Brexit: A Day of Pain for the EU, a Decade of Pain for the UK

Remain Failed to Connect with Voters

The UK’s vote to exit the European Union was a shock but not as big a shock as it was made out in some quarters.  Disillusioned voters in working class areas and the middle classes in English regions voted to leave.  They believed the Leave campaign’s half-truths and outright lies.  The Leave campaign fed on understandable fears about immigration and the overtly racist attitudes of many of their voters.  They built a negative emotional connection with Leave voters – they successfully built on a climate of xenophobia and legitimised the darker aspects British society.  The Leave campaign presented foreigners as taking UK jobs, sponging on the health and education systems, and destroying the cultural fabric of Britain.  Responsible politicians failed to successfully denounce such views.

The Remain campaign was an abject failure when it came to developing a positive emotional connection with undecided voters.  David Cameron could not move beyond his elite view of British society.  The Remain campaign continually spoke about “experts”.  Experts predicted economic catastrophe but Leave voters, by and large, didn’t care about experts.  Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was inept at trying to rally its voters to the Remain side even though it is poorer parts of Britain that receive large amounts of EU funding.  It is only a matter of time before Corbyn’s head rolls.

On BBC’s Question Time programme a schoolgirl asked a question about British universities.  Cameron spoke about the need for Britain to be in the EU to attract top class researchers.  And there he stopped.  To the average voter research funding for universities is not high on the list of their priorities.  He could have told the girl that if she ever wanted to spend a term studying in Amsterdam she wouldn’t be able to.  If she wanted to do summer work in France she wouldn’t be able to.  If she wanted to go Interrailing across Europe she would need visas for multiple countries and experience extra checks and delays at every border.  Being a citizen of the EU can enrich your daily life, the Remain campaign failed to show this.

Nigel Farage, despite being a millionaire married to a German (who he once employed), was driving an anti-intellectual campaign that fed white working class fears of immigration and an a belief that the EU is full of Machiavellian foreign bureaucrats intent on stealing Britain’s wealth.  The negative aspects of the Leave campaign were balanced by a deluded vision of Britain past and present.  This was campaign looking back to a golden age of British imperial power with Britain civilising the darker parts of the globe, with Churchill and his Spitfires winning World War II, and England winning the World Cup.  Of course this halcyon vision is, in many respects, a myth.  British imperialism stripped its colonies of natural resources and manpower to line pockets at home, Britain was crucial to winning World War II but often the contributions of the Americans, the Soviets, the fighters in Poland, France, Yugoslavia, China, and many other countries are overlooked.  It’s impossible to return to a Britain that never existed.  Post World War II Britain (and indeed Britain just before it joined the EEC) was a poorer country with higher rates of poverty and crime.  The economic growth of Britain has not been evenly spread, London and southern England are far richer, but this is not the EU’s fault.  The policies of successive British governments, including the government of Cameron and Boris Johnson, have been the primary cause of the the widening wealth gaps in Britain.  With the UK out of the EU British politicians will have one less thing to blame for their own failures.

The Irish Connection

Although the UK electorate voted to leave the EU the voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland did not.  The UK’s departure from the EU will have a greater impact on Ireland than any other EU member; Ireland is currently (I say currently as it is possible that Scotland will vote for independence from the UK in the next few years) the only country with a border with the UK.  A reintroduction of physical border posts at the border with Northern Ireland would damage the normalisation of relations North and South that have taken decades to achieve.  They would also lead to criminal gangs exploiting smuggling opportunities to bypass possible tariffs and border posts would present targets for terrorist groups to attack.  It has been suggested by the Leave campaign that the Common Travel Area that exists between Ireland and the UK will be maintained but this might not be possible.  Ireland and the UK joined the EEC at the same time.  The CTA existed when we were both outside the EU and when we were both in the EU.  It is not clear if the CTA could function following a UK departure from the EU.

Brexit, at least in the short term, will have a negative effect on the Irish economy.  The UK is our biggest trading partner.  The drop in the value of sterling will make Irish exports to the UK more expensive and tariffs will further increase this cost.  There will, however, be opportunities for Ireland.  Ireland will be the biggest (and apart from Malta) the only English speaking nation in the EU.  Already Ireland has the European headquarters of Google, Yahoo!, ebay, a large Intel plant, pharmaceutical, and financial service companies that employ tens of thousands of Irish people.  Ireland has a young educated population and Ireland (and Dublin in particular) has no problem attracting educated workers from across the world.  Ireland will seek to lure companies from the UK and encourage companies that might have considered setting up in the UK to establish bases in Ireland.  Brexit will damage the Irish economy so Ireland will attempt to claw back some of these losses possibly resulting in further damage to the UK economy.

British people, by and large, care little about Northern Ireland, have little knowledge of its history and turn a blind eye to human rights abuses (thankfully largely historical now) perpetrated by British security forces and the RUC.  The vital economic links between Northern Ireland and Ireland have been ignored by the Leave campaign.  Some British politicians have suggested that the border between North and South could remain open if passport checks are introduced at Northern Ireland airport and ports going to the rest of the UK.  The patriotism of Farage and Johnson involves them treating Northern Irish unionists as different from their fellow UK citizens.  They have been sold out by Little England voters.  But Northern Ireland is not Scotland.  Despite Sinn Féin’s rhetoric there will be no border poll or referendum on uniting the island of Ireland.  The majority of Northern Irish unionists wanted to remain part of the EU but they do not want to be part of a united Ireland.

A Disaster for the UK

Will things be as bad as predicted for the UK?  Probably not.  The UK will not collapse.  But it will be poorer.  It will be economically poorer.  Inflation will rise, goods and services (especially imported goods) will become more expensive, and the unemployment rate will rise.  But more significantly the UK will become culturally poorer.  Its people won’t have the opportunity to study or work freely across Europe.  In my lifetime Ireland has become a multicultural society and the EU has played a major part of that.  I have worked with and made friends from the UK, France, Poland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Slovakia, Finland, Romania, and Slovakia.  They have enriched my life, taught me about their cultures, and introduced me to their food and drink!  As an impoverished student I could look for summer work in the Netherlands, no questions asked.  I could travel across multiple European borders with, at most, the quick flash of my harp emblazoned passport. These life altering experiences might be lost to UK citizens.  UK pensioners who have retired to other countries (especially Spain) can have their pensions paid into foreign bank accounts and access the local healthcare system freely.  This might all change.  The Leave campaign was very good at focussing on issues that effect very few people (such as voting rights for prisoners or UK fishing rights) but have ignored the thousands of EU laws that protect consumers, that have improved workers’ rights, and have protected minorities.  The economic benefits of EU have led to prosperity (look at Europe before the EU) the uneven spread of wealth across the UK is not the EU’s fault, it’s the fault of UK politicians. The Remain campaign failed to challenge the simplistic and often false Leave statements.  A second referendum is a possibility but, as it stands, the UK is about to enter an economic and cultural dark age.

Related Links

Financial Times: Brexit in seven charts – the economic impact

Irish Times: Brexit fantasy is about to come crashing down

The GuardianBrexit vote sparks scramble for European passports

The SpectatorOut – and into the world: why The Spectator is for Leave