Murari Sharma: Utility of Prime Minister Oli’s Europe Trip

As the Nepali Prime Minister KP Oli wraps up his visit to Europe, commentators in Kathmandu have been busy debating its utility. His supporters in his party, Communist Party of Nepal, have euphorically praised the visit. On the other hand, his opponents have viewed it as a pleasure trip. Bear with me: I find it useful and useless at the same time.    

Bear with me, and let me start with expectations, if not principles. High-level visits between countries, formal and informal, have taken place for centuries. Their ultimate goal has been, and ought to be, advancing the national interest, which in itself could be vague. One’s national interest could be another’s personal and partisan interest.   

With this caveat, high-level visits have usually taken one of the three forms: Goodwill, cooperation, and problem-solving.  Goodwill visits have the immediate aim of introducing leaders to each other, building friendship and trust between them and opening the door to advance the mutually compatible national interests, the ultimate objective. Often the first high-level visits fall into this category.

Once the groundwork has been done with goodwill visits, leaders often instruct their subordinate to pursue specific cooperation in the mutual areas of interest.  Problem-solving high-level visits have worked as an instrument to try and hammer out the lingering differences and obstacles left unresolved in discussions at the lower levels.

To be productive, all three types of visits should to be prepared meticulously and specifically. Otherwise, they have been unproductive, hardly useful, and even counterproductive. Against this background, we need to examine Prime Minister KP Oli’s Europe visit. 

This time, Oli has visited Switzerland, Britain and France, his second to Europe. The overall first impression the visit has given me is that it had not been fully prepared in advance, which automatically means it has not been as successful as Oli’s blind supporters have tried to portrayed.    

More specifically, the multilateral side of Oli’s Switzerland visit was symbolic and the bilateral side incidental. Oli had gone to Geneva primarily to address the centenary celebration of the International Labor Organization. 

To be sure, it was important for Nepal to participate in the event and reiterate Nepal’s abiding commitment to the principles and work of the ILO, which has done much to protect and promote labor rights in the country and around the world. Oli has done it.

However,  the bilateral part has left much to be desired. Oli met only with the interior mistier, Alain Berset, according to news reports. Nepal’s major development partner, Switzerland has helped Nepal in the road, suspension bridge, agriculture and health sectors. Oli’s visit could have been more productive if Nepal had presented concrete proposals for Swiss assistance, including a road-map to replace tuins, the dangerous single ropes to cross mighty rivers, with proper suspension bridges, one of the several promises made by him.

Moving on to Britain, which has been the largest or the second largest development partner for several years, Oli’s visit has been ill-timed and unproductive. He met Prince Harry and caretaker Prime Minister Teresa May. Some in Nepal have made an issue of his not meeting with the ceremonial queen. But there is a more pertinent and significant issue here.

When Oli met Teresa May, she had already resigned and she had been working as caretaker prime minister. She had no power to make or extract any commitment, let alone to oversee its implementation. Once they retire, British leaders walk into political oblivion, unlike the date-expired Nepali leaders to hang on to a post unto their death.

So the visit has not had any substance, and the British side had made it clear about it in advance. Since Nepali leaders seldom meet the British prime minister, Oli’s sterile visit could have come at a steep future price.  After 17 years, the visit at this level has taken place. 

Finally, France’s case has been more ambiguous. Oli met his counterpart, Edouard Philippe, not President Emmanuel Macron, who is the power center. As a side note, Prime Minister Girija Koirala had met French President Francois Mitterrand during his Paris visit 18 years ago.

More substantively, for some time, France has been diverting its resources from Anglophone countries to Francophone countries. The handful of projects funded by them in Nepal have been useful but modest in size, and majority to them have already been completed. In recent years, Paris has shown no major interest to expand its cooperation in Nepal. 

Despite that, France has been important to Nepal as the permanent member of the UN security council and member of the European Union, which is a sizeable development partner. If Oli’s visit has broken a new ground, which will take time to materialize, it would be deemed as useful for Nepal for the future.

Whenever high-level visits fail to produce expected results, they get rationalized that such visits should not be judged only in terms of dollars and cents. While that is partly true as an investment in the future, it cannot completely be detached from practical considerations of cost and benefit at some point.   

Our capricious leaders often make whimsical decisions and try to justify that black is white and white is black. Their acolytes and sycophants parrot the boss’s line. In such a toxic and pervert environment, there is little room for an objective assessment to be received positively from those whose sentiments have been ruffled.

However, let me conclude with these words: The visit has been a mixed bag. More precisely, it has been more useful to burnish and boost Prime Minister Oli’s image and less to deliver value for the money to the country. Ill-timed and ill-prepared, the visit has undermined its utility and underachieved its potential.  

 

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Murari Sharma: Implications of Recent Indian General Elections

India has completed its marathon general elections, held in April-May this year, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, Bharatiya Janata Party, has won a clear majority in the union parliament, against all expectations. This has a clear implication for India, its neighbors and its friends across the world.

India will witness the impact in its political, economic and social fronts. Politically, BJP has decisively marginalized the Indian National Congress, which won fewer seats this time than in the last general election, and ended long hold on power under the stewardship of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Even its president, Rahul Gandhi, lost the traditional constituency of Amethi though he would be present in the parliament due to his victory in his second constituency in Kerala state.

Modi, who is blamed but not charged for the massacre of Muslims Gujarat, when he was chief minister there, will likely continue his nationalist stance in the next five years. 

Evidently, Modi’s political stance will have a profound impact on Indian bureaucracy as well. Nurtured under Congress rule, the bureaucracy was  predominantly on the wait-and-see mode and thus reluctant to change its allegiance. Modi’s second term has forced the babus to view BJP as a competitive force in Indian politics and accommodate its pro-Hindu agenda in its operation. 

Economically, Narendra Modi has presented himself as an anti-corruption and pro-investment leader though he has also kept intact socialist programs that were already in place when he took over five years ago.  He de-legitimized the high denomination currency notes at considerable political risk. In the next five years, he is likely to introduce further measures to mitigate corruption. Foreign investment is likely to get a boost, and infrastructure and services would likely be major beneficiaries.  

Socially, Modi has won the election on the platform of Hindutwa, more than anything else. The minorities will have to choose between confrontation and co-existence with the emerging social set up, secular for several decades under Congress rule. Reconstruction of Ram temple in Ayodhya and other Hindu temples, replaced with mosques could be high in Modi’s agenda, creating friction in certain segments and parts of the country.

Such political, economic and social preferences of India will influence its foreign policy and affect its neighbors and the rest of the world directly or indirectly. Modi is likely to push the Hinduist agenda in Nepal and seek the protection of Hindus in other South Asian countries and elsewhere. Pakistan, India’s constant irritant, will have to b careful not to rub its enemy the wrong way without serious consequences, as we witnessed in the recent bombing of Pakistani targets in the wake of terrorist attacks on India military personnel. 

Indo-Chinese relations would be an important area to watch. Both countries, led by strong men, could be unpredictable vis-a-vis each other on the face of American support for New Delhi to contain Beijing and Beijing’s increasingly aggressive reaching out through On-Belt-One-Road initiative and other measures. At the same time, the two leaders might decide to work together at least in the major areas of common concern, which will strengthen them against the developed countries.

While Modi is likely to reach out to some even more and blunt others. For instance, he will strengthen relations with Japan further in view of Chinese threat and shared economic interests. His relations with Western countries will be far from smooth. Consequently, European countries will find their influence diminished on account of political, economic and social issues in India, including proselytizing Hindus into Christianity. The United States will be a wild card for India.

Specifically, there will be equal prospects for Modi and US President Trump’s cooperation and confrontation. Cooperation owing to the fact that Trump needs Modi to contain Xi Jinping and China. Confrontation due to the fact that Trump’s America first policy has already resulted in American tariffs on Indian steel and aluminum. Therefore, Trump, if elected for another term, will likely push his nationalist policy further, which will bring him in direct confrontation with Modi.

We will find stronger India in multilateral forums under Modi for next five years. However, it has been unclear so far what he will do to promote or contain multilateral bodies and their reach. As such, his nationalist agenda might not give much room for multilateral and regional forums to be that much effective.

Taken together, the recent general elections have been one of the most consequential in Indian democratic history.  Let us hope that India under Prime Minister Modi’s second term will be a positive force for itself, its neighbors and the rest of the world.

Murari Sharma: Best Time, Worst Time

Gargantuan has been human-inflicted damage to the environment over the last couple of decades, more than several centuries before that. Over the last 40 years, humans have halved animal population, altered 75 percent of the earth’s land, and 66 percent of marine ecosystems.  Annually, we have been dumping 300-400 million plastic wastes alone. 

In the next 40 years, we would witness a catastrophic loss to our environment. About a million species, 1/8th of animal and plant species, will be extinct, including 40 percent of amphibians, 33 percent of corals, and one-third of marine mammals, several of them within decades. 

In its recent report, this has been the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) of the United Nations. Evidently, human beings have overwhelmingly contributed to this decline in species of plants and animals. Unless we–governments and individuals–change the way we treat the environment, nature will not be able to support us and make our life enjoyable. 

According to IPBES, shrinking habitat, exploitation of natural resources, climate change and pollution have been mainly responsible for this catastrophic development. Behind all these factors, human beings have been at the center. 

For instance, human beings have shrunk the natural habitats of animal and plant species. In the last 50 years, the human population has increased from 3.5 billion to 7 billion. To meet their basic needs and satisfy their greed, humans have altered 75 percent of land and 67 percent of the marine environment in the post-industrial period, ii.e., over the last 300 years. Logging, hunting, and fishing, and extensive cultivation, some of which has been inevitable but most driven by greed, have shrunk the habitats for plants and animals.

Similarly, human beings have been the principal source of pollution, be it noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, etc. Polluted air and water have been killing millions of people and plant and animal species around the world. Plastic ingestion alone has been killing numerous wild animals on land and in the sea.  

To arrest this decline and to reverse the situation, we have the technology and resources. What we do not in enough supply is the political will and personal motivation to put our long-term future above quick profit. While governments can make a big difference with new policies and their enforcement, each individual has their own personal responsibility to preserve the environment for the simple reason we have all our experiences about environmental degradation. 

Despite this frightening picture, unfortunately, we still have some naysayers who call everything environmental as a hoax. They deny the humans’ central role in the destruction of natural habitat for animal and plant species, in polluting the planet, in excessive exploitation of natural resources and in climate change.

Across the world, this phenomenon has been occurring owing to the fact that such people, myopically, put a quick profit above continued survival of human and other species in the long run and those who recognize it has not shown much interest in their voice being heard.

It is shame that a 15-year-old Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and millions of other people had to picket cities around the world to impress the political class to adopt urgent measures and take action to prevent an environmental catastrophe looming over our head. Even such picketing has failed to wake up a number of political leaders across countries owing to the fact that they are in the pocket of people and businesses that have been destroying our common heritage for profit. 

If we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the same bounty of nature and a variety of animal and plant species, as the previous generations, we must care about the environment. We have the resource and technology to arrest and reverse environmental degradation.

To change the situation around, never before has the world been this rich and capable, as it it now. In the past, we have changed it for the worse, leading to this catastrophic state of affairs. In the future, we ought to commit ourselves to change for the better and turn the situation around. For this, we need both political will and individual commitment.  

 How can we steal our children and grandchildren’s survival and future? If we continue on this path, we would not be responsible parents and grandparents; we will be selfish profit machines who did not care about the posterity. 

Murari Sharma: Terrorism and Identity Politics and Religion

On Easter Sunday, terrorists exploded bombs in churches and hotels in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and killed over than 250 people. The ISIS has taken the responsibility and they have done it in retaliation of mosque massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people lost their lives.  These identity-based incidents are deeply worrying for the international community, particularly for Asia and the Pacific. 

These two massacres remind us of the jihad and the crusade of the past. For ages, identities based on race religion, resources and languages have been the key vectors of conflict, the first three more than the last one, after the Cold War, fought on ideological lines, which has now receded into the background. Political leaders and religious preachers have been using identities to build and sustain their followings, which often culminates into hating others. 

While we have witnessed the loss of lives caused by identity politics and attendant prejudices in Germany, Serbia and Rwanda in the past, today these regressive elements have washed the shores of the United States, Europe, and elsewhere and have even become mainstream in some nations. Al-Qaida, ISIS, and white supremacist organizations have been only the cruder manifestations of this general phenomenon.

What is worrying about such organizations is that they are nimble and operate even without reference to territories. For instance, after it lost the Afghan base under the Washington-led war on terror, Al-Qaida morphed into an ideology and a concept spread among Islamic militants across the world. ISIS has lost Raqqa, its headquarters, to the Syrian government and Kurdish forces, but it has spread its wings across the globe, just like Al-Qaida. Similarly, white nationalists have been spreading their prejudices and engaging in violence in the United States and Europe. 

In South Asia, it is unpleasant to say, Pakistan and India have been directly and indirectly aiding and abetting terrorism, more than any South Asia country. Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) supported Al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan to establish an Islamabad-friendly government in Kabul, and it has continued to support Taliban. Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan near a military facility.

Pakistan-based terror organizations have been attacking Indian government personnel and infrastructures in the Indian administered Kashmir and elsewhere for decades. Among them, terror attacks on an army contingent paramilitary personnel killing 44 people and on the parliament and Mumbai stand out.  Unfortunately for Pakistan, the terrorists nurtured or tolerated by them kill more Pakistanis than Indians. 

India has not remained far behind in this respect. For example, India supported the anti-Pakistan movement in East Pakistan that created Bangladesh. It supported or turned a blind eye to the anti-establishment elements and terrorist groups from Nepal all along, including the Maoists whose leaders were in close touch with the prime minister’s office and intelligence agencies in New Delhi. New Delhi’s role in the three-decade-long conflict in Sri Lanka has been suspect as well. More poignantly, Pakistan has consistently claimed that India has been supporting terror groups in its territories. 

As they say, one’s freedom fighters are another’s terrorists. Trying to turn a situation to one’s advantage is an age-old objective of statecraft across the world. Over time, what changed are its methods and scopes, which have become more robust or subtle and more sparse or comprehensive, as necessary.  In other words, it all depends on from whose perspective and prism you look at issues and interests.  

For instance, for a person coming from another planet, Voice of America, RT of Russia and CCTV of China are all propaganda machines. However, the free world has been seeing virtues in VOA and vice in the other networks. Similarly, the other side deems VOA no better than their own propaganda machines.

Now, even the mainstream media have fallen into this bind. For example, Fox News and other news networks in the United States have their own facts–facts and alternative facts–on the same case.

On balance, the difference is in the degree of bias, not in orientation and objective.  In this toxic political-cultural climate, therefore, terrorism will continue as long as states and non-state actors continue pursuing their often contradictory goals. In this context, what we can do is find a negotiated settlement, defer the problem into the future and invest in people and growth.    

In South Asia, India and Pakistan ought to negotiate over the Kashmir dispute and accept mediation if necessary. If they find their differences too wide, then they should defer the issue into the future, like the USA and China have done on the question of Taiwan and the UK and Spain over Gibraltar, and focused on progress and prosperity. On its part, the international community should encourage and help India and Pakistan to do so. The same template should be adopted in other disputes as well.  

In the past, humanity has suffered unspeakable violence and misery from the extremist  politicians and preachers. In this age of sophisticated means of communication and killing machines and techniques, it ought not to be subjected to violence incited by identity politics and religion. Not on Easter. Not on any other day. 

 

 

Murari Sharma: Nepal in Indian Elections

India, the largest democracy in the world, has been conducting its general elections, stretched over a month. Almost 900 million people will cast their ballot, deemed as the referendum over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-year-rule. The election result might have serious implications not only for India but also for Nepal.

Although some call Modi as a divisive figure, I call him controversial, simply for the fact that party leaders are meant to be divisive in two-party and multiparty democracies. They represent one section or one ideology and endeavor to win the people on their side through their election manifestos and charisma.

More aptly, Modi is controversial personally and politically. Personally, he is married but does not live with his wife. He is robust to the point of being authoritarian. Politically, he has been tied to the massacre of Muslims when he was chief minister of Gujarat, open-armed welcome of Western capitalism, pro-Hindutva agenda, high unemployment rate, high-octane rhetoric against Pakistan, and demonetization of higher denomination of currency notes.

This election is more consequential than many in the past in India for political, economic, cultural and foreign policy reasons. Politically, if I am not mistaken, Modi is the second Bharatiya Janata Party leader who has become prime minister on the strength of his party’s majority in parliament. Before him, only A. B. Bajpayi had held the high post at the head of a coalition government. This election, if Modi wins, will establish BJP as the alternate to the Congress Party that has ruled India most of the time since its independence from Britain in 1947.

This election will have a gargantuan impact on Indian bureaucracy, the so-called permanent government, if Modi wins it. So far, even under the Modi government, the Indian bureaucracy has functioned as a bastion of the Congress Party.  The repeat election of Modi’s party to power will shock the bureaucracy into making necessary adjustments to function an a-political mechanism.

Although Modi has made generous promises to farmers, who constitute about 60 percent of the Indian electorate, his focus, once elected, will continue to modernize India by infusing Western capital and technology, which is likely to give not only impressive growth but also augmented divide between the affluent and the indigent. Even though Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi, Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh have received credit for liberalizing the Indian economy, Modi has been more vocal and perhaps more dynamic in this realm than them.

Culturally, Modi has been the most vocal supporter of Hindutva, more than his BJP predecessor A. B. Bajpayee. While he himself has shown the alacrity for pilgrimage, he has enforced the laws regarding the protection of cows and Hindu religious shrines than his predecessors. These measures will be more strident in the future if Modi gets the second go in his office with a comfortable majority.

In terms of foreign policy, Modi has brought to bear a blend of strong-armed and soft-rhetoric approach. While he has been largely amiable to Donald Trump, the US president, and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, his approach to other countries has been rhetorically friendly and action-wise tough.

For instance, he imposed undeclared economic embargo when the Nepali leaders refused to accommodate his demand on behalf of Nepal’s Terai-based parties. Similarly, when terrorist killed several Indian army personnel in Kashmir, he ordered a limited air assault of Pakistan. He has been actively cooperating with Washington to keep China in its place in East and Southeast Asia. If Modi wins this election for his party, his foreign policy likely to be more robust with smaller countries.

And it will have far-reaching consequences for Nepal in different fronts. Politically, Modi may try to reinstate monarchy  in Nepal and cut the communists down to size. Well, several astrologers and fortune tellers have been making such predictions more by reading the South Asian political climate than the crystal ball. Modi is also more likely to reach out to Nepal’s Province 2 and prevent Nepal from going closer to China in his second term than he did in his first term, and its impact could be more destabilizing than it has been thought so far.

Therefore, the current Indian general election is almost as important to Nepal as it is to India. While predictions vary from a clear majority for Modi’s party to an outright victory for the Congress Party, it is impossible to predict how the 900 million people are going to vote. But I will be surprised if Modi cannot retain his current post either as head of his majority party or of his coalition group, which means that Nepal, as much as India, will have to brace up for five more years of Modi rule. 

 

Murari Sharma: Rising Bigotry is Worrying

An Australian citizen, living in New Zealand, massacred 50 people in two mosques of Christchurch. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rose to the occasion, seldom equaled by other leaders. While bigotry has fortunately been going down in several countries, it has been rising in a number of Western and Islamic countries. That is deeply worrying.

Hate crimes have increased in the United States, United Kingdom, the European continent, Australia and have now reached New Zealand. For instance, in the United States, religion-based hate crimes have shot up by 23 percent and anti-Jewish crimes by 37 percent after 2016, under President Donald Trump.   

In England and Wales, the United Kingdom, hate crimes have edged up by 17 percent after the British referendum over leaving the European Union in 2016. In the wake of the Christchurch shooting, they have skyrocketed by more than 500 percent.  Prime Minister Teresa May, who introduced the policy of hostile environment when she was home secretary, and her Tory Brexiteer, who support Brexit with a dose of xenophobia, have fueled the fire of racism. 

Elsewhere in Europe, Mary Le Pen of France has obtained national prominence riding the tiger of racism and xenophobia. Leaders in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have also hidden their authoritarian impulse behind xenophobia. 

For some time, Australia has been notorious for its intolerance towards migrants and minorities, including asylum seekers. Disgusted by the racist rhetoric of a senator, even a White teenager broke an egg on his head, in front of cameras. 

But Ardern has proved herself a different brand of leaders, in sharp contrast to other Western counterparts that have presided over similar massacres.  Quickly and forcefully, she denounced the slaughter in Christchurch, demonstrated solidarity with the victims and banned the military-grade sub-automatic guns, something the United States should have long done to stop the recurrent gun crimes across the land.

When Trump asked Ardern what he could do to support her, she said he should send sympathy and love to Muslim communities, in an apparent reference to his anti-Muslim policies. A polite but potent punch in Trump’s gut.

Although data are not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that religion-based bigotry has increased in Muslim countries as well. For example, the sizable non-Muslim population in Pakistan at the time of India’s partition in 1947 has dwindled into insignificance, in sharp contrast to the accelerated the rise in the Muslim population in India. In the Middle East, non-Muslims have fled their countries and taken refuge elsewhere. In many Islamic countries, laws officially sanction religion-based discrimination.

Evidently, there is a correlation between the rise of hate crimes and rise of the immigrant population through labor import and asylum in Western countries and through labor-import in Muslim countries. If a country needs additional human resources to keep its economy chugging along or provides refuge on humanitarian grounds, it also must offer equal rights and equal treatment of minorities.   

Not all complaints about hate crimes are created equal, however. For instance, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have existed in several Western countries but they have been qualitatively different in their origin and virility. In my understanding, which might be faulty, anti-Semitism has mostly come from jealousy whereas Islamophobia from intolerance. Besides, anti-Semitism has become more visible due to its conflation with the opposition to the policies of the Israeli government. 

Although we understand that not all Jews are rich or crooked, history and culture have created a tilted perception about them. For a reference, all you have to do is read Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. But jealousy is not the same as intolerance, though both may manifest in discrimination. Necessary is a similar nuance between anti-Semitism, which is wrong, and opposition to Israeli government policies, which is legitimate in free societies. 

What has brought about this increased racism in both the Western and Muslim worlds? First and foremost, politics has become value-free. Gone are the days when different lofty political ideologies and worldviews rooted politics. Gaining and retaining power by hook or by crook has become the main objective of politics. If minority-bashing and xenophobia help, they are a fair game. Increased interaction between groups has also given the prejudiced people the opportunity to express their sentiments.   

Over the last few years, a number of bright spots for race and religion relations have also emerged. For instance, in Rwanda, as my friends tell me, the Hutus and Tutsis have put the age-old rancor and the recent genocide behind and moved on, logging unprecedented economic growth and social understanding. In Nepal and India, the old walls of prejudice have been crumbling as their governments have been embracing more inclusive policies to accommodate minorities in all aspects of politics and government.  

However, overall, the tide of bigotry has risen, which is deeply worrying. To reverse this tide, we need several Jacinda Arderns and no more Christchurch incidents. I am afraid that, if hate crimes continue to rise in Western countries that directly or indirectly control international politics and economy, even those nations where racism is on the wane could turn back. The impulse to turn back would be stronger in countries like Nepal where inclusiveness has only recently entered public conscience. 

 

 

Murari Sharma: Brexit Conundrum and Self-harm

British Prime Minister Teresa May has promised the second meaningful vote in the parliament on her Brexit deal, on 12 March 2019, after it was voted down by 230 votes earlier, a record. Unless she obtains significant concessions from the European Union to win a few more votes, she will likely lose this time as stunningly.

While the EU has shown no signs of budging, May has offered no clue yet about what she would do if her deal fails to win the majority in the house, again. This uncertainty and Brexit, in general, have taken a serious toll on British politics and economy.  

Before the 2016 referendum on its divorce from the EU, Britain had been doing well. Politicians had been spending more time on domestic affairs. The British economy had been galloping towards a full recovery from the Great Recession overall, though too much austerity had been inflicting debilitating pain on the poorest. 

However, resurgent populism in the governing Tory Party altered the situation. Populist Tory leaders, nostalgic about the good old days, pushed David Cameron, then Tory prime minister, for the referendum, and Cameron conceded to the demand to manage the division in his party. The pro-leave leaders mis-sold populist dreams — higher prosperity, more money for hospitals and schools, full control over the border, full access to the EU single market without obligations — that were not on the shelf or in the pipeline. The pro-remain leaders did not or could not effectively expose the false promises and the British public voted for them with a thin majority. 

Ever since, Britain has suffered a mega-mess in multiple areas. Notably, Brexit has obsessed the British parliament and government that have left other important state matters by the wayside. Schools have been failing, crimes rising, hospitals collapsing, and austerity and homelessness killing people. 

The British economy has been faltering as well. The pound’s value has plummeted, growth has declined to the lowest in the last quarter since 2012, investment has stalled, companies have been relocating to other countries and scaling back production in the UK.

Equally disturbing, British foreign policy has become incoherent and Britain has lost its influence. As the  Brexit and International Trade Departments have chipped away the Foreign Office’s functions, British foreign policy has lost its coherence. Witnessing it on its way out of the EU, other countries have stopped listening to Britain. For example, the United States has been patronizing Britain on trade, and Iran has not been heeding the UK on the Nazanine Zaghari-Radcliff case. 

While some of these consequences had been expected from Brexit, ineffective leadership has exacerbated them further. Although Teresa May has been tenaciously cleaning the mess left behind by David Cameron and working towards exiting the EU on 29 March 2019 with a deal, she has failed to garner her party’s support and reach out to the opposition to carry her deal over the line. Therefore, the country has been jumping from crisis to crisis. 

What lies ahead has been uncertain and difficult to anticipate all along. Only recently, the Tories have saved May from the Labor no-confidence motion and prevented a general election. The divided parliament has no majority for a no-deal Brexit or a people’s vote, aka, second referendum. What next?

May has only two options: Either to ask the EU to extend Article 50 and postpone the departure date to continue muddling through or suspend the parliament until March 29, as some in the Eurosceptic European Research Group have suggested,  to crash out without a deal.  

Whatever the course, the country has already been living through a nightmare. The voters have been angry at their political leaders for their incompetence and slightly moved towards remaining in the EU, younger voters, in particular, leading the way by more a two-thirds majority.  

In the economic realm, growth in the last quarter has collapsed to 0.2 percent, the lowest since 2012. The pound’s value has plummeted from around 1.50 against the US dollar to 1.30 or lower since the referendum. Nissan, Airbus, Honda, and Mini have served a notice to the government that they would drop their planned investment or scale back their production.

If the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, the situation will only worsen. For instance, Scotland that voted to remain may decide for another referendum to secede from the UK. If the Good Friday agreement, which guarantees a soft border with Ireland, is violated, Northern Ireland might witness the resurgence of violence. 

In the trade domain, first, trade negotiations between the EU and Britain will be so much more difficult given the acrimony developing between them. Border clearing requirements will slow down the flow of goods between the two jurisdictions, creating shortages and chaos on the British Isles.  

What is more, the United States, which the pro-leave leaders had expected to become their savior, has made it abundantly clear that Britain will have to surrender its food and other higher standards to strike a deal with them. Other countries like India, South Korea and Japan have already indicated that they would rather renegotiate a trade deal with the UK after Brexit, rather than replicating their agreement with the EU. 

Consequently, by the government’s own estimate, Britain after Brexit will be poorer by 9.3 percent in the next 15 years than if it were to continue with EU membership.   

All said and done, while Britain may not be as prosperous and vibrant outside the EU as inside, it will remain a successful economy in the years to come, given its glorious past and hard-working people. But it will certainly lose its dignity and influence in the international arena. Even its permanent membership in the UN Security Council might be challenged. 

With the Brexit conundrum, Britain is doing itself gargantuan self-harm. There is an enormous difference between doing well, as the pro-leave advocates argue, and doing as well as one has the potential to, are two different things. The UK without the EU backing may achieve the former but not the latter. In the days ahead, that is what is at stake for Britain.