So, here we are, just over 3 weeks deep into Brexit… well, awaiting it anyway. But, the people have spoken! On June 23rd 51.9% of voters chose for the UK to leave the EU, the first country to ever talk about doing so and unbelievably we somehow ended up doing it. We have set historic precedent in the process and who knows what that will entail, but as the rhetoric goes ‘make Great Britain Great again’ (well, what might be left of it).
Obviously, those who voted in do not really agree with this rhetoric. This goes to mainly young voters, with an estimated 75% of voters under the age of 24 voting to remain, left aggrieved by not be able to travel around the EU freely, a potential loss of NHS doctors – with 26% of junior doctors foreign born, the potential that less EU students will be attending UK universities, particularly worrying for the EU students themselves. Here at Aberdeen, despite whatever might go on with the UK and EU, or Scotland and the UK, they have safeguarded all current EU undergraduates funding, good old pro-EU Scotland.
The economic aspect of Brexit if often countered by out voters, saying that it is not all about the economy. The pound may have fallen to its lowest in 30 years, falling faster on referendum results day than on Black Wednesday in 1992, but they believe we can redefine ourselves as an independent Britain again, by re-establishing old trade patterns with the USA and the like, with a better deal out of the EU and a better economy in the long term. As Michael Gove said in a Sky News Q&A, “People in this country have had enough of experts”, as shown in the anti-establishment sentiment as the general public ignored the Institute for Fiscal Studies, London School of Economics, IMF and OECD.
Of course this all comes with the taking back of our ‘sovereignty’ and being able to get a grip back on the problem of net migration. It will be interesting to see how that is reduced from 330,000 to the tens of thousands, as the Tory’s proposed all the way back in 2010, especially since over half of the net migration in 2015 came from outside the EU.
Anyway, what’s happened so far then? Since a successful campaign culminating in his lifelong goal as a politician, Farage was quick to hand in his resignation to UKIP, but nothing compares to the speed of his U-turn in denying that £350m a week would be, or even could be (since it’s £250m a week and we get about £120m back directly), redirected from the EU to the NHS. He was joined on this by Boris Johnson, who despite campaigning by the bus with the mantra on it the whole time said he had never endorsed the statistic. Ian Duncan Smith made a similar move.
This aftermath of take-backs exemplifies the pure anti-intellectualist and downright lying nature of the campaign from both sides. It was not an informed decision for the most part on both sides. The Leave campaign’s £350m for the NHS was by far the worst, but the In campaign offered nothing short of absolute crap with its fall into a panicky chaos of throwing every possible negative eventuality to dissuade voters.
Still, we are here and short term chaos is expected. David Cameron’s questionable tactics on Europe, going from telling his party in ‘05 to stop “banging on about Europe”, to holding a referendum on the EU in an attempt to unite his party, failed miserably. He resigned, falling on his own sword and the jeers of pro-Brexiteers, giving rise to Theresa May, dividing both party and country in the process and replacing elected officials in Europe with one here in the UK.
In a very One-Nation manner, at her leadership launch, she said the Conservative party will “put itself – completely, absolutely, unequivocally – at the service of ordinary, working class people”. Will she be able to hold the country together? Before even that will she be able to reunite the party? Some see the appointment of Boris as Foreign Secretary as purely tactical, with the real power lying at No. 10 for major foreign issues and Brexit issues being dealt with by David Davis (an apt long term Euroskeptic).
May’s cabinet composition is diminutive compared to Scotland potentially leaving the UK. Nicola Sturgeon has spoken vehemently of the injustice to the Scottish people to be taken out of Europe against their will. The issue of a Scottish neverendum could be solved with another vote for independence, this time looking much more likely than in 2014. Meaning the departure of Scotland and the most unified, progressive mainstream party leaving a fractured UK. This could be compounded by a reunified Ireland, or seemingly more likely a volatile Ireland in which border controls are re-established.
Labour is no exception to the chaos. Despite Corbyn being elected as leader only back in September 2015 with a 59.5% mandate, his Parliamentary party overwhelmingly voted against him 172-40 in a vote of no confidence with 63 resignations happening since the referendum. Polls show Corbyn ahead, but it is possible that a splinter group of, either moderate centre-lefts, or strong lefties from the Labour party, Unite and Momentum, will form dependent on who wins. It is almost anti-establishment from within the establishment.
Moving towards the repercussions for the rest of the EU, Brexit could pave the way for other right-wing populist movements to spearhead a departure from the EU. In France, the third biggest member of the EU, 61% of EU voters hold an unfavourable view of the EU (greater than that of the UK’s 55%), this kind of Euroskepticism provides a severely ominous worry for the EU. This could spur on greater Euroskepticism in Italy, with the growth of the populist Five Star Movement and xenophobic Northern League, as well as some fears of Nexit in Holland. All of this combined with the ongoing Eurozone problems makes for a worrying read.
The likelihood of more departures cannot be ruled out but even in Euroskeptic France it seems unlikely. Does this spell doom for the EU? Maybe not but an “ever close union” is looking evermore distant. And the union of the UK looks in tatters: EU-cleavages exist generationally, economically and educationally amongst ordinary people and politically amongst countries. A divided Tory party, a divided Labour party, a divided country. This could destructively fuel populist politics across Europe, it could strengthen the core of the EU, and some even prophesise of a further fragmentation and re-assembling of the EU in the distant future.
For now, there is still contention over when Article 50 should be invoked, so the end is in sight, but the era of the EU is not over quite yet. The UK is suffering for now. A vote for uncertainty cannot be that bad, but who knows.