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Viewed from abroad, the UK has become an international laughing-stock

19 Feb 2019 6 minute read
UK Prime Minister Theresa May European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.

Patrick McGuinness

One of the educational things about going abroad for a few days is that it helps us see our country from the outside. Not that I’d especially want to see that, given the state it’s in.

Because the UK is, not to mince my words, an international laughing-stock and an object of pity: a masterclass in hijacked democracy and economic and cultural self-harm.

I was amused to see the MP Peter Bone moaning in parliament about Donald Tusk’s perfectly reasonable comment that there must be a place in hell for those who hurtle their country towards Brexit without actually having any sort of plan for the fall-out.

It’s surely self-evident that those who lie and cheat and subvert democracy with bribes and buy-offs, who claim that we’ll have ‘sunlit uplands’ but deliver only xenophobic rants and empty promises, should have some form of punishment in the next life – though I’d prefer it to come sooner so we can all see it. Maybe we could even televise it.

I hadn’t realised Peter Bone, a man who called the NHS ‘Stalinist’ (I don’t recall that on the side of a bus) was such a snowflake – so easily ‘triggered’.

Indeed I’m amazed that a Tory party and right-wing press that regularly abuses foreigners, calls for the Irish to be starved, invokes the Battle of Britain and compares Europe to Hitler’s Germany, is so soft-bellied that they can’t be called out on an objective fact: the ‘easiest deal in history’ turns out to be a mess of deceit and destruction.

As they say in Dad’s Army, ‘They don’t like it up ’em’. It’s funny how the party that preaches personal responsibility has suddenly started to tell us it’s all someone else’s fault: remainers, the EU, Ireland.  Anyone but themselves, right?


Donald Tusk, let’s recall, was a member of Solidarity, the Polish dissident group that opposed communism and whose members ran considerable personal risks to free their nation. Compared with those in the UK who endlessly invoke wars they never fought in and tell outright lies about British history,

Tusk seems a remarkably trustworthy gentleman. He is after all telling us what we look like to the world: a country held hostage by extremists, both left and right, sleepwalking into isolation, nostalgia and xenophobia.

This has become a country where people are attacked and abused for being and sounding foreign; where NHS staff fear speaking their own languages on phones, in public transport, because they’ll get hit or spat at or told to ‘go home’.

In fact, the only noticeable change in the UK since the Brexit vote has been negative: the poison of emboldened hate on our streets, Brexiteers saying ‘f**k business’, European citizens being threatened with deportation, and businesses and enterprises planning to move.


The Houses of Parliament are about to be ‘renovated’ (sadly only the buildings, not the people) at a cost of nearly £4 Billion. We have to ask ourselves what this grotesque pantomime, and its sister institution, the Lords, has done to deserve not just the money it costs but the power it has and the regard in which it is held.

There seems to be money for them and to bribe the DUP (a northern Irish ultra-nationalist party from a part of the UK that voted Remain), but the money promised by Brexiteers for the NHS, for farming, for education… of course not: it was a lie.

Did you really believe that Boris Johnson, a politician who gets paid over £20,000 per month on top of his salary as an MP for his newspaper column, and who asks for £50K for one speech, was going to deliver on his promises for the ‘ordinary folk’?

Do you believe that Rees-Mogg, whose banking company moves cash out of the UK to profit form the fall of the £ and whose net worth is estimated at between £55 and 150 million is going to care what happens to people in Caerphilly or Caernarfon?

The death of UK car manufacturing isn’t just an accidental casualty of Brexit – it’s part of these people’s plan, as Cardiff University’s very own Patrick Minford, Brexiteer economist, made clear: ‘in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industries’.

‘We’ ran down the coal and steel industries, ‘we’ want ‘our’sovereignty…. Who is this ‘we’, what is this ‘our’?

It’s not mine, and it’s not my children’s, who will never know, thanks to the liars, the xenophobes and the chancers of Brexit, what it is like to be able to work, live and study in 27 different countries without applying for visas. Do we really want to be part of these people’s idea of a country?


I’ve lived in Wales for 20 years now, and I’ve yet to see any evidence that the ‘we’ and the ‘us’ of Wales is properly represented by the ‘we’ and the ‘us’ of Westminster politics.

I was amazed, when I moved here, how those who believed in Welsh self-government and devolution were called ‘narrow nationalists’ while those who believed Wales should be run by a bunch of Etonian MPs from Northampton or Surrey were apparently ‘outward-looking’ and ‘international’.

Of course we have the Proud Welsh Buts, who tell us they’re proud to be Welsh but Wales is too small and too poor and too stupid to exist without the largesse of Westminster politicians, or that they’re proud to be Welsh but Welsh history doesn’t really count as history, and Welsh railways don’t really need electrification and Welsh people don’t deserve to be consulted before someone powerful decides to name their bridge after an English Prince.

The PWBs are of course the Welsh political establishment, which explains why Wales’s interests do not register in London.

But Brexit, and Wales’s helplessness in the face of it, is the logical result of Westminster politics, and of a ‘United’ Kingdom in which there are only two equal partners: English nationalism and Big Money.

Patrick McGuinness’s new novel, Throw me to the Wolves, is out in April

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