Print
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Few were really expecting it. On the long-awaited ‘Referendum Day’ (Thursday 23 June) financial markets were upbeat and soon after polling stations closed, Mr Farage, Britain’s ‘Leave Campaign’ leader, seemed to concede, ‘It looks like Remain will edge it’ (see).

 

But then Brexit has been. Financial markets have collapsed, while Europe and especially Britain have plunged into uncertainty and even anarchy. However, such a big crisis can also be seen as an opportunity. In what ways?

 

To start with, the true ‘Brexiteers’ have been more than 17 million, on average older, poorer, less educated, and more marginalised than their ‘Bremainer’ opponents. ‘Remain’ won in London, other wealthy and well-educated cities in the South (Cambridge, Brighton, Oxford etc.), Scotland, and Northern Ireland. 73% of those under 24 voted ‘In’, in contrast with 40% of those over 65 – once again a sign of the generational clash which is going on in Europe. In many cases, the EU had little to do with these preferences; voters expressed a form of protest, an anti-global instinct, a rejection of the elite and of course fear of migrants. Curiously, Leave Campaign frontrunners such as Farage and Boris Johnson have a background in expensive colleges (Dulwich and Eton) and elite institutions (Oxford University, in Johnson’s case). Millions of voters have thus been cheated, used, and deceived by opportunists and populists. But what have the ‘establishment’, the traditional parties, the Oxbridge elite (well represented by Mr Cameron) ever done to persuade them?

 

David Cameron might likely be remembered as one of Britain’s worse Prime Ministers in recent history. A traditional Eurosceptic, he convoked the poll to secure right-wing voters before the 2015 General Election and then found himself in the odd position of having to defend EU membership. In that role (and not only) he was of course not credible. His Remain Campaign has been just lukewarm, to use a euphemism. Many voters got distracted by the Tories’ infighting between the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and several other latter-day opportunists. Blaming only the Conservatives, however, would be unfair. Labour has long lost touch with the workers, as the last General Election showed. It has become a middle-class party speaking the language of ‘political correctness’ but let down the poorer areas of North England and even Scotland. In the latter, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has demonstrated solidity and sense of direction, in this perhaps being the only British party with a clear agenda – for now. Together with political parties, however, the whole British ruling class, from the media to academia, businesses to trade unions, seems to have failed to convince voters of what was rationally quite obvious – the importance for Britain of staying IN the EU.

 

That said, there is a future after Brexit. And there are opportunities. All EU countries have similar problems, from rising populism and nationalism to other possible exits (The Netherlands and France often talk about ‘Leave’ referendums). Because of this (and the absence of Britain, which has traditionally been an obstacle to further integration), the EU now has the chance to act – and act fast. Some core countries (ideally the six Founding Members, although others might be also willing to join) should and could go ahead and push for a true European federation. This has been suggested, although sometimes vaguely, also by the media (see der Spiegel). EU leaders and governments, however, should act more rapidly and persuasively. Those countries which do not intend to join the first core might still join later, according to their citizens’ will. Britain, for its part, should stop blackmailing the whole EU with a position of rather calculated uncertainty. It has to leave soon and remember that, contrary to what Farage arrogantly stated in the European Parliament, it needs the EU more than the other way round. Trade policy in fact is reserved to the EU, a fact which means Britain will have to re-negotiate all trade agreements the EU has meanwhile signed with other countries. This is no easy task, considering that the UK is mainly an importing country.

 

The world is then moving on. China and Russia have signed new agreements, and the Silk Road Economic Belt is being harmonised with the Eurasian Economic Union. In the meantime, India and Pakistan are formalising their accession to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO). There is some irony in the fact that, while Britain leaves the EU with the hope of future deals with emerging powers such as India, the latter chooses to join an organisation which comprises Russia, the Central Asian -stans, and a former opponent, China. Demography and economic considerations play on Asia’s side, but this is no justification for Europe’s steady decline and evident weakness.

 

European integration is chiefly brought down by elite who keep discussing the subtleties of EU law or deceive citizens with empty promises of ‘recovering sovereignty’. In most EU countries, the rigorous and at the same time visionary leaders of the post-war generation have given way to a mix of specialised technocrats and PR experts with little substance. And worse might have yet to come. The demagogues who have intoxicated England have more dangerous peers on the continent. Brexit is certainly not the end of Western civilisation, as the misguided president of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, has declared; but it could be a further step towards a decline which is not per se inevitable. It becomes inevitable if EU institutions persist in their lethargic and irresponsible attitude.   

 
 

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
 
For business
For researchers
For students