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What to Brexpect on 4 July, Pt. 1: Brexit and other conservative calamities shape UK general election

(Editor’s note: This is the first part in a two-part series as we move toward 23 June 2024, the eighth anniversary of the Brexit referendum, and the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.)

Eight years to the day that half the British political establishment scored one of the most spectacular own goals in history by leading its country out of the European Union, another United Kingdom referendum is almost upon us. This time it’s a vote on whether to keep a Conservative government in power that has stumbled from one calamitous catastrophe to the next for the past 14 years.

Let’s take a look at their rap sheet.

In 2011, we had the mass student protests against the government’s tripling of tuition fees, in which peaceful demonstrations were beaten down with police batons, leaving dozens injured and one permanently disabled.

Later the same year, mass riots broke out in areas of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other major cities, causing five deaths, hundreds of injuries, and damage to thousands of properties and businesses.

And we shouldn’t forget the spectacle of David Cameron joining France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in sending
warplanes to bomb civilians in Libya and topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. These actions went
against the express warnings of the US government and military intelligence at the time.

They have totally destroyed the North African country, placing it in the hands of tribal warlords, Islamist militias, precipitating a barbaric civil war with the involvement of Russian and Syrian mercenary and pitting the two biggest armies in the Middle East – Egypt and Turkey – against each other. The biggest business in Libya is now human trafficking, and there are open-air slave markets in parts of the country.

Then there was Cameron’s first gamble with a referendum.

Scotland came perilously close to exiting the United Kingdom in 2014. But he wasn’t done there. In order to appease the section of his party’s membership that one of his own staff famously referred to as “swivel-eyed loons”, Cameron rolled the dice on Britain’s EU membership.

What followed has reduced the United Kingdom to a joke on the continent.

A third-rate lap dog of the United States with economic devastation, crumbling infrastructure and chronic political instability on the order of the day.

Brexit fallout: Five prime ministers in six years.

A disastrous election campaign for Cameron’s successor Theresa May in 2017, reflected in the unemployment notice she received as a gag mid-way through her flagship party conference speech that year. May also proved herself incapable of forcing any kind of legal way forward on Brexit through parliament.

The nation’s lawmaking body came to a standstill.

Roll on three hellish years of Boris Johnson bluster: The UK achieved the highest recorded death rate
of any country in the world during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, care home residents were left to die en masse, and billions of pounds were blown on crony contracts to business partners of government ministers.

Johnson’s chief of staff and health minister were both forced to resign after breaking the rules they themselves imposed. It then emerged that Johnson’s own office, the seat of the national government’s executive, had been hosting boozy parties while the rest of the nation waited out months of isolation, with many people unable to say goodbye to dying loved ones.

Politically speaking, Johnson was a dead man walking, yet insisted on clinging on by his fingernails until an internal Conservative Party revolt finished him off. Somehow, things got even worse, as the next prime minister, Liz Truss, managed to crash the economy within two weeks of taking office, causing a market exodus from Britain and a run on the pound.

As laughable as Truss’s 45 days in charge of the country may be, they only exacerbated the hardship being suffered by most Brits and catalysed further long-term economic stagnation.

When Rishi Sunak assumed power, he took his party’s unpopularity to new depths. And presided
over a recession the country is still to pull itself out of completely.


Read more about Brexit here in Dispatches’ archives.

Read more from Alex here.

Alex Beaton
+ posts

Alex Beaton is a writer from London, UK. His published works include a guide to starting a business in Warsaw, a fictionalised account of his time living in Egypt, and a 2013 report of the political situation in Bulgaria. He has also written extensively about his travels in France, Portugal, Italy and Malta.

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