It’s official, the UK. will withdraw from the European Union. Article 50 will be triggered and the withdrawal process can take up to 2 years, so by 2018 – the UK will forever be severed with the EU. As a casual but interested observer from across the Pond, I’ve followed the campaign with some degree of regularity. I read the opinion and pieces from the Leave and Remain camp to see what where each side stood and why, and excluding the really bigoted views from the UKIP and others such as Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan from the Daily Mail; I can relate and understand the issues each side present even if I don’t agree what’s being said.
When David Cameron said in 2013 he will put it to the British people via referendum to decide whether to Remain or Leave in the EU after he attempts a series of negotiations which will give some power and concessions back to the U.K., I thought it was foolhardy and risky. He was tempting fate and putting his political future on the line for something that can go either way. Political leaders should only put a referendum to a vote when they are sure of the result and more importantly, it’s a result the political party in power wants. Cameron was under pressure from the far right, some Tory voters have defected to UKIP because of the the U.K. relationship with the EU, especially on the issue of immigration, migration and a perceived lack of control of UK’s borders. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, can be described as a more toned down version of Donald Trump. He is against immigration, EU migration and has engaged in similar dog whistling racism of the silent majority (white British people). Farage is a proto-fascist who is unapologetic for his views, who thinks all of the ills that plague the UK can be traced to EU migrants, immigrants and Muslims. David Cameron has dismissed the UKIP as a lot of “fruitcakes”, “loonies” and “closet racists”. Farage didn’t mind being called a fruitcake or loony (because he is), but he took umbrage at being called a racist and demanded an apology from Cameron, which he refused to give.
As soon as it became clear that the Leave side was triumphant, Nigel Farage gave three separate speeches to three separate reporters on the BBC (yes, I stayed up and watched the live results) and he does sound a bit looney and fruitcake-y, especially when he immediately backtracked on how he’ll give the 350 million GBP savings to the NHS every week when UK leaves the EU (the supposed savings per week from withdrawing from the EU).
The Referendum interested me because the tone is, in some ways, mirroring the political discourse in the US. We have Donald Trump, another proto-fascist, who wants to build a wall on our southern border to prevent Mexicans from coming over (and make the Mexican government pay for it), ban all Muslims and deport all illegal immigrants (which number from 10-12 million). Trump’s supporters ate this up, Trump, like the UKIP have convinced the disenfranchised working class of America that if we just kick out all the brown people who are here to steal your jobs and Muslims who are terrorising our neighborhoods, everything will be fine again. One difference is while Donald Trump doesn’t use dog whistling racism to bait his voters – he uses outright racism and bigotry, the UKIP at least attempt to look civil on the race baiting front.
Like many observers, I thought the EU Referendum was just one big expensive political stunt, something Cameron must do because it was his re-election promise, to let the British people decide their future and to stem the bleed of voters over to the UKIP side; and ultimately, the Remain will win, everyone will come to their senses in the 11th hour and realize what a huge mistake it was to even contemplate leaving the EU. Cameron also negotiated on behalf of the British people to get some concessions from the EU, a good rundown of that list is here in this link. Whether the so-called concessions gained were genuine and enforceable or just the same words rewritten in different jargon and legalese, that’s for the British public to decide. But what can’t be denied is the EU isn’t too keen on offering the UK too many concessions because they need to keep the Southern European members who have huge sovereign debt in line. If UK gets concessions, the governing body of EU is afraid that everyone else will begin asking for them too – especially the troubled members like Greece, Spain and Italy. And it’s fair to point out, from the point of view of the EU; the UK, from the outset already enjoys a lot of perks that other member states don’t enjoy. The UK isn’t part of the Schengen Agreement (free movement zone), which does give UK some control over its borders (if not total control) and because they aren’t part of Schengen they do not have to take in any refugees in Europe if they don’t want to (and they haven’t). The UK did not join the common currency so to a large degree the Bank of England still has control over its own currency and economy and London is one of the financial centers of the world, after New York and Hong Kong, so they enjoy a lot of perks the other European member states don’t.
While the British Right mounted a serious and often ugly campaign for Leave, the Left, in my view, didn’t put in its strongest effort. Though David Cameron himself was for Remain, he’s got no credibility with the working class and the Left. He is seen as a politician who espoused a view that suited him, not the British public. Business and political elites of course want to remain in EU, they have business and political interests. Those on the Left want to remain in the EU for worker and union protection, environmental protection and they are pro-immigration. The Labor Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in my view, made a fatal mistake when he said “I am 7 out of 10 for EU”, which shows some doubt. The Labor Party and the Left was just riding on hope that the British public just won’t vote themselves out of the EU, even if the EU isn’t perfect and leaves much to be desired.
The irony here is there is a lot that needs improving in the EU. It’s a bloated bureaucracy where a lot of the leaders making decisions on behalf of 28 nations soon to be 27 aren’t elected. They enjoy huge salaries and perks for sitting up in Brussels and telling people what to do and how to run their countries. The tentacles are far reaching, from legitimate things such as protecting human rights in members states, to worker’s rights, protecting unions and the environment, free movement of labor but they also interfere in the laws and legal system of each member state which most find off putting. They’ve also not done a good job at running the economy at large. The single currency, if one is honest is nothing short of a disaster. The weaker southern European economies have been in a recession for the past 8 years with youth unemployment at 50% and they also bear the brunt of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. The unelected decisionmakers are not very good at decisive decisions regarding the economy at moments of crisis. They just kick the proverbial can down the road. But a lot of these very tangible issues with the EU were not emphasized, debated or discussed at large. The one that is emphasized over and over again, is the free movement of people, or immigration and economic migration from within the Eurozone and how that ultimately harms Britain. The Leave campaign made it appear that all these migrants come to UK, sponge off of the generous welfare state and free health services without contributing to it. This is the most often repeated trope for fascists. Immigrants (illegal or not) come to rich countries just to sponge off of law abiding taxpayers. They are here to take and not contribute. When in fact study after study shows that immigrants, regardless if legal or not, is almost always a net contribution.
So the lessons to be learned from the Brexit are:
- Don’t bait the bear. It’ll bite. Especially an hangry one (hungry and angry).
- Where there is vast inequality, don’t count on the common sense of the public to prevail. When there has been generational poverty due to bleeding of jobs from the union busting days of the Thatcher years and globalization and the neoliberals have patronized these people instead of helping them, don’t expect them to be sensible or loyal to the Labor Party, they’ve no reason to be.
- When the prime minister who is from the elite circles of British society, who comes from a rich family, who married an even richer one, decides to enact brutal and painful austerity and cuts across the whole of the UK even in the most economically deprived areas but cut taxes for the rich and say “we are all in this together” and everyone spits out their afternoon tea; no one will believe a word he says when he says it’s best for the national interest to Remain (even if it’s true). It’s like Hillary Clinton demanding loyalty from previous Democratic party voters.
- Use race baiting and hateful language and expect it to not resonate with an angry and disenfranchised working class. Cameron described the migrants of Calais as “swarms” of people desperate to reach the UK and declare asylum to again, sponge off of the the British taxpayers.
- Holding a referendum and being economical with the facts for people to educate themselves with. Boiling down the debate to a few lightening rod talking points. Remain: all bigots and racists and ignoramuses, Leave: only the rich and business elites and lefty luuvies.
There is now talk of Scotland holding another Referendum for Independence from the United Kingdom since every constituency in Scotland voted to Remain and Scotland will on its own apply for EU membership. There is talk of reunification of Ireland because Northern Ireland chose to Remain as well and the Republic of Ireland is already a member of the EU, making Northern Irish nationalists very happy.
The Brexit Referendum was a nice distraction from the dismal state of affairs in the US for 24 hours. While I understand the huge repercussions for the working people of Britain, it was nice for the US to not be on the most messed up and confused list for 24 hours.