Nearly three months have passed since the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU) in a close referendum roughly split between 52% in favour of the motion and 48% against. When that momentous decision was made then-prime minister David Cameron resigned in the belief that he no longer held a mandate to govern the country – failing to sign the legislation that begins the process of a nation leaving the EU, Article 50, before he did so. Mr. Cameron was succeeded, after much political infighting in the Conservative Party, by Theresa May – who has likewise yet to do what her predecessor did not. Ever since the vote political commentators and the mainstream media, especially right-wing print media such as The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, have been simultaneously speculating when Article 50 will be trigger and attempting to re-assure Britons, if not the world, that the referendum will not bring with it utter calamity. The reality however is that triggering Article 50 is a Kobayashi Maru scenario in its purest form, and as a result I really don’t envy the position Mrs. May has inherited.
For those of you reading this that are not familiar with the lore of Star Trek allow me to explain what is meant by a ‘Kobayashi Maru Scenario’. First appearing on screen in the 1982 film ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ before appearing again in the J.J Abrams reboot of the series in 2009, the Kobayashi Maru is a training programme that puts cadets aspiring to become commanding officers in Starfleet in a no-win scenario. Many characters in the canon take the test with varying results but the crux of the programme is that of a test of character as the scenario itself is literally unwinnable without resorting to re-programming it to warp reality. As the creator of the test, Spock, admitted the whole purpose of the Kobayashi Maru test is not for candidates to win it but to rather re-frame the crisis at hand in the best possible light while maintaining control over one’s self and one’s crew. This is almost verbatim the situation Britain as a whole finds itself in following the ‘Brexit’ vote. As far as I can see there are only three distinct outcomes of the Brexit vote, I will only address a fourth if only to address how much of a delusional fantasy it is for the far-right of British society.
The first, and the most likely is the ‘Diet Brexit’, that the UK achieves political devolution from the EU but is forced to accept the free movement of labour in order to maintain access to the single market in Europe – much like Switzerland and Norway. By doing this May technically fulfils the will of those who won the vote by withdrawing the UK from the EU while also alleviating economic concerns AND acknowledge the will of the 48% of the UK that sought to remain. Leave voters will be sour over immigration not being locked down and Remain voters will likewise be sour over political devolution but since politics is ultimately a game of compromise and balance this is as good as I think the UK will get. This is not an entirely faultless outcome however, as political devolution means that the UK will have to abide by the rules the EU sets out with no avenue to even affect said rules. Also, the hope that the UK could draft the same deals as Switzerland and Norway is somewhat fanciful but I can foresee something somewhat similar. In the same manner that Kirk cheated the no-win scenario just to spite it I think this is as close as Britain can get to making the most of a bad situation.
The second, and less likely, is that Britain achieves political devolution but also leaves the single market – essentially a ‘full Brexit’. This is one of the two situation May wants to avoid and for good reason. May has been saying the right things to Leave voters in that she ‘thinks’ Britain would cope outside the single market but deep down she knows she is blowing smoke into a hurricane. I will go into why this is the case in the fourth and final scenario but suffice to say the UK needs the single market or it will be in for a world of financial turmoil that would make the market crash of 2008 look like a pleasant campfire. ‘Full Brexit’ also runs the severe, if not certain risk, of the UK itself ceasing to be – as Scotland and Northern Ireland will not let what is left of sentiment get in the way of reason. Scotland held a referendum for independence from England back in 2014, a vote that had a similarly narrow outcome that commentators believe was defeated on the premise that the UK’s continued membership of the EU and the benefits it brought outweighed the unknown. However, since this scenario sees England abandon the very reason Scotland remained in the union – coupled with the absolute dominance of the Scottish National Party in the country and the unanimous decision the Scots took in favour of the Remain vote, a second and this time successful Scottish independence referendum is inevitable. What follows full Scottish devolution is the unification of Ireland as Northern Ireland likewise sought to remain and questions have persisted over the possibility of unification ever since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Now, I am not naïve. I know that the process surrounding such a unification will be long and arduous given the… interesting history Ireland has but it is something that becomes a distinct possibility if ‘Full Brexit’ happens and Scotland throws the gauntlet down. This scenario sees the Leave voters getting exactly what they wanted, and then some. The English right wing will fight tooth and nail to prevent Scotland and Ireland breaking away, but honestly… who could really blame them when they do? A nationalist movement that at times bordered on the lunatic fringe and presented the rhetoric of ‘Free Britain’ ends up causing the final collapse of what was once the British Empire. I think they call that poetic justice.
The third and another losing outcome, what I like to call the ‘No Brexit’, is that May refuses to trigger Article 50 and puts the decision of whether to or to not to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster – where the motion to trigger Article 50 is defeated and the referendum result is annulled. While being what the regressive left in the UK wanted to happen in the immediate aftermath of the referendum the consequences of a ‘No Brexit’ will be severe, and I mean SEVERE. Forget economics for a moment – this scenario is a direct attack on democracy and would set an EXTREMELY dangerous precedent for the future. Look, I am not happy with the result of the referendum either but the fact of the matter is this: democracy must work both ways, you cannot simply annul a vote if it does not produce the result your side wanted. There was an absolutely absurd petition that was started on the UK government’s website that gathered over 4,000,000 signatures which demanded a second referendum in the event of the winning vote not gaining at least 60% of total vote. Sorry everyone, that’s not how the democratic process operates. Do not blame your countrymen for this either, if anything blame the political and middle-upper classes of UK society for neglecting the legitimate concerns of their less fortunate fellows – you cannot light a Molotov without fire. US Democrats… I hope you are reading this and see what I am getting at.
The fourth and final scenario simply will not happen as it is a deluded fantasy imagined by the UK right wing. This scenario sees the UK achieve complete political devolution from the EU, completely sealing the Calais-Dover passage to prevent African and Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants from making it to the UK and draw up new international trade deals while enjoying all the benefits of remaining in the EU such as access to the single market… all in the space of two years – the exact time frame one has from the moment they trigger Article 50 to the moment they officially leave the EU. Like I said, absolute fantasy. Let me break down why it is. Firstly, there is simply no way the EU member states will allow the UK special privileges on this level simply because they are the UK – that is idiotic to even entertain. Norway and Switzerland have to abide by the EU’s rules to have access to the market, so why should the UK not have to when this precedent has already been set? Secondly, the fact that the UK has played a key role in plunging the Middle East into chaos and that it now wants to lock its doors rather than help deal with the humanitarian fallout is now and will be remembered in the history books of the future a stain on its national character. Make no mistake about it, the interventions in the Middle East are a direct cause of the migrant crisis gripping Europe. That the UK has now turned a blind eye to the results of its actions is disgraceful. Thirdly, and going back to my previous comment on the ‘Full Brexit’, the UK needs access to the single market in Europe simply because it does not have any alternative options on the table. May’s claim that the UK could prosper outside the single market is an applause line with absolutely no basis in reality – rather dangerous when you are dealing with people’s livelihoods. If the Conservative government had come out in the aftermath of the vote with trade deals, even if they were only in draft form, with other nations I would not be as concerned as that would have demonstrated good foresight. The fact is however that they had nothing as they were certain that the Remain camp was going to win, that is why Cameron resigned the very next day as he knew what was coming and did not want to deal with the impending disaster. Cameron’s resignation coincided nicely with the pound sterling falling off the fiscal cliff as investors knew that his resignation meant that the government had no real plan. May is now frantically trying to strike any trade deal she can with nations like Japan and Australia, something that the right wing press only this week heralded as proof ‘Full Brexit’ would work. However, both Japan and Australia rebuked her at the recent G20 summit for the simple reason that they, Malcolm Turnbull and Shinzo Abe both, would not begin negotiations until Article 50 had been activated – something that would instantly put them and any nation negotiating with the UK for that matter in the stronger position at the table. The same holds true for the EU member states as well, with Germany and France in particular outright refusing to even speak to UK negotiators until Article 50 has been activated. What a Catch 22.
In conclusion, the Kobayashi Maru test was above all else a test of character for a leader – to see if a leader could reframe a no-win scenario in the best possible light while maintaining control. Brexit is England’s no-win scenario and the culmination of many factors which have driven the nation to go down the path it has. There is no clear winning scenario here besides the ‘Diet Brexit’, but even that is not an outright victory. So, Mrs. May consider this your Kobayashi Maru. I know that you did not want to be in this situation as you were in the Remain camp from the very start and like I said I do not envy the decisions you make, whatever they end up being, because you are doomed in the process. You came to power, Mrs. May, off the back of much more enthusiastic Brexiteers seeing reality kick their post-referendum party door down and then jump out the window to evade its searing gaze. This reality, the world, is watching. Do your best as nobody could really fault you for taking on the Kobayashi Maru and losing.
Was rather hopefully Ms May would meet her Waterloo.