Brexit

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I’ve been watching the Brexit debate with quite a bit of uneasiness, but also a quiet confidence that the Remain camp would ultimately win the day. Because there’s no way the people of the UK could be that ridiculous, despite all evidence to the contrary.

As I went to bed last night the initial polls were putting Remain at a small majority and Nigel Farage, leader of the odious UKIP party, had all but admitted defeat, further bolstering my confidence. So I was shocked to wake up to a text from a friend announcing the bad news: the vote swung the other way. The UK has voted to leave the EU.

Maybe you don’t quite understand why this is such a big deal. I’m not an expert by any means, but here’s my take on the possible repercussions of the vote.

The most pressing issue is the economy– there’s been a cavalcade of experts warning that the UK cutting itself off from the EU trade zone is going to be disastrous. Attempts by Brexit supporters at refuting this have mostly resembled Donald Trump-style chest-beating and empty belligerence.

It could also be bad for the economy of its neighbours, and since I happen to live in one of those neighbours this is an issue of personal concern. Ireland, like many European countries, has only just begun to recover from the 2008 recession; we didn’t need an upset like this. The possibility has been raised of international companies pulling out of Britain and relocating here, which could be an unexpected boon; but if it comes at the expense of Europe as a whole it will feel like a Pyrrhic victory.

Things get decidedly more grim when you start to ask why people in the UK would risk this level of turmoil. What was at stake here? What were they fighting for?

Some shops in my town sell an English newspaper called the Daily Express, which as far as I can tell is right-wing propaganda for people who think the Daily Mail is too restrained. On any given day there’s a greater than 50% chance that its front-page headline will be railing against some inconsequential-sounding EU policy on tractor maintenance or wool import tariffs or something (I assume the people who write these headlines are currently experiencing a string of uninterrupted orgasms as we speak). I seriously doubt that the people behind the newspaper are actually as incensed over these things as they claim, and I doubt even further that their readers are. The actual motivation is a raging nationalism that can’t tolerate the idea of Britain taking orders on any level from a foreign power. They used to have an empire! They used to be the foreign power, taming the uppity natives and bringing the joys of cricket to brown people all over the world! Remember that? Remember the good old days?

That exact same attitude locked Europe into a state of continuous warfare for centuries. The EU and its predecessors have been a stabilizing force on the continent. I’m not saying the UK is going to leave and then decide to declare war on France, but with tensions between Russia and the rest of the world building we could benefit from any political influence that’s going to promote stability and unity.

But it gets worse when you dig into the other forces that promoted and supported the Brexit effort. Hatred and fear of immigrants. Racism. Xenophobia. The far-right is on the rise in Europe again, egged on by the emerging international “alt-right”, and today it saw its first victory. The people of the UK have sent a message that they can and will be swayed by fear-mongering rhetoric to vote in lockstep with fascists. Much has been (understandably) made about the frightening surge in American extremism in the wake of Donald Trump, but I think people ignore the similar mindset that’s been bubbling below the surface across the Atlantic. An isolated UK could become a kind of petri dish for the new European fascism.

A dubious consolation is the fact that the UK might not be the UK for much longer. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and faced with the prospect of being dragged out of it by England and Wales, could successfully make a bid for independence. The failed referendum a few years ago was seen by many as a temporary set-back on its inevitable path to leaving the UK, and this could be the catalyst that pushes Scottish voters over the edge.

More surprising is that Northern Ireland also voted to remain, and is now facing a similar situation of being tied into a course a majority of its citizens don’t want to follow. Could this lead to a vote over a united Ireland? Probably not by itself, and probably not in the near future, but the possibility now seems more plausible than it did 24 hours ago. And to put it delicately, the question of Northern Ireland’s political affiliation isn’t one that’s tended to be debated peacefully. Just putting the possibility on the table could see the resurgence of the dormant republican movement that gave birth to the IRA and its successors; if the referendum actually passed, trouble could come from their unionist equivalents in the North. Either way, an uncertain future for the integrity of the UK risks waking a giant that was only put to sleep in the very recent past.

My only hope in all of this is that the negative consequences of the Leave vote will hit hard and fast, and the people who pushed this referendum will lose their public support as a result. But with exit negotiations expected to last two years at least, there’s plenty of time for the British right-wing to spin the situation to their advantage and come up with a convincing cover story.

If you think I’m over-reacting by invoking fascists and neo-nazis, think of it this way: for decades those groups have used the EU as a scapegoat to explain why Britain was unable to return to the perceived greatness of the good old days of Empire and white domination. When Britain leaves and that greatness still doesn’t return– when the economy is falling and the United Kingdom is breaking apart– they’re going to need a new scapegoat. Who do you think they’ll choose? The liberal politicians at home will be first. Then, when they’re voted out of office and time still hasn’t rewound to the glory days, others will take their place. Immigrants. Muslims. Those Other People. Tell me that doesn’t sound plausible.

So pat yourselves on the back, Great British public. You’ve voted to put your economy and the political stability of your centuries-old country in jeopardy at the behest of right-wing extremists who lied to you through their teeth, but you sure showed those bastards in Brussels what’s what!

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Brexit

  1. Pingback: Doing In The Wizard

  2. Toastehh

    I voted to stay but this post is a massive overreaction. Not all exiteers were anti-migrant, and not all anti-migrants were/are neo nazis.

    For a generally left wing bunch we’re forgetting that the EU -is- the wealthy urban international elite. To a Londoner these things are good. To Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, the EU is a nice alternative to the capital’s dominance over politics. But what is the EU to a decaying town in the Midlands with no economy and zero hours contracts for all? What do they care about international financial markets that they don’t see a penny from? Why would they not lash out at a foreign institution built on schmooze and privilege, even against their own best interests?

    I’d also add that if the EU hadn’t treated our attempts to re-negotiate our membership with such obvious contempt, the chances are people would have voted to stay. They humiliated the country on the world stage, thinking ‘oh no they won’t dare do anything about it’. During the campaign, they never tried to win people over, only insulted and threatened them. How would you expect people to react to that?

    I didn’t even want to leave but I’m sick of the ‘international community’ strawmanning us as racists for taking issue with a very flawed organisation.

    Reply
    1. Ben

      Yeah, I don’t really buy that explanation. Where was this solidarity against wealthy urban international elites while they’ve had their collective boot on the neck of Greece over the past half decade? You’d think that’d be the perfect time to raise one’s voice against unilateral rules that only benefit the rich and powerful in the EU, but I remember scarcely a single British commentator of any political stripe speaking in favor of Greece. It was overwhelmingly that the Greeks, both politicians and citizens, had made their bed and they should lie in it for as long as the rest of the EU deemed necessary, because those were the rules. And yet, when the United Kingdom comes to the table, looking to make itself exception, NOW the rules should be mutable? Uh huh.

      Let it be said, I have little love for the EU myself and believe that it needs reform badly (along DiEM25 lines, although that’s totally pie-in-the-sky), but its refusal to negotiate against its own interests to keep member states present and solvent shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The only reason you think that the UK should have succeeded where Greece failed is if you think that there’s something special about the UK that deserves recognition. In fact, there is: that thing is a large and strong economy, but if you think that that means the rules should have been bent, it sounds like you agree with the principles of the EU after all. They just don’t agree with you.

      Reply
  3. Vartul

    I’m pretty uninformed about the politics involved here, but did David Cameron HAVE to go for a referendum? Couldn’t he have, as the representative of his people, taken the decision himself instead of laying it on the public?

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      He didn’t have to, no. But if people wanted it and he refused, that would have a negative impact on his party’s chances for re-election, as another party would come in and promise to hold the referendum.

      I’ve also seen it suggested that the decision to hold a referendum was also in part an attempt to stop important Conservative Party members from jumping ship to the UK Independence Party.

      Reply
  4. reveen

    I want to be optimistic and say that hopefully the EU, in the event of the split actually happening, will start looking into more mutually beneficial trade deals and investments with more second stringer countries and non-EU countries to pick up the slack. Ireland could use more foreign investment, so could an independent Scotland if this development revives their independence movement, both of these countries and others might receive an influx of immigration from the UK as their economic situation keep deteriorating.

    But my optimism is kinda stymied by me seeing this as just the start. Since we’ve now seen how the current creep of the far right into mainstream politics is both impervious to reality and can effect real political change this might keep getting worse before it gets better.

    Reply
  5. Ian

    Your shock at the people’s behavior in Britain is kinda indicative of your inability to understand their point of view… I largely agree with you that I his was a bad move, but you downplay the migrant crisis situation and its impact on peoples’ thought processes, for one.

    Imo!

    Reply
    1. braak

      The only crisis caused by migrants is that some people don’t like the fact that they exist in the first place. There is zero reason to think that any of the UK’s economic or social problems have more to do with too many immigrants than they do with, for instance, Cameron’s penny-pinching austerity politics.

      Reply
  6. Siluce

    Great article, Ronan, but I wish there weren’t any need for you to write it. This came quite out of left field to me, I would not have guessed this outcome. This ever-continuing popularity of extreme right-wing politics is really setting my teeth on edge.

    Reply
  7. Signatus

    The damage is done. With almost 5 million unemployed in my country, the IBEX 35 dropped by almost 12% in the stock market, which is JUST what we needed. With the financial situation in my house precarious at best… this has been like a bucket of cold water. Unexpected, unnecessary at this exact moment, and it open a full load of Pandora box shit for my nation (with over 3 raging nationalist movements wanting to split from the chore of the nation).

    Yeah, well done, England, You’re dragging all of us down.

    Reply
      1. Signatus

        I never said we weren’t at fault. The 5 million unemployed, the construction bubble, the stupid political decisions are all on us. But in a globalized economy the butterfly effect applies more than ever. With the EU barely getting out of the stupid financial crisis we plummeted on, this was definitely a not very wise movement for both, the EU, the countries we have bilateral treaties with and UK at a whole.

        Reply
  8. A. Noyd

    They used to have an empire! They used to be the foreign power, taming the uppity natives and bringing the joys of cricket to brown people all over the world! Remember that? Remember the good old days?

    Yeah, now that the chickens are coming home to roost, the former empire is nailing the coop shut.

    Reply
  9. MightyDwarf

    Aside from a second Scottish independence referendum, there have been calls for an independent London. You may call this unlikely, but Donald Trump as the GOP candidate and Leave winning were also called unlikely. =V

    More seriously, I’m still hoping Britain will manage to unfuck this because I have a friend who lives there, but the EU seems to apparently be adopting an attitude of “well, fuck you too and I hope the doors hit you on the way out” by wanting the UK to invoke Article 50 next week, so… this is now happening.

    (as an aside, I’ve been following your blog for a while and it kinda feels /weird/ that my first comment here is about Brexit. Sheeesh.)

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      The results of the referendum aren’t binding and there’s apparently a ton of people who voted to leave out of spite and didn’t actually expect it to happen (which BLOWS MY GOD DAMN MIND) who now regret it, so maybe the situation can somehow be salvaged. People need to make themselves heard: get out protesting, sign petitions, get a poll going. If there’s evidence that the referendum didn’t actually reflect the will of the majority then maybe…

      Reply
      1. rshunter88

        It’s all over Twitter and in the news: people voted Leave but didn’t actually think it would happen, or that it was a protest vote. Regrexit indeed. Blows my mind too, and I don’t live in the UK!

        Reply

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