A rolling collection of notes, links and commentaries in the aftermath of the brexit vote in the UK.
I’ll leave a comment when updates are made; if interested in following along, simply subscribe to the comments below. Updated as needed. (Originally published 24 June.) For the time being I expect to update this page daily through 1 July and then continue adding relevant links as the reaction unfolds and action plan emerges.
I encourage readers to leave relevant links and thoughts in the comments but with the knowledge that I don’t have the patience to entertain rants I deem rude, insulting or offensive. Thanks!
As I moved south, I thought that the economic picture might change, but in Rugby, Bedford, Luton the high streets all had the by now familiar composition: betting shops, fast-food outlets, tattoo parlours. And the answer to the question “in” or “out” never changed either. “We’ve been left behind,” a white, middle-aged man told me at a bus stop as I rested in Hemel Hempstead. “Those politicians don’t care about us. Immigration has ruined this country.”
I walked into central London, through Chiswick, past people sitting at pavement cafes, shops selling expensive furniture, estate agents offering two-bedroom flats for a million pounds. Through Hyde Park and on to Wellington Arch, with all the pomp and puffery of empire, and then Buckingham Palace, as tourists lapped up the pageantry. I was in, literally and spiritually, another country.
As we’ve mentioned, reporting in the UK on Brexit has become so partisan that it is hard to sort out some basic questions.
So far, there has been no mention by Prime Minister Cameron of a need by Government to seek Parliamentary approval for invoking Article 50 which triggers the two-year European Union departure process, nor can I recall the intent to seek approval mentioned by either of the two leading contenders for his post, Boris Johnson or Theresa May.
When campaigning for the EU referendum began, politicians neglected the crisis. Not because the situation had ameliorated, but because the issue had become strategically toxic. Nigel Farage’s infamous poster aside, the Leave side preferred scare stories about economic migrants rather than refugees; the Remain side because the refugee crisis, more than anything else since its inception, highlighted the fragility of the ideals that underpin the European Union.
From her poker face, you would never know that the Brexit vote has thrust Germany into the driver’s seat of the European Union as never before. Britain’s exit not only eliminates one-third of the Berlin-Paris-London triumvirate, the gear shaft of the 28-member union; it also costs the union a member that often functioned as a counterweight to EU-wedded Germany. Given that France is entirely consumed with its own affairs – recession and economic reform, labor unrest, terrorism — Germany is emerging from the Brexit vote with more clout and responsibility than ever before. Indeed, the post-Brexit EU will be an even more German one — a state of affairs that pleases nobody, not even the Germans.
And speaking to her migration policy which has emboldened the right across the continent:
Whether fair or not – and I think not – Merkel’s migration policies went down poorly with almost all its EU peers and have spurred the rise of far-right euroskeptical parties from Croatia to Denmark. The chancellor, very uncharacteristically, went out on a limb by suspending the Dublin II rules and opening the EU to waves of migrants last summer fleeing wars and hardship in the Middle East. This was the right thing for a number of reasons, I believe, not least because international law requires the acceptance of refugees. But it sent the Central Europeans, the Austrians, the British, and most every other EU member, too, into a tizzy. The Brits seemed to confuse Merkel’s refugee measures with the EU-internal labor market provisions that enabled Central Europeans to travel to their island to work. The fears unleashed by Merkel’s decision were potent stuff and made Germany and the EU many more enemies than friends.
Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit – A thoughtful initial analysis by Will Davies for The Political Economy Research Centre (PERC), at Goldsmiths, University of London. (24 June). His five themes in the piece:
1. The geography reflects the economic crisis of the 1970s, not the 2010s
2. Handouts don’t produce gratitude
3. Brexit was not fuelled by a vision of the future
4. We now live in the age of data, not facts
5. The least ‘enslaved’ nation in the EU just threw off its ‘shackles’
Here’s No. 5:
If the EU worked well for any nation in Europe, it was the UK. Thanks to the scepticism and paranoia of Gordon Brown, Britain dodged the catastrophic error of the single currency. As a result, it has been relatively free to pursue the fiscal policies that it deems socially and politically desirable. The fact that it has consistently chosen neoliberal ones is not really the fault of the EU, the stability and growth pact notwithstanding. But in contrast to southern European members of the EU, Britain is scarcely constrained at all. Instead, it has benefited from economic stability, a clear international regulatory framework and a sense of cultural fraternity with other member states. One could even argue that, being in the EU but outside of the Eurozone, Britain has had the best deal of any member state during the 21st century.
This has been abandoned. Meanwhile, nations that might genuinely describe themselves as ‘shackled’, have suffered such serious threats to their democracy as to have unelected Prime Ministers imposed upon them by the Troika, and have had their future forcibly removed thanks to the European Union, might look at Brexit and wonder.
I want my country back – Laurie Penny in The New Statesman (24 June). “This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world.” Good piece to start your day.
The whole mess started because of a disagreement between rival factions of a right-wing government which is still tearing itself apart and taking the rest of us with it. The fractured Left, unable to unite behind a leader with a popular mandate, was nowhere in this conversation until it was far too late. Cameron promised a referendum in order to pander to the rise of a xenophobic far right and secure his own power: he got his wish, was duly re-elected, and now his career is over, and so are the life chances of millions of young British people. He gets to slink off back to Oxfordshire and live off his family money. Don’t weep for Hameron. He’ll be fine.
If only the same were true of the rest of us. As it stands, tens of millions are going to suffer. Real people are going to hurt. Real people are going to die. That is David Cameron’s fault, more than anyone’s. It was right for him to resign, but he will surely be replaced by any one of a rogues’ gallery of gurning ideologues who have been decrying “experts” and “elites” to people so desperate for change that they didn’t care that those elites are people their wisecracking white knights literally went to school with.
This morning it looked like Britain had shot itself in the foot. By lunch time, with two political parties imploding and the stock markets crashing, it appears our aim was higher above the knee. This was not just a vote against Europe, but a vote against Westminster and the entirety of mainstream politics. Every political party campaigned hard for a “Remain” vote – but Britain still chose to Leave, even if we’re regretting it this morning.
There are huge areas of post-industrial decline and neglect where people are more furious than Cameron and his ilk could possibly understand, areas where any kind of antiestablishment rabble-rousing sounds like a clarion call. In depressed mountain villages and knackered seaside towns and burned-out former factory heartlands across the country, ordinary people were promised that for once, their vote would matter, that they could give the powers that be a poke in the eye. Westminster may have underestimated how very much it is hated by those to whom mainstream politics have not spoken in generations.
And, lest we forget:
In the meantime, the cackling clown-car drivers rolling this catastrophe over the wreckage of civil society are already cheerfully admitting that they lied about their key campaign statements. No, there won’t be £350m more to spend on the NHS, whatever Vote Leave wrote on its battle bus. It turns out that the reason you can’t get a GP appointment isn’t because of immigration, but because the Conservatives have spent six years systematically defunding the health service and cutting public spending to the bone. Brexit will mean more of that, not less.
Massive amounts of comment and analysis are emerging from the political Left and the left-of-centre commentariat. Some is sensible, some is full of half-truths and some is just fantasy. Let’s start with the fantasy wing of this debate. “A victory against austerity and neoliberalism” was the first response on the SWP website. That account is straight up wrong.
Even if you said that the vote was mainly the result of a revolt of working class people fed up with being completely ignored and super-exploited, the idea that this vote is a victory against neoliberalism just misses the political content. That political content is that Brexit won because of mass hostility to immigration. Much of that is racist or at least xenophobic.
In other words, millions of workers suffering from poverty and deepening inequality, living miserable lives with no way out, were during the campaign (and many a long time before) led to the utterly false conclusion that clamping down on immigrants would help them ‘take control’ and solve their problems. On the contrary: the advent of Gove and Johnson marks a political shift to the right that will lead to a redoubling of attacks on working people.
Lots to read today. In no particular order of importance other than to say that the first two are here as general news summaries, the first specific to events over the past 24 hours by the Guardian’s Jennifer Rankin, Jon Henley, Philip Oltermann and Helena Smith as they relate to the EU response, and the second a more overall look at the vote by the staff at Spiegel.
I like trying to identify the bigger picture, longer term context. Which is likely why I particularly appreciated the two pieces that follow, examining the wider implications of class and the failures of neoliberalism and the establishment institutions its created.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, told the Guardian that EU lawyers were studying whether it was possible to speed up the triggering of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty – the untested procedure for leaving the union.
As the EU’s institutions scrambled to respond to the bodyblow of Britain’s exit, Schulz said uncertainty was “the opposite of what we need”, adding that it was difficult to accept that “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”.
“I doubt it is only in the hands of the government of the United Kingdom,” he said. “We have to take note of this unilateral declaration that they want to wait until October, but that must not be the last word.”
June 23, 2016 will go down in European history as Black Thursday, a day when a country succumbed to nostalgia and a yearning for freedom instead of following reason. Against the recommendation of a majority of its parliamentarians, against the advice of economists, politicians, academics, friends and allies around the world. It is a decision marked by national egocentrism, stoked by fear and world weariness, but it is nonetheless a democratic decision.
For Europe, it is the most dire, worst-case scenario to have emerged in its recent history. It is a political disaster that reaches far beyond Europe’s borders — and it is also a self-made disaster. It is no longer helpful to wish that the referendum had never taken place nor is it productive to curse David Cameron. The bitter truth of this Thursday is that the European Union, as currently constituted, was unable to inspire the British people. That is the most important lesson.
Most EU opponents were blind to the possible consequences of Brexit. The probability of a second referendum on Scottish independence has grown, as have the chances of its success. And in Northern Ireland, the peace could be threatened if the border to the Republic of Ireland in the south is sealed as an external EU frontier. On Friday, Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party and first minister of Scotland, said she believed a second referendum on independence from the UK was “highly likely” after Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. She described the outcome as a “democratic outrage.”
There are many reasons to harbor doubts about Europe. The continent has been too rigid in recent years, too narcissistic, too comfortable. Some Brexiteers even posed justifiable questions. What if, for example, the EU has already fulfilled its primary function of securing peace and prosperity in Europe? What if the citizens of Europe no longer want deeper ties between their countries? Must “more Europe” really always be the only answer to everything?
The European Union now has the opportunity to reinvent itself. But it also needs to consider new, looser forms of memberships for countries like Britain or Turkey that want to conduct trade but either do not want to be or cannot be part of an ever-closer community. Next week, EU leaders will meet in Brussels for their first post-Brexit summit. It has to be the start of a new beginning. That’s the only chance we have left.
“If you’ve got money, you vote in,” she said, with a bracing certainty. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out.” We were in Collyhurst, the hard-pressed neighbourhood on the northern edge of Manchester city centre last Wednesday, and I had yet to find a remain voter. The woman I was talking to spoke of the lack of a local park, or playground, and her sense that all the good stuff went to the regenerated wonderland of big city Manchester, 10 minutes down the road.
Only an hour earlier, I had been in Manchester at a graduate recruitment fair, where nine out of 10 of our interviewees were supporting remain, and some voices spoke about leave voters with a cold superiority. “In the end, this is the 21st century,” said one twentysomething. “Get with it.” Not for the first time, the atmosphere around the referendum had the sulphurous whiff not just of inequality, but a kind of misshapen class war.
The decision by UK voters to leave the EU is such a glaring repudiation of the wisdom and relevance of elite political and media institutions that – for once – their failures have become a prominent part of the storyline. Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting one’s own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility. Virtually every reaction that falls into the former category emphasizes the profound failures of western establishment factions; these institutions have spawned pervasive misery and inequality, only to spew condescending scorn at their victims when they object.
For the Laugh a Little Because I’d Rather not Cry File…
One voter – known only as Adam – told Victoria Derbyshire on the BBC: “I didn’t think that was going to happen.
“My vote – I didn’t think was going to matter too much because I thought we were just going to remain.”
And then there was Donald Trump.
The presumptive Republican candidate for president arrived in Scotland on Friday, the morning after its voters, by a 62-38% margin, voted to stay in the EU. He apparently missed that and chose instead to show how woefully unaware his is of most things happening around him when he tweeted, “Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”
It’s the classic “he only needed to know ONE thing before landing and opening his mouth..” Predictably, he was pounded back via Twitter with an avalanche of some of the most colorful and entertainingly British insults you can imagine. Things like “weapons grade plum” and “buttplug face”. Read some of them here.
The Consequences of the 23 June Brexit vote in the UK?
Nobody really knows. If they tell you they do they’re as dishonest as the campaigners who lead the two sides in the UK European Union referendum, particularly the Leave side which won yesterday’s referendum 52-48%. In any case, it likely won’t be pretty.
If you’re like me and didn’t have as much time as you wanted to keep up with the campaign whose result yesterday has put a large question mark over the futures of both the UK and EU, this 24min talk by Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at the University of Liverpool, is a good place to start for some much needed background and honest appraisal of what was at stake.
Recorded about two weeks ago, Dougan’s presentation is a largely academic look explaining plainly what the UK’s role as a member state of the EU is and then lays out four challenges that the country will face if the Leave side prevails. He tells us almost straight off that he’ll be voting to stay and does accuse the Leave campaign of “dishonesty” “on an industrial scale” in the lead-in to the vote.
He admits that nobody really knows what will happen next but he does predict that at least 10 years of negotiations will be required to set up Britain’s new relationship with the EU in the event of Brexit.
On the surface, it’s an obvious step backwards for decades of European cooperation on a multitude of issues and tasks. Financially, at least short term, it’s a bad train wreck. I’d like to think that it’s also at least in part a reaction of sorts against the neoliberal establishment, one that worships open markets above virtually all else, even if the primary drive came from nativist circles.
Over the next several days I’ll be using this post as a hub to collect notes, links and commentaries. I’ll leave a comment when updates are made; if interested in following along, simply subscribe to the comments below.
Today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 903rd straight? At the 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony, London, 12 August 2012.