It's sheer political chaos in the UK after the Brexit vote

The World
Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, putting on a brave face as he heads for the House of Commons, in London, Monday

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, putting on a brave face as he heads for the House of Commons, in London, Monday

Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The word "chaos" gets thrown around a lot in political journalism, but it seems to be the right one to describe British politics in the wake of last week's vote in favor of the country leaving the European Union — the so-called "Brexit."

“I was about to say British politics have been re-made,” says BBC political correspondent Rob Watson. “But I don’t think that’s right. It’s just broken. It’s just completely broken.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has announced he is resigning, and plans to step down in the fall. But he refuses to initiate the legal process that would lead to the formal separation of the UK from the rest of the European Union. He says his successor will have to do that.

Cameron thus has left a poisoned chalice for whoever follows him. That successor is most likely to be his old schoolmate and former friend, Boris Johnson — the former mayor of London, who led the “leave” campaign.

At the same time, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is also under attack. Corbyn, a hard-line socialist, was nominally in charge of leading the “remain” campaign. But he’s been criticized for doing a poor job. Most of his close political allies have deserted him, so he too is fighting for his political life.

In fact, both of the main political parties are in chaos. Pundits are baffled about where this will end.

“Why on Earth would anyone listen to someone like me or anybody else who claims to know anything about politics when everything is so utterly up in the air?” asks Watson.

“Who on earth knows?” he adds. “It’s completely new territory.”

“Partly what’s happened in the referendum is that lots of things that have been bubbling up in Britain for a long time were able to become starkly apparent in a way that they’re not usually in a general election because of our system, which favors big parties.”

But with such a stark choice, Watson argues, it was an opportunity for the country “to divide, in really kind of disturbing ways along the lines of class, of wealth, of age, of where you live, you name it. It’s just mold-breaking.”  

It’s an illustration, says Watson, of “how quickly you can go from having a system that seems pretty clear and stable and nicely set-up, to absolute chaos. It really is quite extraordinary.”