequences I can think of off the bat are the hassles of visas, tariffs, new individual trade deals and overall difficulties of freedom of movement within Europe. For the world outside Britain will cease to be a gateway to a great single market.
It has been pointed out that at the heart of the leave vote is a brand of worrisome nationalism which now views anything and everything unfamiliar with rancid contempt and suspicion. In a sense the leave vote is a serious rebuff to the establishment in London from those who feel left out. One sees many of the same trends in the United States as the presidential campaign becomes even sharper. It is not surprising that the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has been quoted as saying,“The UK has taken back control. It is a great thing.” His whole shtick is about taking back control and return to a time where cultural homogeneity prevailed.
In a significant sense the leave vote is also a direct consequence of the collapse in the Middle East, particularly places such as Syria from where waves of refugees are sweeping over Europe causing nationalists in Britain to draw the line.
In saying all this, I am not even remotely endorsing what has happened but merely quickly laying out what has happened. It is a pretty seismic shift in the cultural and political geology of not just Europe but in some ways the whole world.
A note about the painting above: Although I did it last night unrelated to the events in the U.K., on reflection it seems apt to have a man holding umbrella waiting for the ominous dark black and bottle green clouds.