Brits as divided politically as their American cousins

Brits as divided politically as their American cousins
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In Newquay, Cornwall, at the westernmost edge of Britain where the Atlantic Ocean meets Fistral Bay, people are as flummoxed by the goings-on in Washington as they are by those in their own capital. The British Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to prorogue Parliament, declaring it illegal, came on the same day as House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE’s decision to begin an impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE’s own high-handed behavior. For people in Cornwall, it all seems either confusing or downright silly. 

Cornwall has an unusual status within Great Britain. It is treated as a “minority county,” which means little other than having road signs in both Cornish and English, as well as its own flag consisting of a white cross on a black background. Ordinary Cornish people do seem to be attached to their county and many likely feel that they are different from their English neighbors. And as anyone who has watched “Doc Martin” would attest, their accent is different, too. 

Those Cornishmen and women with whom I spoke would rather discuss something other than Brexit — anything other than Brexit. All did agree, however, that the goings-on in America make Brexit look tame by comparison. 


As in the U.S., families are divided over the question of whether Britain should remain in the European Union. A lorry driver in his 50s, who consistently votes with the Labour Party (“After all, I’m a working man”), told me that he supports withdrawal on the grounds that “we managed an empire and can manage on our own now.” He thinks many of the rulings handed down by Brussels are ridiculous, noting, for example, that fruit not perfectly shaped must be dumped, a rather odd and wasteful idea in his view. And then he mentioned that his wife, a school teacher, voted to Remain

A younger man serving drinks behind the bar of a pub in St. Ives was reluctant to discuss the issue because it is so politically charged. He did not want to alienate his regular clientele. Still, when pressed, he said he saw no point in belonging to an institution that he didn’t seem to understand. In fact, he said, he doesn’t understand the entire issue. It was not clear whether he actually voted. And then he quickly changed the subject. 

A 20-something, Spanish-born waiter who has lived in the United Kingdom long enough to speak English with the local accent thinks Brexit makes no sense. He has applied for permanent residency, as has his father. The rest of his family have not and — shades of America’s southern border — he worries whether they will all be able to reside in the same country.

Two English-born waiters, also in their 20s or early 30s, agreed. One said, rather heatedly, that Cornwall has done well thanks to the EU. “Were it not for the EU we wouldn’t have an airport, or even the A-30.” He was exaggerating, but Newquay and St. Ives are full of European tourists, who might visit elsewhere if they need visas. That would mean fewer arrivals at the airport and fewer rental cars on the A-30 main road into the county. 

A waitress and a receptionist — the former from Latvia, the latter a local, and both young — agreed that Britain should remain in the EU. The Cornishwoman also noted that Cornwall has done well because of the EU. 


As the Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit nears, and road signs and radio announcements warn that new regulations and paperwork could come into force on Nov. 1, Britain may be careening toward another election. Johnson’s ill-fated attempt to suspend Parliament to force a clean break with Europe without a formal agreement — a so-called “hard Brexit” — has jeopardized his premiership. Johnson met with the Queen after the Supreme Court’s ruling and evidently apologized for having her agree to suspend Parliament. Not surprisingly,  there already are numerous calls for his resignation.  

Brexit also has torn the opposition Labour Party apart, while its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has dithered to the point that there is growing talk that he, like Johnson, may be replaced as leader. Moreover, the opposition prefers first to defer the Brexit deadline to January and only then call for another election. 

All told, Britain is a confused, somewhat unhappy place — much like its bigger-sister democracy across the Atlantic. No wonder the Cornish prefer to avoid discussing Brexit if they possibly can. 

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.