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A Slow Motion Lorry Wreck


Dylan Matthews steps back and observes that the decision to hold a one-shot, simple-majority Brexit referendum and treat the results as permanently binding irrespective of the consequences and the deal being offered is absolutely insane:

The country won’t literally starve. But hunger will increase. Poor people will skip more meals. (One in four Britons already say they do.) Middle-class families will see their standard of living fall as more of their budgets are eaten up by food costs; currently Britons spend 11 percent of their income on food (the poorest spend 16 percent), and that share is sure to increase after a hard Brexit. In the initial shock of leaving, without enough stockpiling, there could be shortages affecting people across the income spectrum.

This is the point in the story where it’s necessary to take a step back and acknowledge that this is madness. An extremely rich developed country is very close to deciding to voluntarily deprive itself of its food supply because 51.89 percent of voters in a referendum two years ago voted the wrong way.

To interrupt for a second, it’s worth recalling the role that Russian ratfucking appears to have played in this outcome.

And in spite of the fact that the country is having public discussions about the propriety of using the fucking air force to airdrop food to people, no one in power wants to stop this process! Both May and her main rival, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn, have decided to treat the referendum result as reflecting the will of the people and have rejected the idea of doing another vote, even though government officials are now questioning if the country will have enough food to feed itself and enough medicine to stock its hospitals.

I like to think of myself as a small-d democrat, but this is why responsible countries rely on representative institutions, not referenda. An 18th-century French viscount arguing for the preservation of absolute monarchy couldn’t have imagined a democratic straw-man sillier than, “51 percent of the public should be allowed to vote to destroy everyone’s food supplies if they feel like it.” (The viscount would instead think he should do the starving himself, because French nobility and what have you.)

The most bizarre thing about watching this from afar is the sense that it’s inevitable, that there’s no turning back. You can turn back! May could decide to hold a vote on just canceling the whole thing, and if a majority of Parliament goes along with it, it would be over. Would it end her political career? Probably. Would a majority of Parliament vote for it? Likely not — but again, that’s exactly what’s bizarre and upsetting about all this. It’s like watching a guy slowly demolishing all the houses on his block with a sledgehammer because he lost a Twitter poll, and all his neighbors are like, “Yep, that seems appropriate.”

Look, I’m an American. I know exactly who we elected president and what he’s up to, and I’m in no position to judge anyone. But I want to lay down a marker and say that it is entirely possible for rich countries to not purposely destroy themselves. And that while RAF supplying food made total sense in 1940s Holland, Adolf Hitler is dead, the war is over, and Great Britain is perfectly capable of supplying adequate amounts of food to citizens. It should maybe do that.

This referendum never should have been held, and if it was held at an absolute minimum is should have been structured so that there was a second vote on the actual exit deal (or non-deal) agreed (or not agreed) to by the UK and EU. But Cameron was really, really complacent and incompetent, and here they are.

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