Britain’s industries are facing insolvencies, its jobs are being sent overseas, and its pound is being driven down. In addition, there has been a cabinet coup, a high-profile resignation, and rumors that the prime minister will soon resign. On top of that, an upstart “Brexit Party” is set to sweep the European elections—if only it can survive its milkshake-based attacks.
That was the last 24 hours in Brexit Britain. Hold on tight for the next 24 hours.
In the past few days, everything in British politics that can go wrong has gone wrong—and spectacularly so. It began with Prime Minister Theresa May’s last-ditch attempt at a Brexit compromise as she offered Parliament a deal that would keep the United Kingdom in the EU’s customs union—to placate the Labour Party—and that would allow for a vote on a second referendum—to placate those who want the U.K. to remain in the European Union entirely.
It was a peace offering that should have been made two months ago, when Britain missed its first Brexit deadline, if not two years ago, when Brexit discussions began to take shape. On Wednesday, however, her effort was rejected by both the opposition and her own party. More than that, it led the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, to resign in protest and the 1922 Committee, the powerful group of Conservative backbenchers, to put the finishing touches on the Prime Minister’s forced departure. By Friday, it is now believed, the prime minister will finally fall.
All this, mind you, unraveled on the eve of a major election. The nightmare in the north aside, the European Union will give one of the world’s more impressive displays of democracy on Thursday as it conducts 28 simultaneous elections, fills 751 seats, and produces a European parliament for half a billion people. In most countries, the issues raised in the race have been at least as numerous, touching every dimension of migration, religion, security, the economy, the climate, and more. In Britain, Brexit, and Brexit alone, is on the agenda.
As such, it will be The Brexit Party, a far-right group formed just four months ago, that sweeps the European Parliament elections in the U.K. Heading into the polls Thursday morning, the party was projected to pick up 37 percent of the vote, far outdoing the Conservative Party and its paltry 7 percent, the Labour Party which stands at 13 percent, and the second referendum parties—the Remainiacs, if you will—which reach no higher than 19 percent.
Despite the expectation of a landslide victory, however, the Brexit Party has also experienced its fair share of troubles. In recent days, Britain’s Electoral Commission announced an investigation into the party’s finances at the same time that the European Parliament announced an investigation into the party’s leader. The inquiries followed revelations about old payments to party leader Nigel Farage from a shady diamond dealer named Arron Banks, as well as new questions about the real source of his money. (Hint: Russians are involved.)
If this were not enough, the political volatility seems to be spilling over into economic volatility. Thursday morning, the British pound fell to just $1.26, marking a 2.5 percent drop for the month and making life ever-more expensive for an import-heavy nation that is about to find itself facing new tariffs from its largest trading partner. British Steel went into liquidation Wednesday, imperiling 5,000 jobs and endangering another 20,000 along the supply chain. The cause of death, the company said, was Brexit: “Blows dealt by Brexit-related issues have proven insurmountable.” That insolvency, in turn, came a day after the bankruptcy of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire, which will be closing 22 shops and laying off 1,000 employees across the U.K.
Britain will now see whether the next 24 hours will confirm the collapse of Theresa May. In under three years in office, May has survived two no-confidence votes, three rejections of her Brexit deal, and 36 cabinet resignations. She has become, that is, a survivor—but little more: Her party, her parliament, and her people have all turned on her. Today, the Conservatives are fracturing thanks to their Europhilic and Euroskeptic factions, the House of Commons is in disarray with leaders who refuse to work together, and voters are flirting with the far right. Theresa May did not cause these problems, but she did not do much to solve them either.
The next 24 hours will also likely see the U.K. exporting its domestic crisis to the continent. Having missed two Brexit deadlines, on March 29 and April 12, and having pushed back its departure once more to October 31, Britain became required to participate in the European elections. Now it is on track to send 30 Brexit Party MEPs to Brussels, their only aim to stir trouble.
“What do you think I’m going to do when I get there?” Nigel Farage roared at the final Brexit Party rally on Tuesday night. “They won’t know what hit ’em!”
In all probability, his chance to hit ’em will in fact be quite limited. Brexit Party MEPs will take their seats in the European Parliament on July 1, leave for their summer holiday on July 25, return to business on September 2, and say adieu on October 31, when the U.K. is scheduled to leave the EU. In all, the Brexit Party has fewer than a dozen weeks to blow up the Brussels bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the signal it sends at home and abroad is clear: Populism remains on the rise.
The week may be coming to an end, but its problems will not. Despite the collapse of the pound, steel, and services, there has been no progress stanching Britain’s economic bleed. Despite the flurry of activity around Brexit, there has been no resolution on a viable deal. Despite the jockeying for the prime minister’s post, there has been no indication that a new prime minister might be able to manage this parliament. So Britain continues as it has for the past three years: with a wealth of problems, a dearth of solutions, and an absence of leaders.