Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 6 Episode 1
Aired on February 17, 2019
Main segment: Aftermath of Brexit
Other segments: National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States, New Zealand’s exclusion from world maps
Guests: Stephen Fry (voice-over)
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Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight.” I’m John Oliver, thank you so much for joining us. We are back, we’re back. There is no time, there’s no time to get into everything we missed over the last three months, suffice to say, every single person in America is now running for president, Jeff Bezos told us all to keep an eye out for his dick pic, and of course, the president has been very busy. He famously posed with a feast of 300 hamburgers — or as he put it, “over 1,000 hamberders.” And on Christmas Eve, he spoke to a seven-year-old and said this. Are you still a believer in Santa? ‘Cause at seven, it’s marginal, right? Yeah, that’s the President of the United States ruining Santa for a child on December 24th, which is actually perfectly on-brand. Because if there’s one thing Trump is good at, it’s fucking up children forever.
But the major drama since we left has been president Trump’s repeated attempts to get congress to fund his border wall, including shutting the government down for nearly a month, and this Friday, he tried a new approach.
Underway right now, president Trump declares a national emergency in an attempt to get billions for a border wall.
Yes, according to Trump, the border suddenly constitutes a national emergency, or as he might spell it in a tweet, “the berder cornstidutes a nertional ederdency.” And to be clear, there is zero actual emergency at the border right now. Illegal crossings have been declining for 20 years. And as we’ve talked about before on this show, a wall would be expensive and completely ineffective. But putting those aside, declaring a national emergency is a big step. Emergency declarations are meant to temporarily enhance the president’s power during a legitimate crisis, so Trump needed to sell this as a real emergency. And yet, within minutes of declaring it, he said this.
I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.
Well, it’s not an emergency then, is it? Also, for the record, there is no way that’s the first time this week Trump has claimed, “I could do this over a longer period of time, I’d just rather do it much faster.” Happy Valentine’s day, you two. #couplegoals. And as if that weren’t bad enough, he then responded to this newly declared emergency by, just hours later, flying off to Florida for the weekend, where he’s apparently been photographed waiting at an omelet bar. You know, the kind of thing you do when America is in crisis. Now, unsurprisingly, there were legal challenges filed almost instantly, which shocked nobody, including Trump himself.
And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued and they will sue us in the ninth circuit — even though it shouldn’t be there — and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the supreme court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake, and we’ll win in the supreme court. You know, yet another great reason for Trump to not be president is that now I kind of want to see him as a historical expert on the next Ken Burns miniseries. “They killed the archduke and Germany got mad, and then there were tanks and also poison gas, and there was a beagle on a doghouse flying around shooting at people, and then America won.” Look, there will be plenty more to say about Trump’s border wall going forward, but for now, I’d voted number one in the world by “places to end your marriage” magazine.
Last week, Ikea apologized after making an embarrassing mistake. Ikea is facing criticism after selling a map that had a little something missing. Customers in Washington, D.C., noticed the $30 map of the world forgot to show New Zealand. It’s bad timing for Ikea because the company is in the process of opening its first store there. Oops. Yeah, “oops,” indeed. I’m not sure which one is more surprising there, that Ikea forgot New Zealand or that Ikea sells world maps for $30. Bear in mind, you can buy an entire dining room table at Ikea for $39. So by that pricing, a world map should cost negative $40. Now, incredibly, this is not even the first time this has happened to New Zealand. Their prime minister openly complained about it last year.
We’re not actually on every map that’s out there, so… Seriously? No, it’s actually a real problem. We’ve had a campaign around it. Yup, there are maps where we are missing. No! Yes. It’s honestly true. New Zealand gets left off maps all the time. Now, do I think that that is funny? Yes. Yes, I do. Yes. New Zealand, a place that’s basically Times Square if all the people were sheep and if all the neon signs were also sheep, keeps getting picked never in the dodgeball game of maps. That is objectively funny to me. But this is a surprisingly common occurrence. There’s both a subreddit and a tumblr dedicated to collecting examples of maps without New Zealand on them. For example, it’s apparently been left out from this textbook illustration, this box from Tiffany’s, and the board game “risk,” as well as on large maps in multiple major airports, including Munich, Beijing, and Prague, which begs the question: Where do these airports think flights to New Zealand are going? “We are now boarding the 8:55 to Auckland. Not sure where or what that is, so from everyone here at delta airlines, we wish you a Sincere good luck.” And look, whether you like New Zealand or not, you can’t deny it is there. It’s not just Australia’s imaginary friend. And they are trying their best. They did have an official campaign just last year using the hashtag #getnewzealandonthemap, but it clearly didn’t work. So tonight we’re going to try to help them out by giving people a practical way to put things right here. So if you go to our Twitter feed right now, you’ll find a map of New Zealand you can print out and add to any incorrect map of your choosing. If you own that Ikea map? Add New Zealand right there. If you have the board game “risk,” add New Zealand. And then throw it away because it’s a terrible game. And also why stop with inaccurate maps? You can put New Zealand on everything. Map of Florida? Add New Zealand. An anatomical map of male sexual organs? Add New Zealand. In fact, add two. And, finally, if you should ever find yourself in an Ikea, you can help them never forget my favorite heavily-logged island nation ever again by finding their in-store store map and going full New Zealand on it. It’s the only way they’ll learn. And now, this. And now, news anchors shit talk the winner of the westminster dog show. This is not my favorite breed of dog. I just don’t find it very attractive. It’s not my favorite-looking dog. It’s ridiculous. So goofy, that face. He looks snobby. That dog looks like in the morning he wakes up and sips tea and eats crumpets. He should get a shave. That beard. Puffy legs, puffy chin. Goofy-looking dog. Does that dog have knees? He needs a shave. No, it’s okay. Arthur Chester look, or Chester a. Arthur. I gave you the phone book version. Either way, I don’t know. Chester Arthur. You don’t know? He was president? He was not president. Chester Arthur? You sure about that? 100% sure. Who am I thinking of? I don’t know. Taft? I have no idea. Woodrow Wilson? No, it was before that. I think it was Chester a. Arthur. There was no president named Chester a. — Jesse, look it up.
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Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns an issue that promises to dominate this entire year, Brexit, the playful, fun name that’s been given to a disaster. It’s like if you said an animal died of “otter-erotic asphyxiation.” It’s cute, although when you think about the actual consequences, it becomes quite sad.
It’s now been two and a half years since Britain voted to leave the EU. The long story short is, there was a bus with a lie on it, people made a massively consequential decision by a narrow margin, and ever since, the subject of the impending Brexit has dominated every waking moment in British life. It even comes up on reality shows like this one, called “Love Island.”
What do you think about Brexit? What’s that? Where we’re leaving the European union. I seriously don’t have a clue. So it was to leave the EU so we wouldn’t be part of Europe. Oh, the eu, yeah, yeah. Which would mean, like, welfare, and, like, things we trade with would be cut down. So does that mean we won’t have any trees? Cheese? Trees. No, that’s got nothing to do with it, babe, that’s weather. Why wouldn’t we have trees? But doesn’t it mean it would be harder to go to, like, Spain and stuff? So it would be harder to go on holidays? Yeah, I think so. Oh, I love my holidays! Yeah.
John: Okay, so there’s a lot to unpack there, absolutely none of which is worth unpacking. It’s like coming over to help a friend move and finding all his boxes are labeled “dead spiders for mommy.” Yeah, you could unpack that, but it’s probably better to just burn everything to the ground and never speak of it again.
The point is, you cannot escape talk about Brexit in the UK. It’s something brilliantly captured by a TV show called “Gogglebox.” It’s a show in Britain where you get to watch other people watch TV. It’s actually great, trust me. Just eavesdrop on some British people watching the news.
Why did David Cameron call a referendum in the first place? He should be put in prison. Britain wants to have their cake and eat it. They want to trade with the rest of the world, but they also have the benefit of trading with Europe. I’m halfway through the 585-page withdrawal agreement. No! Who are you? It’s like one of those mugs I saw in pudsey, Mary. “Different day, same old shit.” Mary. I don’t like you swearing. I saw it on a mug. I’m just quoting what I read on a mug. Okay.
John: “Here’s something else I saw on a mug, Mary. ‘This marriage is like a locomotive lying on my chest, crushing my spirit to dust.’ I’m just quoting what I saw on a mug, Mary. Don’t blame me, blame the mug.”
People in Britain are completely exhausted by Brexit talk, and the crazy thing is, it hasn’t even happened yet, although it has already had big effects on the British economy. In the wake of the Brexit vote, the UK has become one of the worst-performing economies in the G7, major companies like Nissan and Dyson are moving operations out of Britain, and the pound has dropped by almost 14%. And all of this will come to a head just 40 days from now, on March 29, when the UK is set to officially leave the EU. And it could be an absolute catastrophe because nothing is happening the way that was promised. Britain was supposed to leave the EU in orderly stages, first entering a transition period on March 29, during which it would negotiate its future relationship with the EU and then leave entirely. And prime minister Theresa May has spent the last two years locking down the terms of that transition plan with the EU. But when she presented this agreed-upon deal to parliament, this happened.
Theresa May suffers the biggest commons defeat in history.
This was the moment the defeat was announced.
The ayes to the right, 202. The nos to the left, 432.
John: What was that noise there? That was the biggest commons defeat in British history and they sounded like a middle school lunchroom who just heard someone called to the principal’s office. “Oh, Theresa’s in trou-ble!” Now, incidentally, we can’t show that moment in the UK because of their stupid law banning parliamentary footage in comedy shows, so when this airs there tomorrow night, it’ll be replaced by a clip from a 1983 chippendales exercise video instead with absolutely no explanation. So this is what they’ll see:
This is the moment the defeat was announced.
John: Yeah, that’s what they’ll get. They’ll be confused by it, and it’ll be all their fault. The point is, the defeat of Theresa May’s deal raises the specter of what many consider to be the worst-case the UK dropping out of the EU next month with no transition plan in place. It’s the so-called no-deal scenario, and the ramifications of that could be massive, not just for the UK or the EU, but for the entire world.
So tonight, let’s try and answer why don’t people like Theresa May’s deal? What happens if the UK leaves with no deal? And could they just not do Brexit at all?
And let’s start with why parliament rejected her deal. There’s a lot of reasons that people don’t like it, but the biggest sticking point has to do with Northern Ireland. And let me explain here. You see, the UK is actually four countries, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. A fab four, sort of like the Beatles. I won’t say who the Ringo is, because that would be unfair to Wales. Now, Northern Ireland shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, and right now, everything you see here is part of the EU, so goods and people can move freely between them. But the whole point of Brexit is for the UK to leave the EU, and that could put a hard border across Ireland, and that could be a big problem in a region that’s been plagued by sectarian violence. And I don’t have time to get into the sociopolitical history of Ireland right now. So feel free to Google “Ira bombings” or “Bloody Sunday,” or “Daniel Day-Lewis’ 1990s film output” or — do you know what? Do you know what? I’ll just let the Cranberries 10 seconds.
John: That’s basically it. Tanks, bombs, guns, absolutely no more than four chords. You know, Ireland. In the “troubles,” thousands of people died. Businesses on the border were regularly bombed, and checkpoints became targets. So removing them was a centerpiece to the historic Good Friday agreement of 1998, which brought a fragile peace to the whole region. Returning to checkpoints in any way, shape, or form is going to re-inflame tensions, as people who live there know.
If somebody builds a customs post on the border between the North and Southern Ireland, people will shoot at it. And they’ll shoot at the people who work at it. That’s absolutely 100% certain.
John: Wow. That is striking, because normally for people to be that certain something will be a disaster, they need to see Will Smith in blueface. So everyone here agrees there cannot be a hard border there again. But how do you avoid that? Because if you’re not in the EU, goods have to be screened somewhere, like you would at any international border, and no one has yet come up with a plausible solution for this. Some, including former foreign secretary and untitled Gary Busey project Boris Johnson, have proposed elaborate workarounds, including technologies that don’t yet exist and customs screenings near, but not at, the border. But Ireland is not remotely convinced by those. And when journalists pushed Boris Johnson for more details, his response did not inspire confidence.
Nobody thinks it’s a realistic plan, because they don’t think Ireland would accept it.
The EU does. Don’t — don’t run away. We want to ask you some serious questions, because you’ve just done a load of interviews, why don’t you talk to Channel Four? And answer — answer a couple of questions? You… This is absurd. You want to have a serious conversation about Brexit and then you ride off without talking to us. Why can’t you answer any serious questions?
John: I’ll tell you why Boris can’t answer any serious he doesn’t have any answers. In fact, the only question he’s ever capable of answering is, “what would it look like if Gordon Ramsey was tumble-dried on high?” So just in case no one comes up with a solution for this un-fixable problem by the end of the transition period, the EU and Theresa May agreed on something called a “backstop.” Now, under it, Northern Ireland would broadly live under EU rules and there would be a hard border between it and the rest of the UK, and that would remain in effect until they came up with a permanent solution to the border problem — a solution that, remember, does not exist. The problem is, Brexiteers have strong reservations about the backstop, and they want Theresa May to renegotiate it. But the EU says they’re done negotiating, leaving Britain hurtling towards the ever-increasing possibility of leaving next month with no deal in place at all.
So, what happens if there is no deal? Well, first — ironically — there will be a hard border in Ireland, the one thing that everyone agrees they don’t want. But the consequences would go much further than that, because it won’t just be the Irish border where there’ll be customs checks. Brand-new screenings will be required at every point of entry, and at major British ports like Dover, where trucks arrive on ferries, that could mean chaos.
Under a no-deal Brexit, world trade organization rules would kick in overnight, meaning customs inspections on every vehicle. By one estimate, if customs delayed each truck by just 70 additional seconds, the wait to board the ferry could reach six days.
John: Yeah, that is a massive problem, because the whole system is built on seamless movement. Introduce any hitch into that system, and it all breaks down. It’s like being in a supermarket checkout when one person brings a fruit the cashier doesn’t know. Hold on a second. You are not trying to buy a dragonfruit at a kroger at 6:00 pm on a rainy Sunday. Get the fuck out of here! You drop that fruit! You drop that fruit! You drop it and walk away! Not up in here! Not up in here! And perishable goods will be particularly hard-hit by delays at ports, as this flower importer will tell you.
If things get delayed, our shipping gets delayed, and we’re trading with no — no flowers. So we — we need free movements and it will affect us.
What’s at stake for you if we don’t get this right now?
Everything. My family, my house, everything, my staff. You know, we’ve been trading for 33 years.
John: Yeah, that’s very sad because people do tend to want flowers now and alive. Although you may feel slightly less sorry for that man when you hear what he said next.
You know, we’ve been trading for 33 years. And I did vote to leave.
Do you regret that?
I definitely have second thoughts now, but — but when you voted “leave,” did you not think, “well, this is gonna affect my flowers?”
I didn’t really think about it like that. I didn’t really think about the business side of it.
John: Yeah, well, you probably should’ve done, shouldn’t you? And now, you’ve pretty much fucked yourself with a rusty piece of rebar. Which isn’t offensive, it’s something I saw on a mug, so it’s fine. The mug makes it okay, Mary. You trust a mug always.
Now, look, the chilling prospect of a no-deal Brexit has now become likely enough that the government has released over a hundred guidance documents instructing people about what to do if it does happen, everything from how pesticides will be regulated to what the new procedures would be for taking your horse abroad. Although I think I can actually solve that one for you right take off its shoes, put it in a separate tray, and look innocently confused when airport security starts asking whose fucking horse this is.
And while some of what will happen in a no-deal scenario may go into the category of “manageable annoyance,” there are some genuinely alarming issues like, will there be a shortage of medication that comes from other countries that could affect someone like this girl with cerebral palsy and epilepsy?
She has three drugs that she has that are critical, and without them, she will have multiple seizures in a day. It’s one of the biggest countries in the world, financially, and I’m sitting here thinking, “will I be able to get medicine in two months’ time?” It’s a completely crazy situation.
John: Yeah, you are right about that, because medicine shortages are not a problem that Britons expect to deal with. They’re used to having their problems limited to hearing Americans mispronounce the word “vitamin.” Not having enough beans as part of your breakfast, and having to wait 20 years for another royal wedding. How are you still single, George? Settle down already, you’re this many. Find a fiancee for us to ferociously judge.
And if all of this is not already frightening enough, there are warnings of empty shelves, and some Britons have begun stockpiling food or buying so-called “Brexit boxes,” which, when you see what’s actually inside them, seems pretty grim.
They may look like tins of paint, but they could be dinner a la Brexit. Every Brexit box contains all you need to whip up family favorites like chili con carne, chicken tikka, and even fajitas.
John: Now, putting aside how unappetizing a paint can of wet meat sounds, let’s also not overlook the metaphorical significance of every dish in the Brexit box being something that came to Britain from another country and greatly improved the lives of everyone there.
Now, things look dire here. Under any form of Brexit, Britain’s economic options are basically “bad” and “worse.” The government’s own analysis suggests that, under a Brexit like Theresa May’s plan, the UK economy could be up to 3.9% smaller after 15 years. Which sounds bad until you learn that under a no-deal Brexit, we’re looking at an economy as much as 9.3% smaller. And a slowdown like that would not just hurt Britain — it would ripple across the entire world. And yet, incredibly, some in Britain remain completely unfazed by all this, drawing confidence from the worst possible examples.
I lost a grandfather in the First World War, I lost an uncle in the Second World War, and we survived. Are you not a little bit concerned that we’re talking about this political event the same way that we’re talking about the aftermath of world wars? No, I’m not. I think it’s the same sort of situation.
John: But it isn’t, though, is it? Because the world wars were provoked. They were a response to outside events. Brexit is something Britain’s done to itself. Britain is basically Pompeii if Pompeii had voted for the volcano. “A bus said the volcano would be good! I believe the bus! And a mug backed it up! You trust mugs!”
And this brings us to the final question here. If all of this going to be so bad, could Britain just not do this? To which the answer is, technically, yes. In December, the European court of justice ruled that the UK can simply revoke its intention to withdraw. That is a big indication that Europe would take Britain back. And an even bigger indication is the existence of the breunion boys, a Dutch group who describe themselves as a “boy band driven to re-unite Great Britain with the EU.” And if you think they didn’t make a music video, you clearly don’t understand why I’m bringing this up. Dope. I mean, it’s the classic boy band formula, isn’t it? You get five eurotrash hunks, dress two like fishermen, two like guys who run a vc firm, and one like a marxist guerrilla with a throat cold, put them on the world’s grayest, dankest beach, and have them croon in different keys about the dissolution of a customs union. It’s just textbook. And look, if I’m honest, that clip doesn’t make a completely airtight case for staying in the EU, but the rap break certainly does. Hold on. Hold on there. You really think British people are going to be impressed by your abs? We’re British. If there’s one thing people know about us, it’s that we all have spectacular abs. Look, mine are obviously amazing. The queen’s are completely insane. So why don’t you take your little eurozone four-pack and hit the gym, pencil-neck. And while, clearly, that band is a pretty solid argument for leaving the EU on any terms necessary, what if Britain did want to stay? How would that even happen? Well, Theresa May and parliament could weigh the evidence and decide that Brexit is not worth it. That would be the truly courageous thing to do. They won’t do it because of the political backlash they’d get for defying the popular will. But that is why some have suggested a second referendum. Now, that would not be easy. First, the shortest estimate of the time it would take to organize a vote is 22 weeks, and there’s just six weeks left. And also, what, exactly, would people vote on? Would it be remain in the EU versus Theresa May’s Brexit? Or remain versus the no-deal Brexit? Or do you put all three options on the ballot, probably split the vote, fail to get a clear majority for any option, and somehow make this whole mess even worse? Because the reality is, this situation is far too complex for an up-or-down referendum, which, by the way, was also true of the first fucking one, because when voters were just asked to leave or stay without a sense of what that might actually mean. The first referendum was a terrible idea, because it was the government punting a difficult decision to the people, which, in the people’s defense, is not their job. They elect politicians to make reasoned, fact-based decisions on their behalf. That’s how representative democracy works. And you know who could’ve told you all of this at the time? The people of “Gogglebox.” Just watch them react to the referendum being announced in 2016.
Do you think everybody knows enough to be able to vote? I know there must be other people like me. This is what’s worrying me. I’m worried that people aren’t well-informed enough to make the decision. It’s such a big decision. I don’t understand it. And then I don’t want to vote on something that I don’t really truly understand.
Right. That is an intelligent thing to say. Sometimes you don’t know stuff, so you hire someone else to know it for you. If you came to your doctor with stomach pain, and he said, “well, what do you think? Should your appendix leave or remain?” You’d probably say, “don’t ask me. Do your fucking job!”
Look, a true act of political courage at this point wouldn’t be to call for a second referendum — something that Theresa May’s already said she won’t do. It would be to acknowledge that the first one was fatally flawed and that carrying it out will do long-term damage to the country and then canceling Brexit altogether. But it seems that there is no way that’s happening. Instead, Britain seems determined to step firmly down upon the rake of history and suffer the consequences. And I wish I could offer you a rousing, churchillian speech now about how everything’s going to be okay, but under the circumstances, honestly, the best I can offer you is this.
People of Britain, throughout history, we’ve faced our share of dark hours. The great war. The blitz. And that time when Deborah accidentally used Howard’s custard in her own trifle. That’s my custard. Oh, no. So sorry, Howard. And through all this, our stiff upper lip has prevailed, because this country is not for turning, not when other countries have tried to destroy us and not when we are in the midst of trying to destroy ourselves. And I know some are yelling, Britain, come back, don’t do this! You’re pointlessly fucking yourselves! And to them, we say, oh, we have not even begun to fuck ourselves. We shall fuck ourselves at the ports. We shall fuck ourselves at the shops. We shall fuck ourselves in the hospitals and in the fields. We shall never surrender. And when the dust clears, what will remain? Britain. Not the same Britain, certainly. A worse one with a weaker economy. Possibly no fresh fruit and a great deal of confusion over how horses can go on holiday. But Britain nonetheless. And once we have delivered this mortal wound to ourselves, we will savor the taste of victory, a victory that tastes like mummified chicken fajitas!
That’s our show, thanks so much for watching. See you next week, good night!