What's Next In The Brexit Saga NPR's Scott Simon asks British columnist Jenni Russell for her thoughts on the British elections.

What's Next In The Brexit Saga

What's Next In The Brexit Saga

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NPR's Scott Simon asks British columnist Jenni Russell for her thoughts on the British elections.


Boris Johnson's Conservatives resoundingly won this week's British elections. They are bound to complete Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, and soon. But a lot of Britons weren't delighted by the display of democracy working.

Jenni Russell is a British political columnist and joins us now from London. Thanks very much for being with us.

JENNI RUSSELL: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: You called this the dejection election. Why?

RUSSELL: Because everyone is totally fed up with the politics of this in Britain. It's 3 1/2 years since the referendum. The country is split more or less 50/50 on whether to leave the European Union. And it's turned out to be such a complicated business. Nobody understands the details of it any longer. People just wanted this problem to be fixed, although the country has been entirely divided on what they want from it.

And they were faced with two candidates who are the most unappealing options in a generation facing the country. You had a lying, bullying, blustering chancellor on one side. That was Boris Johnson. And on the other side, you had Jeremy Corbyn, who's wooden and sanctimonious and was promising people the earth, a kind of socialist paradise that could somehow be accomplished with only a few tax rises.

And people frankly had very little faith in either of them, but they liked Boris Johnson slightly more because he promised an end to this black cloud of Brexit that's been hanging over people for more than three years.

SIMON: Let me ask this from the distance of across the Atlantic with some admiration. But how did this nation, so admired for its parliamentary democracy, wind up with what so many Britons consider to be dispiriting choices?

RUSSELL: Well, that's a very interesting question, and I think the answer is that Britain, like America, has been faced with huge questions about, how do we all live our lives, and how do you grow the economy? And what should our future be? And do we like having immigration, and how much is our culture being disrupted? - really deep questions.

And an awful lot of people in this country have had living standards been absolutely frozen for the past 10 years ever since the financial crash. Everyone's looking for an answer to, how do they make their lives better? And when Brexit came along as a suggestion - shall we just leave the European Union? Perhaps all our problems lie with the fact that we are allied to Europe - half the country believed that.

And British politics has been absolutely riven because there isn't a good answer to this question. So the two prime ministers before this one have been defeated by the issue of Brexit. They couldn't deliver it; they couldn't deliver what the nation wanted, so we lost first Prime Minister Cameron and then Prime Minister May. And all kinds of good people have deserted the field because the problems seem too huge, and the electorate want simple answers.

SIMON: So does this election mean Britain's great national drama is over, or is it just starting? I mean, might Great Britain wind up being smaller Britain?

RUSSELL: I'm afraid the big national drama is turning into a big national disaster. It's highly probable that we'll end up with a shrunken Britain. We've turned out not to be a nation that is full of sort of, cautious, moderate and purposeful wisdom. We've turned out to be as riven and angry with one another and as confused and with as much a tendency to blame everybody else in the country as everybody else.

It's highly probable that in a few years' time, Northern Ireland could decide to join with the rest of Ireland because they are already being divided from the rest of the United Kingdom by the decisions taken over Brexit. And the Scots, where the Scots National Party have just won a huge, sweeping victory across Scotland, are already saying they want a referendum 'cause they would like to leave the rest of the United Kingdom and join the European Union independently. So we're a shrunken, riven nation this morning, Scott. It's not cheery.

SIMON: Jenni Russell writes for The Times of London and also contributes to The New York Times. Thanks very much for being with us.

RUSSELL: Thank you very much.

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