Well, Here’s Another Fine Mess You’ve Gotten Us Into

by James Spencer

Brexit is a lose-lose situation, which could so easily have been avoided if the various elites had deigned to listen to their peoples and addressed their concerns. The signs of growing popular dissent have been obvious for years: the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement; the steady rise of the anti-establishment parties in Europe; Sanders and Trump; and so on. Instead of listening, the elite ignored the people: “The People have lost the confidence of the Government; the People must be dissolved,” to paraphrase Brecht’s poem, “The Solution.”

Project Fear,” which told people that they would lose something that they didn’t feel they had in the first place, didn’t work. Further, the constant barrage of (often self-interested) international leaders warning (correctly) of dire consequences generated a Blitz spirit. Given the seriousness of the issue, it would have been prudent of the international leaders to intervene with the Eurocrats earlier and suggest that they offer a better deal to the UK, and other EU electorates. That might have moved sufficient Eurosceptics (rather than Europhobes) into Remain. That’s not a new idea; here’s what Diodotus the Athenian said 2,500 years ago, as quoted in Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War:

“[T]he right way to deal with free people is this – not to inflict tremendous punishment on them after they have revolted, but to take tremendous care of them before this point is reached, to prevent them even contemplating the idea of revolt.

In the UK, there are functionally two separate concerns. The middle class—who know the EU’s benefits—are indeed fed up with unnecessary EU interference in their lives. The key concern, however, is among the working class, who have felt the EU’s impact but have not appreciated its benefits. When various Eastern European countries acceded to the EU in 2004, the “inviolable” freedom of movement was indeed rampantly violated, as most EU countries refused to admit accession countries’ workers for several years. Blair did not seek an exemption for the UK and was allegedly surprised when about a million Poles and others came to the UK in a short time, swamping social services facilities, which are calculated from a census that takes place very 10 years. Compare maps of the Brexit vote and immigration from those countries. Effectively, the UK working class has been asking for the same exemption that the rest of the EU enjoyed 10 years ago.

No one seems to have any idea of what to do next. The Remain faction, as well as much of the European Commission, is in a state of shock and anger. The Leave gaggle, meanwhile, are falling out with each other over as they figure out the composition of their planning team and who will lead it. While the elites play their games, it might be worth a quick estimate to give them a steer.


  1. Most democratic political and economic leaders would like the UK to remain in the EU.
  2. Scotland, Gibraltar, and Ulster voted to Remain, while perhaps half of England voted to Leave. As a result, Scotland may look to change its relationship with the UK in order to remain in the EU.
  3. Although Greenland, which is part of Denmark, disassociated itself from the European Community in 1985, Denmark remains in the EU.
  4. Most people in the UK (and much of the EU) have lost faith in the “European Project.”


  1. The UK continues with Article 50 action, the probable breakup of the UK, and possibly the EU and maybe even NATO.
  2. Parliament ignores the will of the people and refuses to take Article 50 action, resulting in further simmering discontent, and possibly more attacks on MPs, and so on.
  3. England disassociates itself from the EU, while Scotland, Gibraltar, and Ulster remain in the EU as the UK. England may soon see the benefits of re-joining the Union and reactivate its membership of the EU.
  4. The EU realises that it needs to listen to its populations—not just its elites—and works out more equable terms for all EU members (including the UK.) It calls for a referendum on a new compact—including the UK—just as when the Irish rejected the Nice Treaty and then endorsed

It’s time for national and international politicians to earn their pay (not just claim their allowances) and come up with a solution that works for everyone. Ignoring the problem, or, worse, ignoring the people is not going to work. It’s time for the elites to get us out of this fine mess, now that they’ve gotten us all into it.

James Spencer is a retired British infantry commander who specialized in low-intensity conflict. He is an independent strategic analyst on political, security and trade issues of the Middle East and North Africa and a specialist on Yemen.

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