Britain’s Watershed Year

LONDON – On a grey and rain-sodden London day at the beginning of 2016, it can be tough to find reason for optimism. The sun still comes up in the morning. At some point, it will presumably stop raining. My grandchildren offer a ray of sunshine; all Star Wars fans, they can just about convince me that, like Princess Leia’s dissident forces, the good guys will eventually win.

Newspaper headlines, however, are pretty good at tempering such sentiments. With economic prospects in China and Brazil looking distinctly gloomy, the world economy is at risk of flat-lining – or worse. Western Asia is in turmoil, and Saudi Arabia and Iran have shown no sign that they are prepared to work together to ease Sunni-Shia hostilities. Migrants continue to arrive by the thousand at Europe’s fragile borders. North Korea claims that it is building a bigger and better nuclear weapon.

The good news from last month’s United Nations climate change conference in Paris has been buried in an avalanche of geopolitical gloom. And things could get even worse by the end of this year.

In the United Kingdom, where a referendum on whether to remain in the European Union is likely to take place before the end of the year, things could get a lot worse. If, deluded by mendacity and make-believe, Britain votes to quit the EU, the referendum – introduced as a way to placate the growing number of anti-EU voices in the Conservative Party – will have blown up Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet and done irreparable harm to Britain.