Brexit – a triumph of democracy or a failure of reason?

By   /   June 25, 2016  /   22 Comments

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The Brexit vote is being read as a victory of racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant dissent. By preying on fears of Britain losing its Britishness, and harking back to nostalgic nationalist pride, ‘Leave’ voters, it’s suggested, have been manipulated into believing it’s the EU and immigrants and refugees, that are responsible for joblessness, homelessness and reduced state services.

united kingdom exit from europe relative image

The working class citizens of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland will be cheering the ‘bravery’ of the Brexit voters who delivered the surprise victory to the ‘Leave’ campaign in the British European Union referendum. For the dispossessed, disenfranchised, poor, and rural voters; those ‘left behind’ by globalisation and mainstream economics, the Brexit vote gives the middle finger to pan-national institutions who impose inflexible, remote bureaucracy, austerity and neo-liberal ‘solutions’ to the problems created by capitalism.

But political parties have warned of a countervailing risk. Giving the EU credit for labour policies negotiated by unions, supporters of the ‘Remain’ campaign point to allegedly progressively higher standards of human, environmental and workers’ rights which may be lost as Britain develops its own policies, even though in some cases British standards are higher than the EU’s. But the loss of economic scale and critical mass provided by the European market, and the spectre of exit itself, may give authorities an excuse for more austerity and social service budget cuts, rather than flexibility to support more. With markets, temporarily at least, in panic mode, and early threats of market contraction and recession, conservative governments will be further able to justify budget cuts and austerity, with the greatest impacts on those already disadvantaged, powerless and poor. Indeed, British Chancellor George Osborne has already warned that the loss of billions of pounds of EU investment “could only be filled through tax rises and more public spending cuts”. Brexit may become not the solution to austerity, but the justification for more.

Those Brits “embittered by poverty”, humiliated by long term unemployment, despairing of underfunded services, and housing shortages, have found a foil to rally against in the European Union, and a voice for expression in the ‘Leave’ vote, even though the EU is peripheral, barely causal, to many of their concerns. Capitalism’s consequences of growing inequality and impoverishment won’t be solved by exiting from the EU itself, but may even make matters worse.

When international neo-liberalism is the model, sovereignty is a myth, and the limits of state intervention are determined not by the government but by the market. And these markets are too big to fail. The Bank of England is reassuring investors and markets that it will do everything possible to steady the economy. But there have been no similar promises to workers, that all action will be taken to provide job security in this time of potential turmoil, or the homeless, that their basic needs will be addressed. Ultimately, the European Union is and always has been, first and foremost, an economic pact, not a social one. But the initial offer of £250bn from the Bank of England to other banks in support of economic stability is particularly galling in that it was speculation on the outcome of the vote that has left the markets overexposed today. As in the Global Financial Crisis, once again they’re being rewarded by the state for dodgy gambles, although clearly there’s a whole economic system at stake.

The Brexit vote is being read as a victory of racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant dissent. By preying on fears of Britain losing its Britishness, and harking back to nostalgic nationalist pride, ‘Leave’ voters, it’s suggested, have been manipulated into believing it’s the EU and immigrants and refugees, that are responsible for joblessness, homelessness and reduced state services.

Net migration in the UK has grown from about 37,000 people on average every year from 1991-1995, to an average of 249,000 p.a in 2011-2015, but in 2014 for example, only 45% were from the European Union, with the majority from the Commonwealth countries, legacies of colonialism. And of course, immigration is a two-way street with British citizens continuing to emigrate in considerable numbers around the world today. Instead of being directed at immigrants, the rightful target for the anger about housing and job shortages, are governments who strip back the welfare state, provide inadequate security for workers, the ill and the poor; and the multinationals that shift their manufacturing offshore, seeking lower wages and less protection elsewhere, so domestic consumers, in a false economy, can buy ever cheaper goods at home.

The Brexit vote has exposed other divisions in Britain with gaps in the preferences of young and old, town and country, rich and poor. 64% of young people under 24 voted to remain in the EU while only 24% wanted to leave. Only 33% of those over 65 voted to stay, but 58% wanted to exit. Some young people say older generations (with “less years to live”) have vetoed their opportunities for travel and work. However, various degrees of association could be negotiated, that allow Britain borderless passage and trade deals, without representation or votes on wider European Union decisions. Brexit isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game.

The ‘Leave’ vote prevailed in almost every region, in Wales, the English Shires, North and South, but the ‘Remain’ vote was dominant in London, the cities and Scotland. That highlights a huge level of dissent with not just the EU, but with government institutions more generally, with people economically struggling outside thriving London, and seeking more self-determination, better economic fortunes, “sovereignty”, more accountability from political elites, less bureaucracy, all condensed in sentiment against the ‘monolithic’ EU.

Boris Johnson in the ‘Leave’ corner, contended that Britain could be more powerful and successful outside the EU, but this remains to be seen. As second largest economy in the EU, Britain’s departure from the trade bloc won’t be an end to UK-European trade, though a huge amount of extraction from current trade agreements and renegotiation of new ones will eventually be in order. This possibly offers new opportunities for countries like ours disadvantaged by the UK’s initial entry to the EU’s precursor in 1973. The formal entrenchment of Britain in the EU has taken over 45 years to develop, and its extrication won’t happen overnight either. Unless the banks freak out and go off the rails, there’s no reason why a moderated, negotiated business as usual approach won’t smooth the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU from here on in. There are lots of incentives for governments, banks and businesses to keep a cool head, and self interest in sustaining the prevailing economic order is one of them.

But the Brexit vote has sparked a flame that is heating up the coals of dissent elsewhere. The Scottish preference to remain in the EU is contrasted with England’s preference to leave. No doubt calls for another referendum on Scottish independence will emerge. Ironically, England’s self-determined right to leave the EU might reinvigorate Scotland’s self-determined right to leave the UK. The Brexit vote could undermine not just the EU, but the UK itself, furthering a dis-United Kingdom. The contagion effect is also likely to be felt in Continental Europe with the Left in Southern European countries and the Right in France, Germany and elsewhere all using the Brexit vote to defend their own resistance to the EU.

Whether a ‘triumph of democracy’, or a ‘failure of reason’, a ‘revolution’ or a ‘crisis’, the Brexit vote has exposed weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the walls of Fortress Europe. The EU stared down Grexit, but failed to withstand Brexit. We will watch in half-fearful fascination, and wonder, who, and what nexit?

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22 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Hi Christine Rose ,

    Good analogy but I hasten to add a point lost in your presentation.

    When you said “with people economically struggling outside thriving London, and seeking more self-determination, better economic fortunes, “sovereignty”, more accountability from political elites, less bureaucracy, all condensed in sentiment against the ‘monolithic’ EU.” you should then use this warning on this “NZ National “Austerity crazed” Government (as my wife puts it) to also suggest that John Key should take note from this “Collapse in provincial regions that forced Cameron to quit and may happen to Key here in NZ for the same reasons of reasons of the same regional hardship “with people economically struggling outside thriving London, and seeking more self-determination, better economic fortunes, “sovereignty” as Key’s Government is actively intervening in most NZ regions with his MBIE Ministry of “Economic Development” SS Joyce propaganda that has just been as much an adjective failure in regional NZ as EU model has been for their regions that voted “Leave”.

    look inside most regional papers around NZ, and see that most infrastructure is failing such as poor roads as at the same time the options for rail freight/passenger services are dying or shut down while road transport is causing weekly accidents or killing many on all Northland, central East coast,HB’,Wairarapa, Canterbury, Otago roads while their economies continue to shrink while Auckland economy booms and you will see a pattern here.

    Mr Key & SS Joyce heed this warning, let the provinces continue to suffer and they may also hand you a defeat in next years’ election!!!

  2. phillip ure says:

    yes..those young who voted did favour remaining – but only 40% of eligible young voters actually voted..

    ..and those canny scots voted 62% to 38% to stay…(bye bye u.k!..)

    ..and if you want to know what sort of person voted to leave – the tory lord ashcroft has a polling company – and he has published the best on that i have seen..

    http://www.whoar.co.nz/2016/ed-clearest-picture-whowhy-voting-patterns-brexit-done-lord-ashcroft-makes-depressing-reading/

    ..in short..as you will see..they are very much like yr bog-standard nz first voter..eh.?

    funny that..!

    • phillip ure says:

      a major reason why there is certainty scotland will leave uk is because one of the major arguments for remain in their recent referendum (which was very close..)

      ..was that if scotland left the uk – they would lose eu rights/privileges..

      so..

    • phillip ure says:

      correction:..

      i said that 40 % of young people voted..

      ..it was actually 36% of 18-24 yr olds who cd be bothered putting down their controllers/phones and going to the ballot-box..

      ..useless twats..!

      ..throw that stat at any crowing millennial…that shd shut them up..

      • phillip ure says:

        and as for my bloody generation – 83% of them voted…and only about 36% voted to stay..

        ..useless/stupid old bastards..!

        ..does anyone know if i can officially resign from a generation..?

        ..get a change of generation by deed-poll…?

        ..get me a lawyer..!

        ..i want outta here..!

        ..i am surrounded by nz first voters…!

        ..aarrgghh!!

  3. Glenn says:

    You don’t mention the Northern Ireland result.

    They voted to stay in the EU, and there’s a convincing argument for a vote there on whether they want to stay in the UK or the EU. The extension of the EU path is eventual Irish reunification. 🙂

  4. phillip ure says:

    maybe peters cd ask paul henry if he could borrow his nz flag-jacket..

    ..it worked for nigel farage…

  5. phillip ure says:

    brexit:..the cereal you can’t digest..

    brexit:..the laxative that constipates..

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    I followed the EU foreign minister summit in Berlin tonight, on Al Jazeera, they seem to have no answers and to be in turmoil. But to get it straight, we have no solutions anyway, the independence of humans seized years ago. Once you sign up with Twitter, Facebook and the rest, you will be mentally and otherwise enslaved for the rest of your existence, also by advertising and consumerism, and you will be tracked and traced 24/7.

    Most out there live in total denial, not wanting to hear this.

    As for Brexit, it is an irrelevant side show, it is just the beginning of the end, of the disfunctional EU, a failed project and humans thinking they can be masters of their fate.

    It started with the idiotic religious idiots writing such stuff as the Bible, that humans are somehow superior. But the superiority complex of humans is exactly why humans will self destroy, they just keep repeating history, the EU disaster is the perfect example.

    Prepare for WW3, it will come, sooner or later. Humans are flawed, but deny they are, we all are flawed, but pretend we are in control and near perfect.

    Fuck the human species, I say.

    • phillip ure says:

      been drinking the nihilist kool-ade there..?..blake..?

      (and sheesh..!..it might even rain..)

      ..arer you young and intense or at the other end of the spectrum..?

      ..old and cynical..

    • GettingOn says:

      Interesting times. It’s hard to say whether Brexit is the beginning of the end (as the media portrays it) or the start of something new. While I probably would have voted remain, like many it would have been a vote for the status quo rather than an intellectual decision after analysing the data.
      ‘Experts’ and economists in the media were anti-Brexit, but many outside of mainstream channels saw things differently.

  7. Mike in Auckland says:

    The only good thing that may come out of this is Scottish independence, at last.

  8. Archonblatter says:

    And especially fuck Francis Fukuyama. We are not at the end of history and never will be.
    “War and globalization go hand in hand.” Michel Chossudovsky.
    The professional paraders of virtue are too concerned with their own parade to understand this or to comprehend that vast numbers of refugees fleeing across the planet along with vast numbers of economic migrants are about the weaponization of people and the “globalization of poverty.” They are too busy dancing the minority rights mazurka or the greeny gay gordons to consider the horrors perpetrated across our earth by the deep state and their agents the World Bank, the IMF, NATO and the CIA.
    It is amusing to read the sanctimonious blather about how this candidate or that rabble rouser is “deeply flawed” when even the legendary J.C. is reported to have said that “there is none good, not one.”
    In the future the division will be about those who actually care about life on our planet in all its swaggering complexity and want to preserve it and those who very clearly do not. The latter will need to be erased from the sphere which they so obviously hate.

    http://russia-insider.com/en/brexit-signals-end-neocons-end-history/ri15213

  9. Blake says:

    The people spoke. Good riddance to the fear encouraging and war mongering lot.
    They told the elite that it is the people deciding and not the corporate and banker and right wing politicians and lobbyists. They stood up for their rights and won. Hallelujah ! !
    Great day ! ! and Cameron leaving in October is also very good news about the people taking back their power. Prison state crumbles and others will follow. People are sick of being dictated to.

    Now please have an open mind as you listen to David Icke on this issue.
    This is not the same link I put up before, it is just hours old and new, not published by TDB before (very likely).

    https://www.davidicke.com/article_search/2016/6/25?headlines=1

  10. Mike in Auckland says:

    “Net migration in the UK has grown from about 37,000 people on average every year from 1991-1995, to an average of 249,000 p.a in 2011-2015, but in 2014 for example, only 45% were from the European Union, with the majority from the Commonwealth countries, legacies of colonialism.”

    So 249,000 for a country with 64 million people, where does it leave us then with 64,000 per annum for a country with only 4.5 million???

    See the challenge here, that few like to address, the elephant in the room behind artificially boosted economic growth and the housing affordability crisis and stagnant incomes for many?

    Just raising concern about immigration here puts one at risk of being called a xenophobe or racist, PC gone mad I think.

    • maninthemiddle says:

      I agree. Immigration policies of the past 30 or so years have changed Britain, and not for the better. What is wrong with calling out those who seek to undermine the culture and institutions of Britain, at the same time accepting the benefits of living in a western democracy.

      • Sam Sam says:

        So when will you be denouncing John Key and other right wing extremists for undermining culture and institutions in New Zealand and every other western democracy?

        • Indeed, Sam. And will maninthemiddle support a referendum here in New Zealand to give voters the right to choose whether or not to join the TPPA?

          Unless I missed it, he’s studiously ignored that question put to him.

        • Blake says:

          Exactly Sam – when will we be serving the – ” shove off ” papers to our – not so esteemed – serial lying PM ? He and
          Cameron are good mates and cut from the same cloth.

          The arts and culture funding is pathetic in this country.
          Those suffering will continue to under this train wreck govt.

          How can we remove our PM ? How can we sign the petition ?

      • I agree. Immigration policies of the past 30 or so years have changed Britain, and not for the better.

        Maori might well say the say thing about Pakeha immigration to Aotearoa.