Dhaka, June 27, 2016 (Alochonaa): After a historic referendum, the UK has unleashed a medium sized Tsunami across the market as over 50% British voted in favor of leaving the European Union (EU). The result of the referendum has forced David Cameron to announce his resignation and the British pound has plummeted to depths not seen since 1985. Credit ratings for the UK have also gone down.
Nationalists in Scotland, who not very long ago decided to stay within the UK after the defeat of a referendum on independence, seem to beating up the drum of independence again. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, says she will seek “immediate discussions” with Brussels to “protect Scotland’s place in the EU” after UK’s vote to leave.
The sun over Great Britain, once a mighty economic, colonial and political force, with an extraordinary history of shaping many boundaries and conflicts across the world, seems to be setting to a new low.
Now is the time to ponder what exactly has gone wrong with this extraordinary country? According to Jonathan Hopkin, an Associate professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, “since the beginning, Brexit has pitted younger, more affluent, and cosmopolitan urban Britons against the older, poorer, and less educated ones in the rural and post-industrial parts of the country”. It is this same clash – the elites versus the so-called proletariat – that has fuelled the resurgence of extreme right parties across Europe, as well as in the United States, argues Hopkins.
It is plausible to argue that three factors were most at play in the British referendum result. They were (a) dysfunctional democracy, (b) a rising gap between rich and poor, and (c) the rise of neo-liberal economic policymakers who downplay the interests of common British people. These three factors have combined with xenophobic nationalism preached by the right wing parties. These three factors need further elaboration.
Firstly, there prevails a common perception among the working class British people that British democracy was not working for the commoners. Their jobs and housing were taken over by cheap imports and incoming migrants from poor Eastern European countries. Some of the blame also went to incoming Muslim immigrants and refugees from non-European countries. Right wing British political parties, like UKIP, campaigned heavily with toxic rhetoric and gained momentum. Unfortunately, none of the mainstream political parties could diffuse counter the views of many of those on the right.
Secondly, the rising gap between poor and rich in Britain is astounding, and it again fueled the dissatisfaction over existing political arrangements with the EU.
According to an estimate by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) in recent years, the rich in Britain are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer and they are struggling to pay off their debts. It was obvious that many in Britain were unhappy with the system and needed something and someone to blame for their misfortune. This anger was expressed in the decision to leave the EU. They believe their country could save a lot of money by leaving the EU and that the saved money will now be spent for the wellbeing of British people.
Thirdly, the political establishment was very much sympathetic to lowering corporate taxes. The British government is set to lower corporate tax rate to 17 percent by 2020, a reduction from 20 percent. That makes Britain a top destination for multinational firms and makes the British corporate tax rate the second lowest among developed countries. On the other hand, according to a Guardian report, the number of people sleeping rough in England on any one night has doubled since 2010 and increased by 30% in the last year. An estimated 3,569 people are now sleeping on the streets across England, according to recently released government figures.
According to Maidul Islam, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Calcutta based Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, “The decisive mandate of Britain, exiting from the European Union is a vote against the political and financial oligarchy that rules the world.” This oligarchy, in the view of Maidul, is ideologically committed to the free market economy, even after the failings of the 2008 financial crisis and the global economic recession. Free market policymakers have tried quick fixes for systemic problems and engaged in temporary, short-term solutions like austerity measures, money printing, bank bailouts and the withdrawal of the state from social sectors and productive economic activities. Thus, it was a punch from the common British people to the face of failing neoliberal economic policies.
In sum, the Brexit case demonstrates another example of the failure of globalization and the rise of nationalism. Brexit is a rejection of the primacy of the global over the local. The EU was a great example of a single but multi-state market economy where member states (most of them) even developed a common currency, shared a single sky for civil aviation, and used a very free system of international movement of goods, services and people. In other words, the EU was a model for what globalization was thought to offer.
One must remember that these EU states had a long history of fighting each other and that anyone standing amidst the ruins of war in 1945 would have struggled to dream that the EU could ever exist. And yet, exist the EU did and still does, however, in 2016, the EU is slowly crumbling. So too is Britain, a once great society. This is all happening in the name of nationalism – a white English nationalism – a similar trend which gave birth to Nazism in Germany. That too came about through democratic voting systems and recent nationalist trends are sure to make the near future an interesting time in world history.
* Mubashar Hasan, Ph.D is an Assistant Professor, Department of Media Studies and Journalism, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org He is the founder of Alochonaa