- Britain votes to leave the European Union
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A disaffected electorate becomes very unpredictable.
After decades of systematic blaming of the European Union for just about everything — from immigration to the shape of a vegetable — it is not hard to understand how and why, when things look bad, the simplest solution in the minds of many would be to leave such a Union.
To say that many are shocked by the outcome of the British EU referendum is to make a gross understatement. However, even while many are shocked, upon reflection they are not surprised.
The signs were already there when Prime Minister Cameron, leading a Liberal Democrat-Tory coalition was spooked by the rise of the UK Independence Party and decided to promise a Referendum on EU membership on the premise of a “reformed” Europe. Cameron clearly feared that without such a promise, the Tories would lose the general election.
Then, Cameron was buoyant. He won the Scottish referendum, where he pulled a fast one on the Scots (or so he thought), refusing to give them a third, DevoMax/Federalist option. This left Scottish Labour weakened as they had no choice but to appear on his side—a sight which the Scots detested and voted against come the Westminster General elections.
This paid off and while the Tories scooped most of the Liberal Democrats’ seats, they kept UKiP at bay and managed to take on the Government without the need for a coalition. Labour was routed and the SNP became the third largest party in the UK Parliament.
At that point Cameron appeared invincible. But payday came barely after a year into his premiership, when his promise for an EU Referendum revived the Tory Party’s old divide over Europe.
Labour cannot be excused from such a debacle.
Those who lived through the John Major years know very well what the Tory Euro-skeptics are made of. Then Major was caught off the record describing them as “bastards”. He kept them at bay and Blair’s sensational win appeared to defeat them. However, in politics what goes round comes round, and now the “bastards”, some of whom joined UKIP, are back with vengeance — and they appear to be on a winning streak. Britain is now on its way to exit the EU.
One could argue that this was a Tory affair. However, Labour cannot be excused from such a debacle. Jeremy Corbyn was never exactly a Euro-enthusiast and one could safely suggest that only now he appeared to be for EU membership. His support was considered lukewarm and there are voices already accusing him of not doing enough in this Referendum to keep Britain in.
What is certain is that Labour is still weak and with Scotland’s First Minister declaring that a second referendum is on the table, one awaits to see how Scottish Labour will react. The Federal option (which they should have pushed) is no longer viable, and this leaves them with a stark option: with an Independent Scotland in the EU or with a UK out.
If this were just a general election, then it would be easy to say this was one of those cycles where an anti-European phase takes over. However this is a referendum, and referenda tend to be blunt and reductive in their approach. More so, referenda are paradoxical in that although they are democratic instruments, their outcome overrides other democratic outcomes - and here we have a clear example where current MPs in the British Parliament are now out of sync with what the voters have decided over the EU.
It is hard to predict what would happen in Britain. However we know that in this referendum the “Leave” campaign peddled more than one myth and played on people’s hearts in many ways.
The first myth to be blown up will be that of immigration. The second will be the NHS. Nigel Farage has already backed off any guarantee about the NHS and he said that the sum calculated by the “Leave” campaign was a mistake. In terms of immigration, those who were rightly or wrongly worried about it will eventually realise that the EU was not the major source of immigration in Britain. The idea that the EU flow is stopped does not guarantee that immigration stops. Britain cannot isolate itself and close all borders to everyone.
One cannot help thinking of what this resurgent Right will mean to Europe and the rest of the world.
It is also interesting how Australia, once being considered as the British Empire’s backwater, is now emerging as a model for Brexiters in terms of the economy, immigration, and much much more. Isn't it strange that the once Motherland of the Empire is declaring “Independence” while claiming a nostalgic narrative that goes back to Empire, dreaming of the Commonwealth as a surrogate new market which Brexiters see as the possible saviour that will make Britain “great” again?
While one cannot dismiss the democratic expression of a people - and this is where one cannot ignore the Scottish and Irish desire to stay in Europe - one cannot help thinking of what this resurgent Right will mean to Europe and the rest of the world.
With populist leaders venting their nostalgia towards a national “greatness” that never was, one cannot help thinking whether, with all its claims on a managerial solution, the current political class could contain - let alone stop - this resurgence of the reactionary Right.
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