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KUMAR: Brexit would be catastrophic amid pandemic


Column: The Transatlantic Perspective

Shubhrant Kumar is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Transatlantic Perspective," runs on alternate Mondays.
Shubhrant Kumar is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Transatlantic Perspective," runs on alternate Mondays.

There is perhaps no phrase that encapsulates Britain’s resilience in the face of adversity better than “Keep Calm and Carry On."

It is a simple message has persisted far beyond its wartime slogan origins into the new millennium, where it can be found written on anything from the side of your nanny's tea cup to being hilariously reproduced as an internet meme (I think “Keep Calm and Call Batman” might be my personal favorite).

With the recent onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during a period wherein the British government is currently preparing to prepare the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union (EU), it is clear, now more than ever, that now is not the time to just “carry on” when the countries entire economic future is at stake. 

The famous British upper-stiff lip is something that everyone is familiar with and is used to great comedic effect in a hilarious scene from the 1975 classic film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” when King Arthur engages in an intentionally poorly choreographed sword fight with the Black Knight. 

The Black Knight refuses to accept defeat even after all his limbs have been cut off. He still comically attempts to fight the King, refusing to show even a flash of emotion, which eventually causes the King to call him “an utter loony." 

The Black Knight continues as if nothing has changed and refuses to accept his limbless situation, opting instead for the archetypal British response of simply keeping calm and “carrying on,” and famously claiming his injuries are just “flesh wounds” as the popular expression goes. There is a certain underlying truth to this sketch which illustrates how the conservative government is doing a poor job of addressing the possible economic implications in continuing on with Brexit, despite the inevitable economic fallout that is to follow the coronavirus pandemic.

The Conservative Party Leader Prime Minister Boris Johnson has always been a fierce champion of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the EU agreement. In the weeks leading up to the 2016 referendum, Johnson launched an aggressive campaign to convince the British public of the benefits of leaving such a union by bombarding them with an avalanche of dubious facts and projections. 

Ultimately, his campaign was successful enough to convince the public to vote in favor of such a withdrawal, which immediately led to concerns about Britain’s economic future from leaving an economic agreement which had benefited the United Kingdom immensely and strengthened relations with its European allies. After winning the United Kingdom snap election last December by a considerable margin, it seemed that nothing was going to stop Johnson from fulfilling his vision of following through on his promise of isolating the United Kingdom from the rest of the continent. 

Then the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic thrust Johnson into the midst of an escalating crisis, and he was out of the frying pain into fire quicker then anyone could have imagined. After an initial nonchalant response to the crisis, which caused Johnson to delay any strong definitive action to combat the virus, Johnson eventually succumbed to pressure after witnessing the rise of infections by ordering a complete national lockdown which, at that point, was perhaps a little too late. 

With businesses closed across the country and with the prospect of looming global economic meltdown due to the pandemic, the initial concerns that had arisen from Brexit were only compounded leaving many to question whether now is the best time for Britain to be leaving the EU. I worry that, based on Johnson's haphazard response to the coronavirus, which was heavily criticized for being too late, that he may also do nothing to address the severe impact that Brexit almost will certainly have on the economy.

For now the administration has been frustratingly reticent on the matter. After all, it was Johnson's pro-Brexit stance that got him the coveted job on Downing Street the first place, but now is not the time to play politics and just “carry on." Brexit needs to be canceled because the UK's economy will not be able to recover especially after the debilitating effect that the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will have.

The “Keep Calm and Carry On” is what has in the past made Britain a tour-de-force when it comes to dealing with adversity, the intrinsic message that no matter what happens one must not lose hope since things will eventually get better is a reassuring one that we must forget, as we as a generation as facing a formidable crisis of our own. 

This does not mean that we should just carry on with Johnson's flawed future of the United Kingdom, which entails a hard Brexit. Maybe now more than ever is the time to not just “carry on,” but to adapt as well. 

Shubhrant Kumar is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. His column, "The Transatlantic Perspective," runs on alternate Mondays.

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