Wednesday, January 27, 2021 -
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Cutting and running

It feels like the British have a bad habit of cutting and running. Is it a consequence of the country’s political system? Unlike in the US, where a president’s term in office is limited by the Constitution, in Britain, a parliamentary democracy, the same person can stay in the leadership as long as its party’s members will have him or her. So often, prime ministers depart having been ousted only after grossly failing to fulfill the party mandate, leaving the mess behind.

I was reminded of this on December 24 when Britain and the European Union agreed to a deal mere days before, deal or no deal, the UK would depart the EU, a decision the country voted on back in 2016. After the deal was announced, BBC radio played a montage of clips set to The Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road,” a perfect example of the dry wit for which Brits are admired.

One of the first soundbites was then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that he would respect the result. Cameron gambled big. He never expected the Brexit referendum to pass, and when the nation called his bluff, he quit, leaving the mess for someone else to sort out. This is inherent to the British way, because a loss so momentous meant a rejection of the prime minister. But who relished Theresa May’s job?

Coincidentally, I am reading an excellent book about modern Pakistan, in which the author, Declan Walsh, poses a question I have also long wondered: How did Britain get away with not being held accountable for its barbaric partition of India, once the “Jewel in the Crown?” The British basically created a geographic nightmare and then simply bowed out.

Shortly thereafter, the British essentially did the same in Palestine. Fallout be damned. Yet the global community seemed not to care. Was it racism — who cares what happens to Arabs, Jews and Asians? Was the world too decimated by WW II to respond?

But those are separate questions from examining why the British behaved that way. Somehow, hearing Cameron’s words of four-and-a-half long years ago, and seeing the “long and winding road” Britain has taken since, made me wonder whether the British have a penchant for absconding when the going gets tough. Cameron set in motion a fundamental alteration of Britain, but when it came to dealing with this alteration, he was gone.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at

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