On June 23rd, 2016 most of Britain went to sleep without a flicker of doubt that they would wake up in country no different to the one they fell asleep in, yet in the early hours of the morning it became abundantly clear that the country had undergone a tectonic shift. Even Nigel Farage, the key proponent of leaving the EU, had seemingly conceded defeat and tried to propagate the stipulation that it would be worthwhile holding a second referendum if the result was 52-48, in favour of Remain. Low and behold, the people of Britain voted with a 52% majority to leave the European Union, in what, retrospectively, was the first sign of the global alt-right, anti-immigration campaign gaining the requisite traction for serious political influence. Conveniently, Farage neglected to reiterate his desire for a rerun despite the aforementioned concern regarding the inconclusivity of a narrow result. Objectively, the campaign was about little more than regulating immigration. It was about terrorism, healthcare tourism, overcrowded schools, and almost nothing else, but these issues all fall under that same rubric of border control. The exception to this common theme being one woman on BBC Question Time who got hold of the microphone and declared, to a nation, that she was pro-EU until she walked into the supermarket and was angered by the fact the bananas were straighter than they used to be because of EU regulations. There were some legitimate reasons to vote in favour of leaving the EU, but may God have mercy on the soul that proudly used the non-issue of banana curvature as justification for seismic political reform. That was offered as genuine justification for a decision which changed the course of history, and it’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. However, before we get knee-deep in the nonsensicality of the Brexit debate it feels appropriate to understand the rationale behind both sides of the argument, as well as my escalating concern that a referendum was not the order of the day for most Brits but rather a veiled threat to EU President Jean Claude Juncker.
The whole quarrel kicked off back in 2014 when David Cameron was forced to increase the British contribution to the collective European fund by £2Billion, made somewhat controversial by the fact this increase was calculated in relation the strength of Britain’s illegal markets i.e drugs and prostitution. These industries, valued at around £10Billion, had previously been disregarded in EU commissioned economic evaluations which is the basis for the annual membership fee, but changes to the law increased Britain’s contribution by 14% resulting in the negotiations between Cameron and Juncker which exacerbated tensions and sparked talk of an independence referendum. What’s worth noting is that Cameron’s gung-ho referendum-based threat was clearly the product of regrettable haste as demonstrated by the fact he wound up as a key figure in the Remain campaign.
These tensions finally came to a head on February 20th of 2016 with the announcement of a referendum, 4 months down the line, and from there the discussion got worryingly hazy in double quick time. We regressed as a nation, almost immediately, to a state of conversational intolerance and verbal combat that doomed the result, whichever way it swang, to be the consequence of insular parroting rather than fact-based discussion. While the key data point propagated by the Leave campaign (adding £350Million per week to the NHS) was abandoned within hours of victory; the Remain campaign spent a lot of time eulogising over the importance of accurate facts and stats to support campaign claims, they spent much less time, if any, actually producing such evidence. The infantility of discussion was best exhibited 8 days before the election when Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage got into a heated argument on the river Thames regarding whether fishermen would experience positive or negative implications as a result leaving the European Union. Despite the common occurrences of loudspeakers maintaining rational discourse this particular debate got somewhat out of hand and I think we would all be surprised to find out either side had heard the point of opposition nevermind undergone a political epiphany. I think it’s safe to say nobody that brings a loudspeaker is there to listen to contrasting viewpoints or experience a political awakening of their own. I also think it’s a safe assumption that nobody was won over to either side by the personal insults bellowed out over public announcement systems, and yet this was a key feature of the debate from start to finish.
Amongst the bombastic rhetoric we occasionally caught glimpses of logical, factual arguments which seemed weirdly incongruous with our new and dilapidated method of political discussion. The argument in favour of remaining in the EU looked something like this:
- Free movement leads to economic growth and is required to fill the understaffed NHS
- 44% of British exports go to EU members ensuring steady trade
- The percentage of laws that come from the EU is smaller than we are lead to believe and includes commonsensical rules such as wearing your seatbelt
- 3 million jobs are linked to the EU and could be plunged into uncertainty in an independent Britain
While the Leave campaign centred around arguments such as:
- Free movement makes it hard to track who is entering our country and allows people to exploit our healthcare and education system as well as creating a security risk
- EU restrictions are holding us back from focussing on emerging markets such as China and India
- Too many laws are made overseas and UK courts must become sovereign again
- Britain could lower corporation tax as an incentive to big businesses
There were other issues at hand, but let’s work with these 4 contrasting views as the root of the majority of concerns. The discussion of free movement is important and is seemingly riddled with denial. Though it’s true that immigration is economically beneficial, the social repercussions off mass migration influxes were addressed, not once, by the Remain campaign. People are worried about burgeoning foreign influence and Islamification, this was arguably the most important issue at hand, and yet, it was seemingly monopolised by the pro-leave movement. It was only the Eurosceptics that would even acknowledge the existence of Islamic fundamentalism, while the Remainers were left making erroneous claims about the religion’s intentions being solely peaceful. On the flip side, the economists were clear and one-sided. If you voted to leave the EU for financial reasons then you probably made the wrong decision as demonstrated by the fact 9 out of the 10 leading economists forecasted negative economic implications. The problem with the discussion was that people were unwilling to accept any of the opposing arguments as true. It is a cold, hard fact that Brexit was likely going to harm the economy. The economy is too convoluted a topic to be a central campaign theme and was never likely to convince neutrals. A comparatively effective way to incite support is to place blame on specific group of people, in this instance it was immigrants.
The economic argument was a prevailing theme among Remainers as demonstrated by the second issue at hand. This is the claim that Britain was being inhibited from investing in emerging markets due to EU restrictions, which I’m yet to see evidence of. Nevertheless, the two claims, again, appeared to centred around very different values. The remain campaign expressed how content they were with current, steady flow of trade with Europe, while the Leave campaign made unrealistic but optimistic claims about the potential for growth by investing in emerging markets. The Leave campaign didn’t have to present a strategy for economic divergence, merely make the case that Britain could be more prosperous if our priorities lay elsewhere.
The next argument was the foggiest of them all as confusion over the percentage of laws that come from Europe was ranging from 13%-60% depending on who you were listening to. This confusion makes any discussion on the topic untenable because we can’t even come to an agreement regarding the factual truth, seemingly a new political device whereby you don’t need to be right, just confident enough for people to think you’re right. One thing we can take issue with however is the notion that we would be better served scrapping all of the laws with European origins. In detaching ourselves from the European Human Rights Convention we have given a Conservative Government control over workers rights meaning one foreign import we may introduce from an emerging market is the Japanese term “Karoshi”, literally translated to “death by overwork”.
The final key point in the debate was to do with jobs. It seems clear to me that the Remain campaign’s claim that 3 million jobs are linked to the EU is more than a little bit misleading, though perhaps true. Clearly, triggering article 50 wasn’t going to make 3 million people redundant, as they wanted the public to believe. However, it does seem indubitable that with regards to economic growth and job creation the EU is certainly a positive force. While the Remain campaign were drawing nebulous connections between workers in the UK and the EU: the Leave campaign were fabricating statistics that would look good on the side of a big red bus. £350 Million a week being added to the NHS was the key leave campaign promise that derived from virtually no discernible evidence whatsoever and was discarded within 3 hours of the official result. Both were clearly untrue, both were clearly meaningless, both were bound to leave the fate of the referendum in the lap of the Gods as campaigners from either side fought tirelessly to make sense of spurious statistics. In the end, with truth playing a minimal role in either campaign, the argument came down to optimism, and ultimately, the leave campaign convinced the British people that a brighter future lies with sundered European connections and the possibility of an nexus in the emerging economies of the East rather than being the country to fall back on for floundering European nations. In the aftermath of this historic result I can’t help but remember the ancient African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
Even before June 23rd I questioned the integrity of a referendum on this topic. My view on this issue isn’t anti-democratic.When discussing the positive and negative implications of leaving the European Union, it’s hard to accept that an hour-long investigation, culminating in a list of pros and cons, is sufficient research. I’m firmly of the belief that this question should never have been posed as a referendum but instead it should have been left to a specialist committee who have dedicated their lives to investigating this issue. The moment Michael Gove, of the Leave campaign, said “We’ve had enough of experts in this country” I came to the realisation that we may have reached the zenith of anti-intellectualism in Britain, a disturbing thought indeed that a man could openly support isolating ourselves from Europe and simultaneously indicate it’s time to give the stupid people control.
Not only was I skeptical about the decision to pose a referendum altogether, the timing was nothing short of dreadful. This was the first in a long sequence of consequential elections and referendums around the globe. In my mind, it would have made far more sense to wait for the international political developments to occur, such as Trump’s election and other EU referendums before taking a leap into the unknown with queue of potential complications lined up over the following year. Being the first to make this shift was always bound to result in superfluous uncertainty and the EU will also be keen to make an example of Britain to deter speculation of other major members triggering Article 50. In retrospect, the conservatives should have developed a unified platform on the subject of EU membership and then included it in their manifesto for the 2020 election, rather than sundering the party, which led to the resignation of their leader, followed by electing a Prime minister in the middleground of the Brexit campaign who was then forced to call a snap election to further mandate the referendum. This was executed in the most convoluted and ineffectual way possible, yet due to the absence of an strong opposition they somehow got away with a perfect demonstration of political incompetence. If they had bided their time, they could have eliminated the nonsensical bureaucratic steps and analysed the consequences of international regime changes and factored these into a decision which will change the course of history. In the months since the referendum Theresa May has been eulogising over the need for a “hard Brexit” but I have no clue where she got this invalid reasoning from. Where exactly on the ballot was the option of a “soft brexit”. Which, by the way, sounds like a breakfast alternative to the Full English. Where was this elusive third option? Could it be found serendipitously under white light? Was it hidden away on the back of the ballot? Or perhaps tucked between the other 2 options in size 0.1 font. I can’t be the first to notice that the choice between a hard and soft Brexit simply never existed. Thus I find the push for a “hard Brexit” to not just be undemocratic but moreover is a self-serving derivative of the quasi-democratic process by a conniving Government. Are we just meant to assume that the majority of people in this country are Brextremists or could some of the pro-brexit camp have been moderates? Now, I am open to correction on this issue. My age alleviated me of intellectual burden of a vote and subsequently I didn’t have the chance to analyse the available options, however, I have it on good authority that staying or leaving were the only available choices, with nothing in between. No invisible ink and no secret mystery option. The government are interpreting this advisory referendum as something it is not, as mandate to scrap the human rights commision, an opportunity to circumvent due process, a chance to privatise and austere the services that ensure a fair society. The fightback against leaving the EU isn’t anti-democratic, it’s the perfect encapsulation of a functional democracy. Democracy is only inhibited when ideas are met with violence, an issue we painfully endured during the referendum campaign.
The debate reached fever pitch the day after the pirating lunacy on the Thames when Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and killed by a politically motivated terrorist. This has left a scar on British politics that may never heal. Jo Cox was killed for doing her job, for trying to do her best by her constituents, and harrowingly, she was killed for what she believed in. What we must remember before we resort to violence as a political medium is that people don’t vote nihilistically. Virtually everyone who arrives at the polling station and votes for a cause does so because they believe in its merit, campaigns seldom run on a platform of harm or misery. Thus, when we find someone whose views contrast our own we must understand why, because I assure you they aren’t doing it to piss you off. The truth is we all want to arrive at the same social destinations, be it freedom, prosperity, safety or a sense community, the only issue is we all have different understandings regarding the best means of achieving these aims. The political journey is a long one, and there are many different routes, but we must maintain the belief that even if we start out on different ends of the spectrum the terminal objective is the same in the minds of all participants. It is our duty to figure out why our political opponents believe their route is the fastest path to utopia, and to accurately demonstrate to them, without armaments, the map to enhancing human well being. If all of this seems too unscientifically sanguine for you, allow me to draw a biological comparison regarding the issue that we, as humans, regardless of how ostensibly different we may appear, are fundamentally the same. If you travelled the globe and encountered someone of a different eye colour, hair colour, race, gender, religion, sexuality, class, or all of the above, they would share a minimum of 99.5% of your DNA. I can think of no reason why this would not be replicated in our psychological make-up as well as our physical. We all likely agree on the vast majority of issues, buts it’s the nuanced, contentious topics that grab headlines and thus we are thrust into the belief that we are fundamentally opposed to all that our political opponents stand for, when in reality we are just opposed to the minutiae deviations in response to the mutually recognised societal quandaries. Safe in this knowledge I am quite content arriving at my conclusion that, fundamentally, we are all motivated by the same factors, from here it is merely an issue of reconciling these social motivations with our political solutions, and for the avoidance of doubt, this will not be discovered in the shadow of a kalashnikov.