The woe of Brexit

Dot writes: it’s been a whole month since I last posted. In that time I’ve written and given a conference paper, the boys have finished school for the year, Frank has learned to ride a bike (go Frank!), Ken has made a huge amount of beer, the UK has voted to leave the EU, and I’ve listened to some more records. I started to write a post partly about Brexit and partly about the records. It’s getting so long I’ve decided to publish it in two parts – so here’s the miserable political part.

I’ve chewed over the Brexit vote so relentlessly and extensively on social media and in conversation – it’s been a big topic both at work and at the conference I attended – I feel exhausted. I can’t go back over it all again here. But I will say that I started, when the referendum was announced, as a mild Remainer – generally thinking the European project was, on balance, a force for good, a force against insularity, and the only way small European countries could have a voice loud enough to shout against super-powers like the US and China. I was very unhappy with the brutal economic policies enforced against Ireland and Greece in the wake of the global financial crisis, but I still felt that it was better to be part of the EU than not.

As the campaign progressed my views sharpened. I registered for a postal vote, which I hadn’t done for UK general elections. I wanted my voice to be heard on this: it was about not just economic welfare and international power, but values of inclusiveness and co-operation, and indeed my own identity as a British person living in an EU country. I also became more acutely aware that Brexit could have grave consequences for Ireland. The Irish economy is closely linked to the British one; more seriously, the open border between the North and the Republic, and heavy EU investment in the North, are two of the lynchpins of the Northern Irish peace process. Northern Ireland has receded from British consciousness, I think, but there are still bomb scares, there are still marches: this is a place with an incredibly painful history in recent memory. I can imagine people saying that Ireland shouldn’t be able to blackmail Britain with its history of violence. Well, Britain bears a heavy responsibility for that history and will have to continue to deal with its consequences.

When I saw the news on the morning after the referendum, it was with a sinking feeling of inevitability, the same depressed, believing disbelief I felt on the day after the general election that returned the Conservative Party to government. Of course. Of bloody course. I should have known that this would happen. I should have known that the majority of people in Britain would not be like me; that I don’t share their assumptions, their approach, their prejudices (I have my own prejudices); that I just don’t get it; that I don’t belong, or rather that I belong to a minority – leftwing educated people with an international outlook. I had thought carefully, read up extensively, and voted in accordance with my convictions and my understanding of the issues. Other people had – well, they’d come to a conclusion that just seemed wrong. I knew many of them had thought about it at length and were not simply racist or casting a frivolous protest vote, but to me their conclusions were, clearly, wrong. Then I felt increasingly angry. Because now we all have to try to clean up the mess. And it is a mess, a dreary stupid mess. It is the fault of the politicians who should never have submitted such an insanely complex issue to a brute plebiscite; they have been atrociously irresponsible.

No, the sky hasn’t fallen. The pound has fallen a long way, the major UK political parties have fallen to ugly squabbling, Britain has fallen in reputation in the eyes of the world, but the world turns on (getting rapidly hotter, of course, and that’s another thing everyone is going to ignore again while they try to work out the endless legal, political and economic ramifications of this idiotic event). Nonetheless everything has got that bit meaner, that bit more depressing. Ugly fissures of hostility are exposed. And I feel decreasing hope that we will tackle any of the truly huge and urgent issues we face – global warming above all, but also inequality both within countries and internationally. It is ironic that what was surely in large part a gesture of anger from the poor within Britain will probably result in further austerity visited on the poor.




5 thoughts on “The woe of Brexit

  1. My own somewhat optimistic feeling is that the globalists, including academics and others whose natural career path takes them through different countries, have had a wake up call about the necessity of explaining how global interdependence works to those whose work, or lack of work, seems purely local in focus.
    Apologies for a complicated sentence but I suppose the situation is complex. Murray

  2. Mairi Jay

    Hi Alice, A great big thank you for your passionate reflections on Brexit. As you rightly say, the whole Brexit issue will distract European and British politicians from much deeper and more pressing problems. It’s also seems to me iniquitous that such a major decision can be decided by such a small voting majority.

    One thing your blog has helped me to understand more vividly are the consequences for Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. They are truly major.

    In NZ, the response to Brexit has been rather muted; the prevailing attitude seems to have been: “It won’t hurt us very much and as to the wider consequences, wait and see and let the dust settle.”

    I suppose my own thoughts are that the Brexit vote may turn out to be a blessing. I think that initial anger and desire for revenge by the EU decsion-makers may be followed by (a) a realisation that every effort must be made to keep the UK within the Union; and (b) that the EU has to become more flexible. The British vote, after all, highlighted concerns that have equally been felt by many in France, Spain, Italy, Greece etc. They may initially try and push the lid down on a simmering pot, but they will also realise that ejecting the UK is not a way to reduce their own tensions. Similarly, in the UK as various powerful groups start to feel the impact of withdrawal from the EU (I’m thinking here of the impact of farmers and large landowners from withdrawal of subsidies as well as manufacturers) the pressure will mount on UK politicians to find a fudge solution that will let the UK remain.

    That’s my hope anyway.

    1. Hi there. I would love to share your optimism – but fear I can’t.
      I’m in Germany just now and the massive feeling (backed by polls etc here) is that the EU must deal firmly (ie ungenerously) with Britain. French polls mirror this.
      Ironically the fallout from Brexit is that EU populations have swung more heavily behind the EU ‘ there has been a shift away from the right wing anti EU nationalist parties like AfD and the French National Front etc. There is massive anger with the British here – and absolutely no political desire to ‘make it easy’.
      In any case – it is not for the EU to throw Britain out. Britain has – for good or bad – voted to go. All that needs to happen now is that a future PM (possibly backed by a vote in Parliament – that is currently the subject of at least one legal action just now) triggers Article 50 – signalling the commencement of a min 2 yrs of exit negotiations. Extensions to this 2 yr period can be negotiated – but if no agreement on the terms of exit can be struck then Britain leaves without even the comfort of a planned orderly exit.

  3. I was utterly disgusted that the sickeningly xenophobic Leave campaign won. I’d resigned myself to its success some weeks before – but that didn’t seem to mitigate my fury.

    As a Scot of Irish descent living in the West Central belt of Scotland I was well aware of the precarious position a Leave vote would place Ireland in. And I knew that it would almost inevitably lead to another Indyref here – and an Independent Scotland.

    I’m hedging my bets and finally applying for the Irish passport to which I’m entitled. At least I’ll retain my European citizenship.

    There’s been a hellish amount of poor data analysis re the demographics of the Leave vote. Dorling (Prof of Social Geogrsphy) writing for the BMJ a few days ago explains it all so well. It seems it was the middle class white Southern English voter – the one who lives in an area with least migration and who cites ‘too many immigrants’ as their primary motivation for Brexit – we can thank yet again.

    The reactionary right wing of Southern England strikes again.

    The guarantee from all of this? That poor folk will be punished. Capital always finds the path of least resistance…

  4. I feel like the Brexit thing seems to be riding the wake of the Trump nonsense in the USA. Alienation and anti-immigration seems to be the zeitgeist. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back…

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