I don’t know about you but I’m still pretty shocked by the result of the Brexit referendum. I’ve lived in Poland more than 15 years, so I couldn’t vote but I would have voted to Remain as leaving would be a step into the unknown at a time when the world is becoming less stable. I don’t think breaking Europe up along nation-state lines is a good thing at the moment.
If anybody’s interested, these are my thoughts at the moment:
An internal problem in the Conservative Party led to a referendum:
Cameron calling a referendum is the result of an internal battle in the Conservative party that goes back to the 1980s. There have been Eurosceptic politicians in that party for decades but the rise of UKIP was a challenge that Cameron felt threatened by, which is why he called a referendum to attempt to take control of his own party.
So as Martin Schulz of the European Commission has stated, “a whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party”. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/top-eu-leader-we-want-britain-out-as-soon-as-possible
For readers of the Polish press, Jacek Żakowski’s article in this week’s ‚Polityka’ compares the Brexit referendum to Cameron creating Frankenstein’s monster and watching in horror as it gets out of control.
It seems to me that Cameron has spent 6 years as Prime Minister trying to be all things to all men, i.e. keeping Pro-EU business happy while trying to appeal to Eurosceptics by criticising e.g. Polish migrant workers. In his resignation speech he claims he has always passionately expressed his ideas, but I simply don’t agree with this, as his views only became clear a few months before the referendum.
Polarisation – Are you for or against?
This referendum was another expression of what is happening all over Europe – the black /white, us/them way of looking at the world. The result is a divided society (52/48 in the UK’s case) and the lines between existing political parties are now so blurred that people will be even more likely to feel that their views are not represented by anybody. This only makes it easier for politicians to achieve their personal aims by divide-and-rule.
As in Poland, many people in England (let’s leave Scotland and Northern Ireland out of it) do feel they have less control over their lives and that they are in a worse position. There are many reasons for this – the effects of the globalisation process that is going to reduce the importance of Europe; the decline in traditional industries, e.g. manufacturing with jobs moving to cheaper countries; cuts in public services following the 2008 financial crisis….. For many of these people the referendum basically became a question of ‚Immigration is to blame. Do you want to improve your life? Vote Leave to stop immigration and take control’. Obviously, it’s a strong message if you live in a deprived area in the north of England (Hartlepool, Rotherham – places below the EU average in terms of wealth and ironically also places that have received EU funding, even though they have now voted to Leave), but it’s the wrong target.
Living in the past
There are still many people in the UK whose idea of their sovereign nation is based on Britain’s history as an empire. This comment by a well-known tabloid commentator is revealing, especially the last lines:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3659091/The-day-quiet-people-stood-roared-RICHARD-LITTLEJOHN-praises-spoken-EU-referendum-devastating-effect.html This vision of the UK and the idea of turning back the clock to some mythical time when things were better is appealing to the older generation, most of whom voted for Leave, but not only them.
I’m going to punish those people in power !
People’s frustration with their lives led to an idea that they are going to ‚show those elites what I think of them’, or ‚Cameron got a good kicking’. This reminds me of comments following last year’s general election here in Poland.
The lack of facts and blatant lying
The campaign on both sides was based too much on emotional arguments rather than facts. One good example is the Leave campaign suggestion that the EU costs 350 million pounds per week and this money could be spent on the National Health Service.
Norway/ Switzerland: The Leave people say that the UK can be like Norway or Switzerland, with access to the free market but limited immigration. What they didn’t say is how much these two countries pay into the EU structural funds in return for this access. These countries have never joined the club, but pay to have access to club facilities without having any influence over what they have to agree to. Nothing comes for free.
Young voters: The 18-25 generation were in favour of Remain, but it’s still unclear how many of them actually went to vote but will have to take the consequences of the decision – some polls say it as about 60% or young people. The message is simple: you have a vote so use it.
So what now?