After Brexit

Photo Credit: Garon S

Photo Credit: Garon S

They say that a week is a long time in politics. It has now been two weeks, a veritable political epoch, since the United Kingdom narrowly voted to leave the European Union. Forgetting for a minute the political, economic, and social shockwaves this decision sent around the world, the UK itself is a hot mess right now. The primary public figures of the referendum campaign (David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage) have all resigned, leaving the Tories in further disarray, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a fierce internal coup due to his unimpressive campaign efforts. In addition, the value of the pound has plummeted, and the wake of the referendum produced a spate of appalling racially-motivated violence across England.

This says nothing of the turmoil in Scotland, which decisively voted to remain in the EU. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP now face the prospect of leading the Scottish people through a triple-whammy of leaving the EU, holding another independence referendum, and then negotiating an independent Scotland’s re-entry into the EU. The latter will be no easy feat, as Scotland will have to endure the arduous bureaucratic process itself, as well as opposition from other EU countries (most notably Spain, which is dealing with independence movements of its own). Indeed, Sturgeon and company have their work cut out for them.

Following on from our pre-Brexit posts, we at IANS felt it necessary to take some time to reflect on Brexit. Please find below some thoughts from the talented editors, writers, and contributors of IANS as they try to make sense of Brexit, and elucidate what the decision means for them.

Joshua Bird (Editor-in-Chief)

 

 

The majority of those who voted to leave the EU cited concerns regarding immigration as their main motivation for doing so. This is perhaps unsurprising given that both sides adopted immigration as a central theme of their campaigns. What is more puzzling, however, is how the debate on the topic managed to be so creative with the ‘facts’, from start to finish. While Cameron negotiated a new deal that would restrict access to in-work benefits for EU nationals if the UK were to remain, Boris Johnson promised to ‘take back control of immigration’ by restricting the free movement of EU citizens should the UK vote leave. And yet a simple Google search reveals the underlying assumption - that EU nationals are a drain on the UK economy - to be utter fabrication. They are in fact net contributors. It is also worth mentioning that there is little evidence to suggest that access to welfare drives immigration flows, and there is no precedent to support the claim that the UK will be able to access the single European market while restricting the free movement of people (Christina Boswell discusses this here). Furthermore, EU nationals only account for just under half of overseas immigration to the UK. This begs the question of why, if restricting numbers is the ultimate goal, consecutive British governments have not curbed immigration from non-EU countries, which has always been within its power. Ultimately, both the Leave and Remain campaigns have fed populist fears on immigration. We are already seeing the fallout from this in the increase of racist incidents across the country. Unfortunately, I expect that matters may get worse before they get better, as the Leave politicians continue to back-peddle on their promises. In the end, whether you voted leave, remain or were not allowed to vote, the current climate means everyone loses out.

Saskia Smellie (Contributor)

 

 

“When I put my cross against Leave I felt a surge as though for the first time in my life my vote did count, I had power” are the words of former editor of The Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie, when he expressed regret at his choice. There are two important points in this simple sentence: a vote that counts and feeling power.

In the UK’s parliamentary democracy, some power befalls the unelected (House of Lords) and all votes don’t count. The first-past-the-post system means that seats don’t match votes. And there is little space for a protest vote. In the last general election, over 3.5 million citizens voted UKIP. Today, the party has one UKIP MP in Westminster.

But then came the referendum, in which every vote counted. The simplicity of an IN or OUT question, the notion that a pencilled in cross could have so many implications, might well have been exhilarating.

The “giant democratic exercise” that Cameron referred to in his resignation speech happened without the broad and deep public engagement that such an exercise must have. What used to be a Conservative party problem is now a national one: the country is split into IN and OUT.

In his resignation speech, Cameron also praised Britain’s “parliamentary democracy”. In the future, more votes and voices must count in British parliamentary democracy in order to strengthen public debate and lay the foundations for better representation of the diversity of British citizens’ views.

But for now, the UK will have a new Prime Minister that nobody voted for, who will come to office without a clear plan for future relations with the EU, and with the sole recommendation that he or she is sufficiently Eurosceptic to suit the political mood inside the Conservative Party in post-referendum Britain. 

Cleo Davies (Contributor) 

 

 
 

Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views. - William F. Buckley Jr.

 

Is democracy in a crisis? Are the people fit to rule themselves? The British electorate has been widely derided as “stupid”[1]. Simultaneously, theories have emerged about parliamentary means of overriding the vote[2]. Yet, why do we feel so comfortable with ignoring the referendum result?

This is where the problem of our democracy truly lies. At its inception, “democracy” has been used as a derogatory label for a political system that the elite perceived as a threat[3]. The “tyranny of the majority” allows minority concerns to be ignored[4], and the elite are one such minority. Scots today are another, ruled by a Tory Government they did not elect, and fiercely opposed to the Brexit[5].

“Democracy” may be understood and expressed differently, depending on the cultural context[6] and socio-economic factors. We can see this in Britain, where Leave was largely supported by the austerity-riddled, disenfranchised working class. But all kinds of democracy comes at a cost: if we opt for a consensus-based democracy, we must accept that the final shared solution to political debates will include ideas one does not entirely agree with. If we hold on to our current system, we retain the advantage of clear-cut decisions and divisions between our own political choices and those of others, effectively freeing us from responsibility over other interests. This entails the risk that the majority decision might go completely against one's own interests.

Many British “No” voters were motivated by a genuinely democratic vision, as they see change as their only option to be heard in the voting-centered democracy that was designed to keep their voices silent[7]. Thus, the vote to Leave, for all its fearsome consequences, was actually a triumph of democracy. Instead of despairing over, or worse yet, ignoring this democratic act, let us try to turn it into the beginning of a stronger democracy in Britain.

Catherine Whittaker  (Contributor)

 

 

If America had a centre-right party, I’d be a member.  Not because I am a conservative-leaning independent (I’m far more conservative than that), but because our political spectrum in a two-party system has stretched the bounds of reason.  When someone like Senator Lindsey Graham from my home state of South Carolina is considered a moderate conservative and Hilary Clinton is a moderate democrat, America needs to rethink its opposition to extremism, because politically that is exactly what we have become.

Exhibit A: Donald J. Trump.

Unless we were stock brokers, IR nerds, or former residents of the Queen’s lands, we didn’t pay the Brexit news any attention.  Half of your country wants to leave the EU?  So what, two-thirds of our country voted for either a single-issue socialist who thinks the lone superpower should model itself on Scandinavia, or for a fired reality TV star who inexplicably becomes more popular by saying racist things.  So yeah, we’ll admit to not paying Brexit much attention before it happened.  But you have to understand, we’ve been a bit busy with our own political suicide to worry about yours.

While that may be a fair assessment, that’s not fair for me to say.  You see, I am in the Leave camp.

Like most readers of this blog I am young, socially liberal, and over-educated.  I like the EU’s trade and border policies (mostly).  I like the idea of the EU even more.  But I’m also an American, and the idea of surrendering sovereignty to a committee of foreign bureaucrats I can’t vote on and who look down their noses at me as a distant uncivilized radical is a bit familiar in an unsettling way.  It’s our Independence Day on July 4th, and I like my coffee black and my tea in the harbour, thank you very much.

Yes, that’s a gross simplification of the EU referendum, but in the end it gets to the heart of why I was for Leave.  I chose to support principle over pragmatism and... Huh.  Maybe I’m an extremist after all. 

There is no such thing as partial sovereignty.  It’s like being partially dead.  There’s a reason that’s not an option when the census man calls to ask about Grandma.  He can either collect taxes on her or he can’t.  Similarly, the UK is either an independent country or it is not.  Being a realist in international theory terms and a gun-toting American to boot, sovereignty is an integral part of my definition of a country.

The argument of the Remain campaign that focused on the economic impact of a Leave vote made more sense to me than the economists on the Leave side (were there any?).  However, trading liberty and freedom for prosperity sounds a lot like slavery to me.  I’ll be better off but I can’t make my own decisions?  Increasingly people in America think that’s a fair trade-off, and I think that the same trend can be found in Europe.  But I’ve never been a trendy fellow.  I still believe in liberty and national pride.  I’m old fashioned like that.

George Lingon (Contributor)

 

 

We stayed up till 3:30 in the morning and went to sleep knowing that the next day would probably find us in a country that neglected the EU. ‘Oh no, what just happened?’ was my first reaction. Yes I know, not very sophisticated. Then I had a minute of ‘is my life going to change?’ ‘Should I leave the country?’ ‘Where should I go?’ ‘Back to Greece?’ ‘Naaa probably California. I am a sociologist, I can do better.’ So I spend hours and hours reading and listening to the news and waiting for Cameron and Boris to talk, and say what? I am disappointed in people voting against people… working class people voting against themselves… people saying things like ‘the last one closes the door’. I am relieved that after a long time, Greece is not responsible for the EU mess anymore, but someone else is… or is the same EU to blame? Now everybody knows (or don’t they?) how incapable politicians are. I am confused; Leavers believed in Boris, but did Boris believe in Leavers? He doesn’t want to be politically burnt now. Is it because he honestly (what a word!) doesn’t know what to do or because he was to be an elected prime minister later on? Oh well, we shall see what will happen to the UK, to Scotland, to us... Our fate is in good hands…

Daphne Dima (Contributor)

 

 

Despite being on the “right” side of the border, I grieve for the future that I had imagined would always be possible as an EU citizen in the UK. My rage and sadness have largely stemmed from the surge of reports of racist and hate-filled actions in other areas of the UK. I am also now uncertain and fearful about my future career prospects as an immigrant who feels they would be discriminated against in areas of the UK that are outside of Scotland.

While experiencing these feelings, I also realise that I am a “privileged” immigrant in many ways. I am now a British citizen, I’m originally from Canada (and could return to that country even though my home is here), I’m not a visible minority and my first language is English. That is, I don’t fit the description of a person who might not generally be classified as “an immigrant” – perhaps many people would refer to me as an “ex-pat.” Personally, I hadn’t given much thought to how I might be “labelled” until the past week. These thoughts have also prompted me to more carefully consider questions like: “How are immigrants perceived?” “How have immigrants been represented as a danger to society or the cause of social problems?” “Why have misrepresentations of immigrants from many countries been so popular?”

The answer that I have found for these questions indicate that it is time for the UK government to look more closely at how they make policies and implement funding cuts that frequently have adverse effects on their own citizens who experience social and economic deprivation. At the same time, many of these politicians also need to stop using immigrants as a scapegoat or to divert attention from their own role in creating some of the social problems experienced by many individuals. Immigrants are not responsible for cutting NHS budgets, making benefits cuts or wasting money on privatising government offices (to give a few examples).

I also feel that is it important to start deconstructing the images of immigrants that have been portrayed in the media and by the Leave campaign. The need to rethink how immigrants are represented and perceived is also why I welcome movements such as the #AnImmigrant or I Am An Immigrant campaigns. These types of campaigns may help UK citizens and others to think about immigrants as people who make important contributions to this country. I also feel that the next step is to find a way to disseminate positive and varied images of immigrants to people who may not have access to or come into contact with these types of campaigns. The use of research into implementing effective anti-discrimination programmes in areas such as social psychology, anthropology, sociology and other social sciences may be very valuable tools for informing our next step. I recognise that taking these steps may present challenges and that such measures will not remove all racism and hatred from this country. However, I feel that making moves in these areas might help to start creating positive change and that academics have a role to play in this movement.

Amanda Hunter (Conributor)

 

 

What can be written about Brexit that definitely won’t be disproven tomorrow? In the absence of declarations, here’s a question preoccupying me as an immigration politics scholar: how inherent is the hostility toward foreigners exposed by the Leave campaign in this burgeoning politics of neoliberal anxiety? To be sure, nativism reared its head in Britain as a result of cheap opportunism and the contextual availability of anti-migrant tropes in the media. But is this tendency so strong as to be certain, or are there other possibilities? The results in Scotland, where this anxiety has largely been channelled instead into the independence movement, suggest perhaps there are; at the same time, 38 percent of Scottish voters choosing to Leave, despite the lack of a real Leave campaign here, questions that suggestion. What can be done about these feelings? New Labour thought that working EU immigrants would grow the economy and thus be their own balm against possible anxiety about their presence. If anti-immigration sentiment could not legitimately be accommodated in the new liberal order, then a lid would be kept on that sentiment by a rising economic tide. If that’s still our best answer, we should really get on that.

Mike Slaven (Contributor)

 

 

After Brexit: a cacophonous wall of sound. Of infighting and disparagement, of disagreement and discord, of insult and injury, of petition after petition after petition. Everyone wanted to be king of their own castle, everyone wanted to speak. And blame, everyone wants to blame.

It would be easy enough – it has been easy enough – to say that those who voted to leave the EU were morons: that they failed to understand that their actions had consequences; that they failed to understand what those consequences might be; that they were racist uneducated reactionaries who should be dismissed. That form of invalidation validates our decision to ignore them or, worse, feel virtuous in condemning them. But doing so would be, is, elitist and snobby. And elitism is the very thing we should be ripping to shreds, blaming for this dismal state of affairs.

A significant proportion of those who voted for Brexit did so because they felt disenfranchised, disillusioned, dismayed by the status quo. And who can blame them – they were subject to an austerity agenda no one was convincingly countering. Even the opposition refrained from comment on that regard. And more: they were lied to, convincingly, by a thoughtless parade of privileged and influential Tory propagandists who pretended to have their well-being in mind. Propagandists who could rip the world apart and barely feel a wound – their money and power assured them of that. But more still, following a cataclysmic recession the marginalised, the disenfranchised were repeatedly told not to blame the financial sector but to blame the undeserving scrounger. And in fracturing down the middle, they came to fear immigration. You would too. They feared the ‘other’, instead of the billionaire bastard getting richer by the minute. Let’s be clear: we socialised the losses, we privatised the wins, and then we blamed the poor. 

And in voting for Brexit, those who have been impoverished and disillusioned will be marginalised all the more because here comes a Tory party the likes of which we may never have seen. Theresa May makes Margaret Thatcher look like Bob Crow. Do not believe that we are on an inexorable march of progress. We can go backwards, we will go backwards, we are going backwards.

And the Labour party: what a mess. Because they too are involved in a coup which essentially says this: ‘We the elite, we the experts, know better than you’. Rather than viewing Jeremy Corbyn’s overwhelming support as indicative of a need for a change, of a profound and meaningful disenchantment with a Blairite Labour Party who so frequently resembled the Tory-Lite, they saw it as a mistake of the uneducated unwashed who simply could not comprehend what we need. We have been, we are being, dismissed.  

So if we must blame, blame, and blame again, let’s make sure we have our sights on the big fish – the fish who know better. Who know that austerity is great, that the poor are morally deficient, that the filthy rich have nothing to apologise for. Who know that the electorate are idiots, that lies don’t matter, and that racists are pushed forth into the world angry and hateful and are not made in the fires of discourse. Yay for elites.

Rebecca Hewer (Editor)


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/24/the-british-are-frantically-googling-what-the-eu-is-hours-after-voting-to-leave-it/  
http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/british-lose-right-to-claim-that-americans-are-dumber

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/27/stop-brexit-mp-vote-referendum-members-parliament-act-europe

[3] Graeber, David. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Paradigm 14. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press: Distributed by University of Chicago Press, p. 91.

[4] See, for example, John Stuart Mills 1859. On Liberty, The Library of Liberal Arts edition, p.7

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36621030

[6] See e.g. Tessler, Mark 2002. „Islam and Democracy in the Middle East: The Impact of Religious Orientations on Attitudes toward Democracy in Four Arab Countries.” Comparative Politics 34(3): 337-354; Nuijten, Monique 2003. Power, Community and the State: The Political Anthropology of Organisation in Mexico. London; Sterling, Va.: Pluto Press.

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/15/brexit-working-class-sick-racist-eu-referendum

As a British citizen AND an immigrant in the UK, the vote to leave the EU has meant that the last week of my life has been characterised by waves of grief, rage, sadness, uncertainty and fear (feelings shared by many people in my social and professional circles). At the same time, I am grateful that I am in Scotland where there has been more support for immigrants and where Nicola Sturgeon has put many politicians in Westminster to shame by remaining present and active as the leader of this country.