It was bound to be emotional as fear and hatred are again and again proven to be powerful forces. But the deed is done. A small, elitist group of conservative, right wing politicians have dragged Britain’s people and with them entire Europe in a crisis. Beyond any economic implications, and there will be plenty regarding growth, investments and labor markets, a leave vote is a shot in the arm for all the anti-european, xenophobic, radical right wing and populist forces. A weakening of Europe’s centrist pro-union core is a values crisis. Since the EU is this continent’s major peace project, at stake are fundamental principles that offered not just prosperity and freedom of movement but also built Europe’s internal and external security for many decades. The man carrying most of the personal and political responsibility for this real and major crisis resigned. Last year David Cameron promised a referendum in order to win elections by convincing eurosceptics and xenophobes to vote for the Conservatives! They did. He won and now he resigned leaving Europe and his own country in a mess. It is exactly such pragmatic mainstream populists and their constant ignoring of social strife in a changing Europe that made this predicament a reality. It is their self interested and ultimately narrow, elites serving decisions that created the problems and frustrations of a public that is never quite listened to. It is on that background of arrogant indifference that hard core populists, xenophobes and assorted extremists are creating havoc But they are the symptom not the cause. The Brexit is a political and economic suicide by the current elites.
What will come depends unfortunately on the same politicians that appear to have lost contact with a significant part of the society. Europe is torn and this is relay the combined result of the long term, social pressures inducing austerity and a socio economic model that hurts the working class. Migration will continue in Europe and the UK and this has little to do with the EU as such. Immigration is more the result of a former colonial empire and the economic changes impacting labor markets. Europe has some to do with it but that’s far more limited than people imagine. It is neo-liberal reforms promoted by both Conservatives and the New Labor that create a need for migrant workforce. Inequality inside Britain and between Western Europe and the rest of the world also fuels it by making immigrants accept jobs that Brits cannot afford to accept or are not qualified for because the policies needed to help them are not in place. These will largely continue now that UK voted out of the EU. It will be a rude awakening. On Friday the British Pound hit its lowest rate since 1985! It will remain devalued for quite some time. Technically a good news for British manufacturing so let’s see employment rates go sky high. Only that’s not going to materialize. Only higher prices for everything. Britain is not Norway or Switzerland to be ok with that … It si far too polarised and has too many vulnerable people. It will be a sad realization for those most hit by the long term economic and social effects of Brexit that these will likely be felt more by leave voters: elderly, blue collar workers whose wages will lose a lot of value.
For now people have been fooled by lies and unsubstantiated promises. The reality post Brexit will be dire. It is hard to be optimistic that the same european politicians will prove to be more capable in handling this crisis than they were in preventing it in the first place. Pragmatic populism and a belief in the neoliberal model combined to make for a toxic ideological and public opinion mix that mainstream politicians fail to address and even reccognise. UK has been on this path for a long time unfortunately but all Europe is to some degree. UK society will suffer immense changes and not for the good. What will gain in relative competitiveness, it will probably lose in term of access and investment. A lot of big economic and financial players will divest. Its top research agriculture, fisheries, poor comunities directly benefited from EU funding. Britain has incredible resources of talent and human capital but these were always driven by its diversity and openness. With the inevitable resurgence in Scottish and maybe Irish independence movement it is hard to escape the view that what will remain after the leave vote, to make a sad pun, will be a self ruled England as the Guardian aptly put it. Not all that voted for leave are fearfull, bitter xenophobes, some are desperate people that their lives are changing to fast, others are workers fearing for their jobs. They are bound to have a rude awaikening. Those things will continue unabated and even accelerate.
The question is however how will the UK continue. As for the EU, there is almost certainty that Germany and the other five founding members of the EU will deepen their cooperation and respond to the challenge of populistic, xenophobic fear-mongering with an attempt to shore up Europe. That will most probably be a Europe a la carte, a multi speed Europe. The reality is that a new generation of values based leaders is required in Europe to shore up values and inspire with something else than open markets for businesses and tax havens for the rich and successful It will require addressing the lies but also creating a new solidarity narrative for Europe based on values not fear. Negative ideologies cannot be addressed with technocratic discourse designed for the markets. Mainstream democratic politicians need to come up with a counter-ideology to save Europe’s soul not just its institutions. Now brace for what is coming as it will be ugly. Brits will discover that for the UK political and economic life outside the European Union is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and quite possibly short in its current make up. For the rest of us the wave of anti european, xenophobic populism will be an even more powerful force to face. This is also true in the US where xenophobic populists like Trump are bound to feel energised. The West is changing and it needs to find ways to accommodate and adapt to such changes by reinventing its values not giving in into its fears. Otherwise the assorted extremists in our ranks will have a field day. Nothing propels to action more than serious crisis. We now have one!