Brexit: For the Record
“Ah, you’re British, what are your views on Brexit?” has undoubtedly been the most popular question I’ve encountered over my last four months at Lawrenceville.
“Ah, you’re British, what are your views on Brexit?” has undoubtedly been the most popular question I’ve encountered over my last four months at Lawrenceville. While I naturally expected such questions—accompanied by requests to recite strange pronunciations of words like “aluminium”—the bemused reaction to my response: ‘Well, I want Brexit!” has deeply shocked me.
The confused conversation which usually follows is worrying. After professing my rejection of the European project, the person I have just met likely sees me as a distinct breed of Englishman; one who is at best anti-immigrant or a Trump supporter and, at worst, a vehement racist. Or perhaps, I may simply be one of the stupid, misinformed voters who was misled by the lies of evil genius Dominic Cummings or the Leave Campaign’s 2016 campaign bus that promised an extra 350 million Euro per week for the National Health Service. Alas, such generalizations are merely the product of a myth created by the ill-informed or those who wish to reverse the majority decision made by 52 percent of voters in 2016. Admittedly, the 2016 referendum is far too complex for us to come to some ultimate conclusion about why people voted for Brexit, since the vote meant something different to each individual person. Instead, I can only speak to what Brexit means to me and why I support it in 2020.
My first major concern with the European Union is the profound lack of democratic accountability of bureaucrats in Brussels. Before the 2016 referendum, around two-thirds of laws rubber stamped by parliament came from an unelected assembly that failed to understand what Roger Scruton called “the peculiar social conditions of Britain.” People were, rightly, upset about the inability to control their own laws under an institution that drained large amounts of British taxpayer money. Furthermore, the looming presence of “superior” rulings from the European Court of Justice has often undermined the power of the British Supreme Court, especially when concerning its forced marriage to the European Convention of Human Rights in the form of the Human Rights Act (1998).
Therefore, “The Autocracy Within Britain’s Democracy” is with unelected European officials and judges, not, as was stated in a recent Lawrence article, with Boris Johnson: a prime minister whose Conservative Party recently secured a resounding 80-seat majority with a “Get Brexit Done” agenda. This sense of a loss of control extends to legitimate concerns surrounding the rate of mass migration into Britain. Completely free and open borders championed by Europhiles seemed untenable to many. Starting with the New Labour’s more relaxed immigration policy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, large swathes of migrants were drawn to the United Kingdom. The hardest hit by growing migration was not the largely educated Remain voters but the working class communities whose wages had been undercut by migrants willing to work at a much lower rate. Additionally, these demographics were disproportionately affected by the squeeze of ever lengthening National Health Service waiting times, social housing pressures, and limited school places.
However, it was the manner in which the liberal elite dismissed such anxieties as inherently nativist that angered many of the 50 percent of Leavers who cited migration as the primary driver in them voting “Leave.” Many “Remoaners” have failed to genuinely interact with the issue of immigration despite repeated warnings. Instead, they idealise a frankly unsustainable policy of a borderless world, alienating large parts of the British population outside of London who do not feel they have benefited from the surge of globalisation. However, this decision made by the British people was not only determined by domestic concerns, but also a rejection of the Union more generally, dismissing the project to create a “United States of Europe.” This resistance to a closer union, which had been apparent since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty (1992), was largely driven by concerns that the EU no longer provided a mutually beneficial system in which certain countries within the Union seemed markedly different to that of the UK. A prime example of this was Greece, which received three successive EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailouts (totalling 330 billion dollars) after revealing its sky-high deficit in 2010. It therefore seems that countries like Greece or parts of the former Soviet Union were developing at the expense of Britain, which technically was equal to such members in the EU assembly.
While all of this was happening, the EU also seemed to be held hostage to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He continues to use the 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey as a loaded gun, threatening to send them to Greece or let them walk through Bulgaria to get to Europe. Rather than standing up to this dictator, with his deplorable treatment of Kurds and the use of refugees as human bargaining chips, the EU and previous Prime Minister David Cameron instead suggested the possibility of Turkish membership to the Union. This prospect was strongly rejected by the British people who were unwilling to be subject to the whims of Erdogan, someone who so obviously did not represent Western values.
While the EU may have begun as an admirable trade partnership, it has morphed into something much more insidious than often portrayed. Only time will tell whether the signing of Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement on January 31 will be either a positive move towards a thriving, sovereign nation or the break-up of the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the dismissal of the legitimate concerns of the majority must stop if Britain is to have any hope of bridging the ever widening divide within the nation’s population.