Brexit Was Born in a Crappy Chicago O’Hare Pizzeria. But Which One?
In the sprawling fallout of the “Leave” victory in the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, one incredible detail about how the referendum may have come to be to begin with has been the subject of controversy. It involves, of all places, Chicago.
This all started with a referendum postmortem by the Financial Times’ George Parker and Alex Barker, published this morning. In the piece, Parker and Barker describe the behind-the-scenes discussions in 2012 between Cameron and former foreign secretary William Hague about what a referendum would mean for the Tories. They were awaiting their flight home after the NATO conference held in Chicago that year:
Mr Cameron backed by William Hague, the former foreign secretary, concluded that the only way to hold the party together through the 2015 general election campaign was to promise an EU referendum.
The setting for that fateful decision: a pizza restaurant at Chicago O’Hare airport, where Mr Cameron met with Mr Hague and Ed Llewellyn, his trusted chief of staff and an old-hand in Brussels.
Reread that sentence.
According to Parker and Barker, the decision to go forward with a referendum that led this morning to Cameron’s resignation as prime minister, the collapse of the British pound, a rout in global markets and could yet lead to a recession as well as the dissolution of the European Union and the 300-year old United Kingdom itself—once the seat of the largest empire mankind has ever known—was made over a meal of airport pizza in Chicago.
Parker and Barker aren’t the only ones to have described a pizza summit.
In August, the Daily Mail’s Anthony Seldon also alluded to a meeting between Hague and Cameron at O’Hare:
But by spring 2012, the pressure for Cameron to commit to a referendum is virtually unstoppable. Having been initially reluctant, Osborne is won round. And on May 21 at the improbable location of a pizza restaurant at Chicago’s O’Hare airport it is settled.
Cameron sits down with William Hague and they agree to offer a referendum before the end of 2017. Osborne still has reservations. But Cameron can hold out no longer and the referendum is duly announced.
Predictably, reaction to the news that Brexit had been set in motion over airport grub thousands of miles away from 10 Downing was unkind.
david cameron glumly chews his gelatinous o’hare pizza. “this pizza,” he thinks, "this pizza is technocratic globalization."— Whet Moser (@whet) June 24, 2016
O’Hare does make one sometimes contemplate suicide but never on a national level https://t.co/4z0tE3LBJm— Joel Braunold (@braunold) June 24, 2016
And understandably so. Still, this listing from Eater of O’Hare’s dining options in 2012 suggests that Brexit could have begun even less auspiciously. Just imagine. What if Cameron had opted instead to launch the effort that would unseat the U.K. as the world’s fifth-largest economy while sipping a vanilla shake at Smoothie King? What if the door to the independence Scots may now try again to pursue after centuries of union had been opened at Burrito Beach? Isn’t it plausible Cameron may just as easily have initiated the final embarrassment of a nation that once lorded over nearly a fourth of the world’s land mass while picking cheesecorn out of his teeth at Nuts on Clark?
But hours after the Financial Times piece went up, Chicago Aviation Spokesman Owen Kilmer told the Chicago Tribune that the meeting never happened:
Kilmer said Friday that Cameron, who was in Chicago for a NATO summit at the time, was whisked straight from his private flight straight into a vehicle that took him downtown and that security measures meant that "he was never in any of the terminals at O'Hare ... when he arrived or when he departed." It's therefore not possible that Cameron ate at an O'Hare restaurant, although he may have grabbed a slice somewhere else, Kilmer said.
And so would’ve concluded the greatest food story in British politics since Ed Milliband’s unfortunate bacon sandwich breakfast in 2014—exactly two years to the day after Cameron’s alleged pizza summit—but for the fact that Cameron’s meal was apparently observed by multiple eyewitnesses.
Slate has reached out to both Kvam and ITV’s Robert Moore and has yet to receive comment. Moore was also the author of a piece published the day after his tweet that described the phantom meeting in more detail and claimed Cameron departed Chicago on a commercial American Airlines flight:
Last night, as I passed through Chicago's O'Hare Airport, the Prime Minister was eating at a fast-food cafe, surrounded by fellow passengers, waiting for an American Airlines flight back to London. I was with Cameron's National Security Adviser Kim Darroch. "Austerity Britain," he smiled.
Moore’s account raises additional questions. How would Cameron have been able to hold a private and tremendously consequential meeting while rubbing elbows with other passengers? And if Hague and Llewellyn were present, why were they not mentioned as Cameron’s National Security Adviser Kim Darroch was?
In any case, it seems that either the Chicago Aviation Authority is wrong or multiple people experienced roughly the same hallucination that evening at O’Hare, a place that, in fairness, induces transient bouts of insanity in innumerable travelers every single day.
So where would this meeting have happened if it did in fact happen? One restaurant seems like a particularly likely candidate.
Brexit was likely birthed in a Pizzeria UNO in O’Hare’s Terminal 3, the hub for all American Airlines flights. As Eater’s listing indicates, the location has been in the terminal since at least late 2012 and was the only probable sit-down pizzeria in the terminal at the time the list was compiled.
The Terminal 3 location doesn’t seem to have a page online, but reviews of UNO’s O’Hare locations in general have been decidedly mixed, with some comparing the “watery” pizzas served unfavorably with Chicago’s locally beloved deep-dish pizzas as offered at chains such as Giordano’s:
Other customers seem pleased with Terminal 5's location, even going as far as to vouch for the authenticity of UNO’s pies:
Cameron's meeting could also plausibly have been held at one of the two other sit-down places in the terminal serving pizza at the time—a Macaroni Grill and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. After all, Moore says that Cameron’s meal was at a “fast-food” place and not necessarily a pizzeria. But the Grill and the Puck restaurant don’t really seem to fit the bill as “fast-food” joints, either. (Eater’s list describes them as “leisurely” spots.) It seems a good bet that the pizza restaurant specified in the Financial Times and the Daily Mail pieces was, in fact, a pizza restaurant. Terminal 3 also had a Reggio’s in 2012, but a Yelp search suggests both that Reggio’s lacks seating and that the quality of its pizza makes a Cameron meeting there simply too horrible to contemplate.
Slate has yet to hear from the food management company at O’Hare about Cameron’s meeting or plans for a commemorative plaque. But diners at the Terminal 3 Pizzeria UNO—now, it seems, an UNO’s Pizza Express—have good reason to believe their pies are being served in one of the most consequential spots in geopolitical history. Thanks to Cameron, we have an addition to make to the list of meeting places that have changed the modern world: Versailles, Yalta, Bretton Woods, and the Terminal 3 Pizzeria UNO at O’Hare.
The Friday Slatest Newsletter
What a day. Our biggest stories:
- The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and David Cameron is resigning. Here's how it happened. Here's why there's a tiny chance the decision could be reversed. Here's why the vote might lead to the breakup of the entire U.K. And here are a bunch of British voters who seem to really regret what they've done.
- Bernie Sanders says he is voting for Hillary Clinton.
- At least 14 people have been killed in widespread flooding in West Virginia; one river is higher than it's been since 1888.
- Anti-doping officials have suspended operations at Rio's PED-testing lab. The Olympics start in six weeks.
- The last hope for Congressional gun legislation in the wake of Orlando has failed.
- Trump happens to be in Scotland and answered a question about the Brexit by saying it might help one of his golf courses.
- For what it's worth, for those worried that the Brexit vote augurs a surprise white-nationalist Trump surge in the United States: The U.K. is much whiter than the U.S. (Here's today's Trump Apocalypse Watch.)
Have a good weekend out there.
Today's Trump Apocalypse Watch: Narcissistic Trump Disorder
The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.
Remember when one of Donald Trump's first reactions to the massacre in Orlando was to say he appreciated how many people were congratulating him for having predicted jihad murders on American soil? Today, reporters asked Trump—who is in Scotland on a trip to promote one of his golf courses—what he thought of the Brexit, the world-shaking event that has put markets in Trump's home country in turmoil and caused a steep decline in the value of the currency of the country he's currently in. One of the first things Trump brought up in response was that the crash would be good for tourism to his golf course.
There's a political saying: "Never waste a crisis." Since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump now appears to be 0 for 2.
Public Service Announcement: The U.K. Is Much Whiter Than the U.S.
While a number of factors are obviously involved, many observers believe that the Brexit "Leave" vote is in part attributable to the resentment that many white Britons feel towards nonwhite immigrants. Donald Trump's United States presidential campaign, as it happens, is motivated almost entirely by such resentments. It's thus natural to suggest, as the Washington Post did Friday morning, that the surprising success of "Leave" should be taken as a warning about the potential upset potency of Trump's candidacy. If it could happen there, it could happen here, etc.
Here's the thing, though: The United Kingdom is much, much whiter than the United States. Non-Hispanic whites account for 62 percent of the U.S. population. (Trump has made it pretty clear how he feels about individuals who might consider themselves both white and Hispanic: They are "Mexican," and they are suspicious.) By contrast, 87 percent of the U.K. population is white. (It doesn't appear that there are a statistically significant number of Hispanic whites in the country.) Or, in visual form:
So there you go. It should be a lot harder for a campaign reliant on white resentment to win a national election in the U.S. than in the U.K. So don't worry about it! Don't even bother voting, things will probably be fine. Hell, vote for Trump if you want, just as a goof! LOL.
Just kidding. Please don't do that!
At Least 14 Killed in Widespread West Virginia Flooding
At least 14 people have died in widespread flooding in West Virginia, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said today in the wake of storms that hit some parts of the state with ten inches of rain. A state of emergency has been declared in 44 of West Virginia's 55 counties.
The Elk River north of Charleston was measured at 33 feet, higher than it's been since at least 1888; an estimated 500 people were trapped overnight in a shopping center in the area when a bridge was washed out. (As of earlier this afternoon about 50 of those individuals had been evacuated.)
There Is a Small but Real Possibility That Brexit Will Never Happen
For all that Thursday night’s Brexit vote was a historic rebuke of the European Union, nothing is actually different today. Britain is still a member of the EU, and will be for some time. And while there’s probably too much political momentum to stop this process now that it’s rolling, there’s a small, but not trivial, chance that the Brexit might not happen at all.
The referendum wasn’t legally binding, just advisory. Technically, the British government doesn’t have to do anything, though it’s obviously under an enormous amount of political pressure to get things moving. The first concrete result of the vote will be the ignominious resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned for the “Remain” side, in opposition to much of his own party, and lost. Cameron said today that he will leave 10 Downing Street before the Conservative Party conference in October, and will leave the task of beginning negotiations on withdrawal to his successor. (Cameron had previously said that withdrawal would begin immediately after the vote if “Leave” won, but that seems to have been a bluff.)
How the Brexit will go down is a little unclear—after all, no country has ever tried to leave the EU before. (Yes, yes, Greenland. I see you. Not the same thing.) The mechanism by which countries leave the EU is Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. Under Article 50, once a member state notifies the European Council of its intention to withdraw, it has two years to negotiate the terms of that withdrawal and hammer out a new relationship with the EU on issues like trade and immigration. Once the two years are up, the treaties between the EU and the country are severed, whether an agreement has been reached or not.
Could leaders in Brussels find a way to fudge this deadline? Sure, why the hell not. But once Article 50 is invoked, the process is irreversible. The U.K. can’t back out. The terms of Britain’s exit, though not the exit itself, will be subject to veto by all 27 of its very cranky EU counterparts.
EU leaders want Britain to invoke Article 50 as quickly as possible, to end political uncertainty and restore some confidence to financial markets. But leaders of the “Leave” campaign say there’s no rush and argue that there should be informal talks on withdrawal before the article is invoked and the clock starts ticking. Yes, that’s right. The people behind the Brexit are in no hurry to actually implement it. After all, even the leavers want to maintain an advantageous trade relationship with the EU, and two years is not a long time to negotiate one. The EU, on the other hand, will be in no mood to make this easy for the U.K., as it tries to prevent other member states from planning their own Nexits, Frexits, and Auxits.
There’s also a possibility that we could see a parliamentary vote on the Brexit before Article 50 is invoked. This could get interesting, as a majority of the 650 members of the House of Commons favor remaining in the EU. Whether they would overrule their own voters is another question. Members of the Scottish National Party are safe anti-Brexit votes, but pro-EU Conservatives would be afraid of losing more ground to the insurgent U.K. Independence Party. The Labour Party seems to be in complete disarray and in the course of ousting its own leader.
All this means that the process is likely to be long and aggravating, involving not just negotiations with Brussels but the tricky question of which of the EU’s regulations Britain will choose to maintain as British law and what’s going to happen to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
How and whether the Brexit proceeds will depend in large part on who the Conservative Party chooses as its next leader and prime minister. The betting markets currently favor Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and smooth-talking mop-topped goofball who took a major political gamble by becoming the public face of the “Leave” campaign in defiance of Cameron, and is now riding a surge of support. Theresa May, the current home secretary and a “Remain” supporter, is another possibility.
Given that, anecdotally, it seems that a number of pro-“Leave” voters are already experiencing buyer’s remorse, and the British economy will likely continue to take a beating, there’s at least a possibility that a pro-“Remain” government could just wait this out by indefinitely postponing Article 50 ratification. By the time the next general election rolls around in 2020, it’s possible Brexit-happy voters will have lost their nerve and this whole thing could just die on the vine.
Even if Johnson or another pro-“Leave” Tory takes over, that doesn’t necessarily mean Brexit is imminent. Johnson has said that the result won’t mean “pulling up the drawbridge” and that there’s “no need for haste” in severing the country’s EU ties. Could Johnson really use the Brexit debate to launch himself into the prime minister’s office and then not even follow through on his signature issue? Yes, he could definitely do that.
How That Idiot Nigel Farage Outsmarted the Political Elite
Nigel Farage may be the dumbest man ever to outwit the smartest politicians in his country—but that’s exactly what he’s done. Just after the polls closed in Thursday’s EU referendum, Farage, leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party, said he thought his side had probably lost; six hours later, he was delivering a triumphant speech in which he called for June 23 to be declared the United Kingdom’s Independence Day. Last May, when UKIP came out of the general election with only one member of Parliament—half its pre-vote total—he resigned as party leader … only to unresign less than a week later. During the Brexit campaign, he unveiled a campaign poster that was widely decried as racist. The night before the vote, he pulled out of a high-profile TV debate, offering only vague “family reasons” as explanation. And yet, by dog-whistling to Little Englanders, he emerged as the referendum’s biggest winner.
Farage is the very definition of the British bloke. He’s said to sleep very little, but judging from the photos that appear in the press, an awful lot of his waking hours are spent downing pints in pubs. When he’s not boozing, smoking, and glad-handing, he’s a part-time insult comedian. A member of the European Parliament since 1999, he gleefully trolls the institution he despises. His most famous Brussels stand-up gig was when he stood before EU President Herman van Rompuy in 2010, and declared, “You have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” It was rude, unnecessarily personal, and also an extraordinarily effective attack on the EU’s lack of democracy. “Who are you?” he asked van Rompuy. “I’d never heard of you. Nobody in Europe had ever heard of you. I would like to ask you, president: Who voted for you?”
Farage has a reputation as a survivor. At 21, he was in a serious car accident, which “left him in traction and unable to take a bath for 11 months,” and a little after that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In 2010, while campaigning during the general election, he emerged from a plane crash bloodied and semi-conscious.
But it’s his refusal to obey the rules of politics, and his expressed disdain for politicians (even though he is one), that make him so popular. The New Statesman’s Jason Cowley said, “One of the attractions of Farage to some working-class voters … is that he is unashamedly himself: he knows what he thinks and how to articulate it in simple, direct, accessible language.” By being mouthy and boozy and at times impolite, he avoids seeming like a politician—though that’s exactly what he is. He’s a man of the people—even if he is a privately educated former commodities trader.
Like Donald Trump, Farage is a xenophobic populist who has twice married foreign-born women. His first wife was Irish, and he is currently married to a German national—their two daughters (he also has two sons from his first marriage) are being raised to be bilingual. In other words, he doesn’t actually have any principles.
On Friday, Farage’s habit of inconsistency was on display when he told a morning talk show that a “Leave” campaign pledge to take the $350 million per week the United Kingdom has been sending to the European Union, according to the Leavers, and redirect it to the National Health Service was a “mistake,” and that he wouldn’t guarantee that the money would be spent that way, even though that promise was one of the centerpieces of the “Leave” campaign.
In the speech he delivered in the early hours of Friday, Farage said the “Leave” victory was for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people.” I guess if those so-called ordinary people will vote for a man who has a long track record of changing his mind, or lying, they can hardly complain when he does it again.
The Last Hope for Post-Orlando Gun Control Failed Yesterday While No One Was Looking
Thursday was a huge news day, and so is Friday: The British "Leave" vote, two hugely important Supreme Court decisions, the John Lewis-led gun control sit-in. Lost amid all of it was a procedural Senate vote that, despite the high-profile protest in the House, was actually the most significant moment of the day for advocates of gun legislation. And what the results of that vote indicate is that there is almost certainly not going to be any gun legislation passed in the wake of the Orlando terror attack.
The Senate was voting on whether to table a bipartisan amendment introduced by Maine Republican Susan Collins that would have restricted gun sales to individuals on two particular terror watch lists. The bill covered a narrower group of suspects than a similar proposal by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and would have created an appeal process for individuals who believed they were being improperly denied their gun rights. Fifty-two senators voted not to table the amendment—i.e. they voted to support it. That's technically a victory, but it also demonstrated that Collins' amendment did not have the 60 votes required to create a filibuster-proof majority. In the bigger picture, then, it failed.
Here's the vote breakdown (nay = a vote to support the bill).
With four other gun-control bills already having been defeated in the Senate, and with the House seeming unlikely to take up any bills at all, this is probably it for post-Orlando gun votes. The good news is we'll get to do it all over again after the next mass shooting!
The Best of British “Leave” Voters Realizing They’ve Made a Huge Mistake
If you want to read Slate's sophisticated analysis of how the U.K. ending up voting "Leave" and what it will mean going forward for Europe, the United States, and the world, click here. If you want to laugh bitterly about "Leave" voters who just woke up, saw that the global economy is cratering, and have realized that they deeply regret their impulsive choice to cast a protest vote without fully considering its consequences, continue reading this post. (Above: Arrested Development's Gob Bluth, a frequent maker of huge mistakes.)
Leave voter on BBC: "I'm shocked & worried. I voted Leave but didn't think my vote would count - I never thought it would actually happen."— Laura Topham (@LauraTopham) June 24, 2016
I voted leave to help our economy. However the £ has plummeted and I immediately regret my decision 🙄. Plus Farage is a lying tosser! 😡— Ryan Richardson (@RyanRich_) June 24, 2016
With leave voters in Manchester for BBCNews -most told us they woke up thinking "what have I done?" & didn't actually expect the uk to leave— Louisa Compton (@louisa_compton) June 24, 2016
Womp. Womp. Womp. WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP WOMP. WHY DIDN'T YOU THINK ABOUT ALL OF THIS YESTERDAY, GUYS???