Brexit’s villains on trial

LONDON — For some Britons, the date the United Kingdom leaves the European Union — whether that ultimately falls on March 29, 2019 or a few months later — will be a day of national liberation and celebration.

For others, it will mark the denouement of what many consider the crime of the century, an injury inflicted on the British state for little more cause than jingoism and nostalgia.

With the 48 percent who voted to Remain — and an unknown additional number with buyers’ remorse — growing increasingly angry about Brexit and the chaos they believe it will unleash, perhaps it is time to uncover just who is to blame for this heinous transgression, which will see Britain torn asunder from the Continent it is separated from by, at the narrowest point, just 20 miles of choppy waters across the Strait of Dover.

Can the felony be laid at the door of a single mastermind criminal? Or, like Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, might a whole gaggle of culprits lay claim to this misdeed? And what, if found guilty, should the sentence be?

Silence in court, the jury is assembled, the judge is sitting; bring up the first accused.

* * *

First in the dock: Nigel Farage | Matt Cardy via Getty Images

Former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage, enters the dock.

Prosecutor: “Nigel Farage, you are a founding member of UKIP, a party created with the raison d’être of Britain’s departure from the European Union. As leader of this party at various points in the 10 years leading up to the 2016 referendum, you stand accused of whipping up xenophobia and “fake news” about the EU. Such was your electoral success that in the 2014 European election UKIP achieved the highest share of the vote of any party, encouraging the right-wing of the Conservative Party to embrace Brexit and panicking its leaders into promising the referendum that ultimately resulted in Brexit. If anyone is a founding father of Brexit it is you. How do you plead?”

Farage (grinning): “Guilty as charged, m’Lud.”

Judge: “Before I sentence you, what do you have to say in mitigation?”

Farage opens his mouth…

Defense, interrupting: “M’Lud, my client vastly overstates his relevance to U.K. politics. He tried and failed seven times to win election to parliament; his party at its peak had only two MPs, both defectors from the Conservatives. They currently have no representation in parliament and at the last general election polled less than 2 percent of the vote. My client has quit UKIP and now sits for something called the “Brexit Party,” which no one has ever heard of. He is a national embarrassment and an irrelevance.”

Farage: “Steady on.”

Judge: “Nigel Farage, I sentence you to a life spent leading increasingly obscure political parties while attempting to ride the coat-tails of populist quasi-dictators.”

Members of the public, whispering: “Isn’t that already happening?”

Judge: “Silence in court. Take him away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

David Cameron called the referendum — and lost it | Toby Melville/AFP via Getty Images

Former Prime Minister David Cameron enters the dock.

Prosecutor:David Cameron, you are accused of hubris and reckless endangerment. Your folly in calling the EU referendum, your overconfidence that you could persuade the EU to change in a manner you decreed necessary, your misplaced certainty that your side of Remain would win the referendum, your air of privilege and utter belief that nothing you do can go wrong — if anyone is responsible for the loss of the referendum which has resulted in Britain’s departure from the EU, it is you. How do you plead?

Cameron, wailing: “M’lud, you’re right. I’m guilty. Guilty. Guilty, I say!”

Judge: “What is there to say in mitigation?”

Cameron: “I’m so sorry! I didn’t want any of this.”

Prosecutor: “Objection! Ignorance is no defense.”

Defense: “If I may. Your honor, my client stands before you a broken man. For the first time in his 50 years on this planet, something went wrong for him. He remains unable to understand why he failed to charm the EU or the British electorate. The foundations of his life and character have been rocked. He must live with the knowledge that his premiership, which he foolishly imagined to be a time of prosperity, happiness and something he fondly called “Big Society” will instead go down in history as a national catastrophe.”

Judge: “David Cameron, you are sentenced to sit in a small but luxurious shed, endlessly writing memoirs re-litigating your role in Brexit that you will never complete and no one will read.”

Cameron: Gulp.

Members of the public: “Isn’t that happening already?”

Judge: “Silence in court. Take him away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

If Jeremy Corbyn had campaigned more vigorously for Remain, would the result have been different? | Rob Stothard via Getty Images

Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn enters the dock.

Prosecutor:Jeremy Corbyn, in 2016 more than two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain in the European Union; today more than 70 percent of members favor staying in. Had you campaigned fulsomely to Remain during the referendum campaign, the result would almost certainly have been different. Yet your actions during this time were so lackadaisical as to be criminally negligent. You refused to share platforms with other politicians, failed to attend meetings and at one point even went on holiday. For most of your political life you were proud to oppose British membership of the EU — and you now continue to do so in secret. How do you plead?”

Corbyn: “I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the court!”

Jury foreman: “We find you guilty anyway.”

Judge: “Anything to be said in mitigation?”

Defense: “M’lud, my client is a harmless, cuddly figure, a ‘magic grandad,’ if you will. He knows not what he does or did, he led a blameless life of obscurity for 65 years until greatness was thrust upon him in the form of the leadership of his party, much to his surprise and distress.”

Judge: “Jeremy Corbyn, thanks to your actions during the referendum campaign, post-Brexit Britain will be starved of fresh fruit and vegetables. You are sentenced to working on an allotment growing said items for the rest of your life.”

Members of the public:Won’t he quite like that?

Judge: “Silence in court. Take him away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

Boris Johnson in front of the Leave campaign’s infamous battle bus | Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Former Cabinet minister and Leave campaigner Boris Johnson enters the dock.

Prosecution: “You were at the forefront of the campaign to leave the European Union, easily its most visible and charismatic leader. You became its virtual figurehead. Yet you decided to campaign against the EU, the biggest question of our age, by something approaching the toss of a coin. It is well known that you wrote out two versions of the column setting out your choice, and picked the one backing Leave at the last minute. Your fecklessness, inconsistency and lack of seriousness mean that you above all people must take responsibility for the crimes of the campaign: The false claim that Brexit would bring the NHS an additional £350 million a week, the undermining of trust in experts through false claims of bias. How do you plead to these grave, grave charges?

Johnson: “Not guilty, m’Lud. To be honest, my heart was never really in it.”

Jury foreman: “That makes it worse! Guilty as charged.”

Judge: “What on earth can be said in mitigation?”

Defense: “Your honor, as someone who, let’s be honest, has had his fair share of romantic entanglements, no one mourns the passing of Britain’s grande passion with the EU more than my client. Ah, the memories he has: Paris in the springtime; Venice, Rome … A Gauloises Blonde cigarette in one hand and a, well, blonde, in the other …”

Judge: “That’s enough. Boris Johnson, you are sentenced to a complete ban on European travel. From now on your romantic trysts will take the form of staycations in the United Kingdom.”

Johnson: “The horror.”

Members of the public: “Isn’t that what the rest of us will be forced to do thanks to Brexit?”

Judge: “Silence in court. Take him away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

Is Prime Minister Theresa May to blame for her handling of the Brexit negotiations? | Carl Court via Getty Images

Prime Minister Theresa May enters the dock.

Prosecution: “Theresa May, you stand accused of presiding over a chaotic, wrong-headed and ultimately disastrous Brexit process that pleases no one and has the effect of causing maximum damage to the United Kingdom. A committed Remainer who knows more than anyone the economic, administrative and social chaos a hard Brexit will wreak, you nevertheless allowed yourself to be held hostage by both your minority partner, the Northern Irish Democratic Union Party, and the hard-core Brexiteer wing of your party, leaving the negotiations hopelessly bogged down over the Irish backstop. Your refusal to compromise or provide clarity as your country stood on the brink of the precipice, your stubborn failure to bend to reality, means you have made a virtual Olympic sport out of procrastination. Prime minister, how do you plead?

May: “Well, I, er, on the one hand I certainly do think I’m guilty, but on the other, well, I wouldn’t really like to say…”

Jury foreman: “Guilty as charged!”

Judge: “Mitigation?”

Defense: “M’lud, my client inherited an impossible situation created in large part by her co-defendants. She never wanted to leave the EU, or see the U.K. depart without a deal. Yes, it is true that at every stage in the process she has made matters many, many times worse, but …”

Judge: “That’s enough. Theresa May, your sentence is to be exiled from your country to work as a customs officer patrolling the wheat fields and bogs along the Irish border.”

May: “Noooooo!”

Members of the public: “That seems harsh.”

Judge: “Silence in court. Take her away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

Accused of irrelevance: The Lib Dems’ Vince Cable | Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable enters the dock.

Prosecution:Vince Cable, you stand accused of irrelevance and incompetence. At a time when this country was crying out for leadership on the great issue of the age, you, the leader of the most pro-European party in the land, failed to provide any. You lack strategy, vision and basic ability. That the Liberal Democrats, the only wholeheartedly pro-European party, managed to win just 12 seats in parliament in the general election that came less than a year after 48 percent of the population voted to remain in the EU is its own a damning indictment. You, Sir Vince, are a complete and utter failure. How do you plead?”

Cable: “Well, um, not guilty? I think?”

Jury: “Guilty as charged.”

Judge: “What can be said in mitigation?”

Defense: “M’lud, my client is a terribly nice man. His policies are eminently sensible, indeed he is the epitome of reasonableness. And he’s awfully pro-European.”

Judge: “Sir Vince Cable, I sentence you to a life spent watching your country making the greatest mistake of its existence, knowing you should be doing something to stop it but are unable to figure out what that might be.”

Members of the public: “Ah, we’re back to handing down what’s already happening.”

Judge: “Silence in court. Take him away and bring in the next defendant.”

* * *

Michel Barnier, who negotiates Brexit on behalf of the EU27, and European Council President Donald Tusk | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

A group of middle aged men and a few women — representatives from the EU27 — enter the dock.

Prosecution: “Members of the EU27: You are charged with the crime of ‘joint enterprise,’ by which you are jointly and severally liable for the terrible event that is the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU. You presided over a relentless centralizing evolution that turned you into a remote and non-responsive monolith incapable of understanding and responding to the dissatisfaction of regular voters. Your stubborn refusal to compromise, your intransigence during the Brexit negotiations, your general air of bone-headed smugness, for all these reasons you must all share the blame for effectively driving away your Anglo-Saxon friends. How do you plead?”

EU27, in one voice:Non coupable.”

Jury Foreman: “Ay? What did they say? Can’t understand this foreign lingo. Better find them guilty.”

Judge: “Any mitigation?”

Defense: Shrugs.

EU27, in unison:Mais nous ne faisions que suivre les règles…

Judge: “I’ll stop you right there. EU27, you have been found guilty as charged, having cast out one of your most vibrant, innovative and wealthy partners. I sentence you to a series of further exits as you continue to ignore the cries of those you claim to serve. First Frexit, then Grexit, then Nexit and so on, until you are cast asunder into a series of minor status nation states in an increasingly hostile world, leaving you cold, hungry, friendless and alone.

Members of the public: “Gosh, it’s all got a bit serious.”

Judge: “Silence in court. That is all for today. Tomorrow we will consider responsibility for Britain’s embarrassing lack of success at the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Rosa Prince is the author of “Theresa May, the Enigmatic Prime Minister” (Biteback Publishing, 2017) and “Comrade Corbyn” (Biteback Publishing, 2016).

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