Brexit - Be Care­ful What You Ask For

Trillions - - From The Publisher - Photo: Chris Dor­ney / Shut­ter­

(Opin­ion and com­men­tary on the power of di­rect democ­racy by Brad Red­der­son)

Brexit. In spite of what many politi­cians and press pun­dits are say­ing, this made-up word does NOT rhyme with “Breaks-it”. But the tidal wave it has cre­ated may end up break­ing many things.

Brexit is a great ex­am­ple of the power and risks in­volved in di­rect democ­racy. Es­pe­cially in the case of com­plex ques­tions such this Bri­tish exit from the Euro­pean Union, in which vot­ers were bar­raged with news ar­ti­cles, ed­i­to­ri­als, end­less pol­i­tick­ing at all lev­els, and pro and con tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing.

The United King­dom’s in­volve­ment in the Euro­pean Union goes all the way to its be­gin­nings as what was known as “Com­mon Mar­ket” in the mid-20th cen­tury. Part of this post World War II vi­sion was to bring to­gether the ma­jor pow­ers of Europe as a sort of “United States of Europe”, with coun­try bor­ders opened up to al­low free trade and pas­sage of peo­ple and goods within the Euro­pean Con­ti­nent with­out pass­ports or tar­iffs.

It was a good idea in the­ory and for over 50 years it seemed to work for the most part. There had been strains for some time on var­i­ous is­sues, in­clud­ing the mo­men­tous one when the 21st cen­tury brought with it the sin­gle-cur­rency Euro to re­place the French Franc, the Ital­ian Lira, and the Ger­many Deutschmark – but not the Bri­tish Pound Ster­ling. But some­how they sur­vived and even thrived.

Noth­ing, how­ever, was enough to pre­pare the Euro­pean Union (EU) for the mul­ti­ple bat­ter­ing of the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the fi­nan­cial fail­ure of mem­ber na­tion Greece and un­steadi­ness of Italy and Spain that fol­lowed, and the re­cent wave of war refugees or im­mi­grants from the Mid­dle East. The stronger com­mu­ni­ties of Ger­many and the United King­dom – plus France, the Nether­lands and more to a lesser de­gree – were called in to help deal with and fund Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank is­sues to keep the EU as sta­ble as pos­si­ble. The Euro­pean Union Par­lia­ment also pro­vided an al­ready well-or­ga­nized place to ar­gue pol­icy is­sues in­clud­ing the more re­cent ones in­volv­ing Syr­ian refugees.

Even as the sys­tem worked in some ways re­mark­ably well as a union, slowly but surely the United King­dom and its cit­i­zens be­gan to feel its in­ter­ests were tak­ing sec­ond place to those of the EU as a whole. At first it seemed more an is­sue of de­bate than a se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion for se­ces­sion, but over time it be­came a big enough ques­tion that the UK’S cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, de­cided he needed to get all that con­tro­versy out of the way. He wanted it re­solved so the coun­try could stop ar­gu­ing about pos­si­bly leav­ing the EU – and get back to other things.

So he did what seemed a very log­i­cal thing. He called for a public ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue. To lever­age that power of di­rect democ­racy to show all those doubters out there – that the public was in fact sup­port­ing him to stay in the union.

He did so – or so it ap­pears – be­cause he be­lieved the public wanted to stay in the Euro­pean Union and the dis­sen­sion was just so much noise.

He was wrong and is prob­a­bly even now los­ing sleep over how things might ac­tu­ally have blown over in time if he had not asked for that ref­er­en­dum. Now it is too late for that.

He as­sumed peo­ple would un­der­stand why stay­ing in the EU, from his per­spec­tive at least, was a good thing. Even if he were right, even if the aver­age cit­i­zens had all the facts to con­sider the is­sues like he felt he did, fig­ur­ing things out was both far too com­plex for most to an­a­lyze prop­erly. And in the heat of pro­longed lo­cal re­ces­sion, knowl­edge of many high-level prob­lems across the EU, and the feel­ing of pow­er­less­ness, vot­ers chose a messy di­vorce over an im­per­fect mar­riage.

Too many UK vot­ers val­ued their na­tional soverignty and cul­ture over the po­ten­tial eco­nomic and so­cial ben­e­fits of stay­ing in the EU. They were tired of watch­ing im­mi­grants pour into the UK and take the jobs they didn’t want and those they did. They didn’t like the ero­sion and di­lu­tion of their cul­ture. They were sick of Asian rape gangs prey­ing upon their daugh­ters and wives while the po­lice did noth­ing. They were fed-up with feel­ing pow­er­less in the face of a dis­tant bu­reau­cracy that did not un­der­stand or value their con­cerns. They were not per­suaded by their own gov­ern­ment when it tried to con­vince to vote to stay.

It also turned out – af­ter the fact – that many cit­i­zens voted with a lot less in­for­ma­tion than they needed. Why else would one of the top ques­tions on Google in the UK the day af­ter the elec­tion be­ing “What is the Euro­pean Union?”

But the vote is over and al­though a pe­ti­tion is be­ing sent to par­lia­ment to re­con­sider the vote, this par­tic­u­lar de­ci­sion of di­rect democ­racy looks to be one that will may on the books.

It is cre­at­ing a mess as far as the lo­gis­tics of sep­a­rat­ing from the Euro­pean Union. That is partly be­cause al­though there is a pro­ce­dure to separate from the EU no­body has done it be­fore. It is also be­cause, long be­fore you start deal­ing with the im­pli­ca­tions on UK-based and Eu-based com­pa­nies that need to do busi­ness with each other, there is the need to re­place the EU ‘re­la­tion­ship’ with a brand new set of trade, bank­ing, and other agree­ments that will work across the bor­ders. Two years has been al­lot­ted for the process, but far less com­plex deals have taken na­tions over a decade to work out.

On the com­pany side, be­sides the now cross-bor­der trade is­sues to work out, there are many other prob­lems. Com­pa­nies which have branch of­fices that used to all re­side within the EU will now find them­selves on dif­fer­ent sides of the UK/EU now. Cor­po­rate head­quar­ters that used to be in the UK for some lo­gis­tics rea­sons are now al­ready an­nounc­ing they will move to the main­land to con­duct busi­ness. Man­u­fac­tur­ers and agri­cul­tural sup­pli­ers on either side of the bor­der will need to re­struc­ture to deal with likely tar­iffs on their prod­ucts. Star­tups with UK cit­i­zens in charge but res­i­dent in Europe now are faced with mov­ing or get­ting visas, pass­ports, and hav­ing to cut their own lo­cal deal with the EU gov­ern­ment. The EU it­self may also in­sist on main­land work­ers be­ing part of UK busi- nesses as part of the new ar­range­ments, as they in­di­cated in public dis­cus­sions in late June.

Within the UK it­self things are not all that sta­ble either.

While in the UK as a whole the vote was 51.9% to leave to 48.1% to re­main, within North­ern Ire­land 55.8% voted to stay and 44.2% to leave. Scot­land, which only months ago was vot­ing whether or not to se­cede from the UK ap­pears to have found a new rea­son to leave its Lon­don-based lead­er­ship be­hind. It voted with a re­sound­ing 62% to stay ver­sus “only” 38% of its pop­u­la­tion want­ing to leave the UK. The vote was so clear that Scot­land is al­ready look­ing for when to sched­ule its next de­par­ture vote. Worse still, it is also invit­ing all main­land Bri­tish res­i­dents who want to stay in the EU to move to Scot­land be­fore the vote – so they can eas­ily stay in the EU.

(Scot­land’s move into the EU will take time, as some have for­got­ten to point out. The cur­rent UK needs to for­mally separate in all ways be­fore Brus­sels will even con­sider talk­ing with Scot­land about mem­ber­ship. But at this writ­ing that par­tic­u­lar re­struc­tur­ing seems just a mat­ter of time.)

Age is an­other di­vide that show up in polling on this is­sue. UK res­i­dents over 65 voted more than 2 to 1 in fa­vor of leav­ing the EU. Those 18-24, on the other hand, voted 60% to 40% in fa­vor of stay­ing in the EU.

How much money one makes also tells an in­ter­est­ing story. Al­though the data is far less solid than for the ge­o­graphic and age de­mo­graph­ics, one UK polling or­ga­ni­za­tion, Pop­u­lus, es­ti­mates that lower class work­ers were in fa­vor of leav­ing the EU at a rate of 48% stay ver­sus 52% re­main. Up­per mid­dle, mid­dle, and lower mid­dle class work­ers sup­ported stay­ing at a rate of 54% to 46%. This could be an ef­fect of con­cerns about lower-wage im­mi­grants com­ing in from the main­land. It could also be con­nected to the feel­ing among the lower class that some con­sid­er­able amount of money which “should” have been sup­port­ing them was in­stead sup­port­ing the rest of the EU’S con­cerns.

And then there is the di­vide be­tween those who travel back and forth to the main­land and those that mostly stay at home. Those UK res­i­dents that have taken a for­eign va­ca­tion in the last three years, va­ca­tions that mostly went to travel within Europe, voted 55% to 45% in fa­vor of stay­ing in the EU. UK ex­pats liv­ing within the EU voted in even larger num­bers to stay. With so many struc­tural di­vides as to who voted for what, it is safe to say the United King­dom is any­thing but a “united” King­dom right now. The is­sue of Brexit will bring with it more in­ter­nal dis­sen­sion than per­haps at any other time in its his­tory, and near-term in­ter­nal frac­tures such as when Scot­land calls for a new vote to get out from un­der Bri­tain could mean the end of the United King­dom as we know it.

Within the EU, dis­sen­sion is no less strong now that the UK has voted to leave. Other coun­tries are either pub­licly or likely pri­vately con­sid­er­ing the same move. Which is very much be­hind why the govern­ing body of the EU wants to move as quickly as pos­si­ble to com­plete its “di­vorce” from the UK – and stop its own ship from wob­bling and pos­si­bly tip­ping over.

It could be that both of the “grand ex­per­i­ments” in­volved, the cre­ation of the Euro­pean Union in the mid20th cen­tury and the once transcon­ti­nen­tal supreme em­pire of the United King­dom, could break apart in the next two years.

And all be­cause a sin­gle man, David Cameron, called for a vote by di­rect democ­racy of the cit­i­zens of the United King­dom.

CC - Im­age by Rob984 & Offn­fopt

Eurostar train. Photo: EQROY / Shut­ter­

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