art by Unitas Quick
Brexit is bigger than the PM resigning or the money markets tumbling. Brexit is also about the arrogance of the ‘neo-liberal elite,’ overplaying their hand and refusing to listen to an increasingly isolated sector of British society. For many ‘Brexit is payback,’ — an ‘us and them moment’ that made political history when swathes of British people said, ‘Fuck you,’ to the ruling political class and changed the course of their country’s future forever.
England bows out of the European Union, David Cameron loses his premiership, and the future of Great Britain remains uncertain, in one of the biggest gambles in British political history. With financial markets on melt down, Hollywood tears on the steps of Downing Street and Labour MP Jo Cox brutally murdered days before the vote, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching the opening scenes of a blockbuster movie. No such luck, this was all played out in real-time to an ever pensive global audience.
Britain voted to stay in the EU in 1975. At that time the EU comprised of 9 member states and they were voting to remain inside a ‘common market.’ Jump forward a few decades, and the EU boasts 28 member states, 19 of which all share the same currency, and an expanding population of over 500 million people. More significantly, the EU has also broadened its trading ambition to become a fully comprehensive political union, allowing Brussels to influence domestic policy and the law in member states. The EU issue has been a permanent thorn in the side of various Tory leaders including John Major and notably the grand dame of the Conservative party Baroness Thatcher. Brexit doesn’t change a thing as until Article 50 is triggered it will continue to be a ‘poison chalice,’ for any Tory leader brave enough to step into the race.
For a long time economic stability and financial growth put the issue of Europe and Britain’s relationship with Europe on the back burner but then things changed.
An increase in European migration from the Eastern European countries that joined the EU led to a population swell in the UK, notably new arrivals from Eastern Europe. Initially they were welcomed and prized for their strong work ethic and easy assimilation into British society. Waitresses, bar staff, plumbers and of course the ever popular Polish construction workers became part of British life.
But the financial tsunami in 2008, a squeeze on wages and a savage cut in living standards led to resentment and prejudice. None of the big parties Labour or Tories saw this wave of anti-migrant feeling: enter Nigel Farage, ultra right-wing political leader of UKIP (UK Independence Party), who stoked up the fire and rhetoric of fear and hate of mass migration leading the call for Brexit, with support from Boris Johnson the former mayor of London.
To assuage the people’s growing discontent with migration and satisfy his own party critics, David Cameron took an unprecedented risk, staking his political reputation and the future of Great Britain on a single issue referendum vote: In or Out of Europe?
The result : Britain Turns Her Back on the EU
In a shock decision that caused seismic waves from Frankfurt to Washington the British public opted: OUT.
The decision to leave Europe’s biggest club shows a divided Britain segregated on class, race and generational lines. The more affluent parts of the country voted resoundingly to stay. Older voters, pitted against younger optimistic ones, also favoured leaving, and traditional immigrant communities largely voted to remain, although considerable numbers of Black and Asian voters also voted to leave. Here’s what some voters said when asked why they voted to go :
Payback For austerity, for cutting services, for ‘betrayal of the working class’, ‘for favouring foreign workers, over local ones,’ ‘ to kick the government in the balls and hurt the bankers,’ ‘to punish the ruling political elite,’ ‘Brussels is run by unelected number-crunchers, Britain needs to take control back,’ ‘to see the breakup of the European union,’ ‘I like chaos I wanted a change,’ ‘Wanted to punish the govt for their arrogance – force Cameron out of office, I’m not a racist, I’m not a xenophobe, I can’t fucking stand all the political hypocrisy, it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else. They ‘re all big talk promises but big talk don’t cut it and they sold me out. I’ve worked every day of my life until my job got taken away and I was left to survive on charity and handouts, I couldn’t claim benefits, they get away with fiddling expenses and don’t care about everyday people.’
A shortage in affordable housing, lack of job opportunities and a decline in traditional working class industries has also left ordinary working class families disillusioned and ‘invisible,’ to the politicians in Whitehall and this bubbling cauldron of inequality and division caused a seismic shift in voting patterns.
The anti-Europe revolt gathered speed and momentum in the run up to the vote, with hot talk of ‘terrorists entering the UK,’ the birth rate of Turkey (who want to join the EU), and the population overspill from migration . The Brexit Campaign was criticised for whipping up hate and fear. Days before the vote, UKIP leader Farage unveiled an anti-immigration poster showing a line of non-white refugees with the slogan ‘Breaking Point The EU Has Failed Us All.’ The poster was roundly condemned and drew comparisons with Nazi propaganda of refugees. Farage remains robustly unapologetic.
And Now What?
On June 23rd 2016, the people of Britain headed to the polls for the biggest decision facing them in a generation. By breakfast time the next morning, the stock market had plummeted to an all time low: 52% of the UK population had voted to leave and the fallout had begun showing a heavily divided Britain in political and social turmoil.
Brexit claimed the Prime Minister’s head but also prompted a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, the labour leader, and started a domino effect on EU membership: Scotland calling for another EU referendum, and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness is seeking a vote to ‘unify Ireland’s borders.’ Other member states are now pressing for change, prompting the EU to urge the UK to push forward with their withdrawal from the EU.
Border Free Work, Travel Living:
Just days after voting to leave, 2 million Brits and UK residents have signed a petition to hold another EU referendum. Parliament will be forced to consider it as it has reached the 100,000 signatures required for debate. Theoretically with its withdrawal from the EU, Britain will be forced to re-negotiate its work, travel and living regulations with all the other member states previously enjoying border free status .
Right Or Left?
Regardless of what the mainstream narrative of the media states, are all leavers screaming right-wing hate mongers? And are all remainers easy spirited neo-liberals? Brexit can be seen as a vote by the masses who turned their back on the financial elite.That same swell of people who in the US, support Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old socialist ridiculed by the DC political class. That same vacuum also accounts for the populist rise of Trump who expresses a similar contempt for the conservative orthodoxy. Credibility for Western democracy has been diminished by illegal wars, political scandal, refusal to account, and this has prompted a rise in extremist factions.
How Britain decides to move forward will now be up to her. Legal tussles abound and it is still unclear if Britain will really be leaving the EU if legal loopholes can be utilised. Freedom and self determination is the right of any country but Britain’s next step will be crucial. Let down the drawbridge and let the battles commence.