Brisbane, June 29, 2016 (Alochonaa): When the results of the referendum were announced and it became clear that the “Leave” campaign had triumphed, I was pleasantly surprised. Democracy had done its work. There were winners and losers. There was disappointment and euphoria on opposites sides of the debate. There was trepidation about what was to come. In short, it was like every other close election or referendum, or so it seemed.
Then the calls started coming for a second referendum. The side which lost simply felt that the rules should be changed and the whole event restaged because the odds had not been sufficiently stacked in their favour the first time (more on that in a moment). Then the Scots, who had willingly cast in their lot to prevent Britain from leaving the EU, suddenly decided that the vote did not matter and they had the right to block the Brexit on their own. After all, they only participated because they thought they would win. Then there were the rumbles in the stock market which had people suggesting that parliament Britain might lose its nerve and pull the plug on Brexit. The voters were just plain wrong.
Nothing could better illustrate why a Brexit is necessary than the behaviour of the political establishment in the aftermath of the vote. Having lost the argument and the democratic process, the establishment resorts to legalism and bureaucratic dirty tricks to make sure that nothing so stupid and trivial as the electorate can interfere with their grand plans. It is the way our pseudo-democracies now operate. It is the EU way. It needs to stop.
The Pernicious Myth of the EU
On the morning after the referendum, the media painted a dark picture of Britain’s future. In this they were well-practiced, as the “Remain” campaign had literally warned of the end of Britain, of the rise of fascism, of World War III and of many other absurdities during those desperate final weeks. David Cameron even referenced the battles of Trafalgar, Blenheim and Waterloo as reasons why exiting the EU was a bad idea.
Never mind that NATO is actually the collective defence organisation for Europe, and that NATO is unaffected. Never mind that trade blocks are not dependent on having the same domestic laws or immigration policies (as proven by almost every other trade block in existence). Never mind that the recent history of the EU is recession, bungled bailouts, high unemployment (particularly youth unemployment), a failed currency system, high debts and unbalanced terms of trade. And certainly never mind that the British people are never offered choices as to the increasing legal burdens placed on British freedom of action. After all, David Cameron might be right.
Once Britain leaves the EU, the French will presumably be marching straight through the Channel Tunnel to Waterloo Station itself to avenge themselves for 1815, and Britain will once again be called upon to stop the advance of the Holy Roman Empire’s forces through Germany. Waterloo and Blenheim were only two and three hundred years ago, so they must be immediately relevant today. Lords knows, the French and Austrians have not changed a bit in that time, at least not to David Cameron, a man who clearly eyes several of the attendants of a NATO meeting as his true enemies – ones to be kept close.
Such hyperbole should be old news but the shadow of the Second World War is so large that it still works as part of a fundamental myth that props up the EU, despite all its faults. The same talk of a return to a Europe-wide war emerged whenever Greece was having a hard time fulfilling its bailout requirements, or whenever someone suggested that a currency union which included vastly different economies was obviously a stupid idea. The reason for sticking with the pain of every single element of the EU is simple – without it the Nazis will be marching through Poland in no time.
This is the first myth of the EU – that it alone is preventing some kind of humanitarian catastrophe, and that there is no rational alternative. Unfortunately, this is not the only myth to gain an enormous amount of traction. Hints of a second myth can be seen in the highly publicised reaction of young voters in the “Remain” camp.
The majority of voters under the age of 35 voted to remain in the EU, and the media has been thriving on repeating random angry Twitter posts to demonstrate the point that it was old against young. This matters, so the argument goes, because a 25 year old’s opinion is more valuable than a 35 year old’s opinion because more of the future “belongs” to the younger person. I will not go into the logical consequences of this line of argument for the future of democracy where the tagline is “One person, one vote, if you’re under an arbitrary age,” but the degree of attachment young people have to the EU is fascinating.
In Britain, homelessness is spiking. The rich are getting richer. The middle class is eroding. Stock markets and corporate earnings are divorced from real incomes. Speculators and bankers make amazing profits whilst their losses are insured by the taxpayers. The state embarks on austerity measures to combat its debts whilst dropping corporate tax rates. All this happens whilst Britain is in the EU, and yet, some people literally seem to think that the EU is the solution to British problems.
A common market for certain goods can be a good idea. Blanket free trade between certain economies may also work in specific times and circumstances (though definitely not all). However, the EU is too large, too inflexible and now too intrusive to deal with the problems facing the global economy, and its institutions are too beholden to the very same establishment that benefits from its largess, neoliberal delusions and incapacity. The wealthy, transnational elite who benefit most from the open markets, global tax havens, free movement of people and monetary policies have very different interests to the average working person, yet organisations like the EU are geared towards their (the elites’) interests. The elites are the ones with direct access to the bureaucracy and institutions (like the central banks or regulators) and it is they who are recruited to staff them. And yet, despite it being a system that is so obviously undemocratic and increasingly unashamed about this fact (as the elites’ reactions to the vote attests), the dream of the EU, the dream of one Europe, free, rich and at peace, is so attractive and seemingly so fragile that people will attach themselves to its most absurd and outrageous mechanisms to keep the promise of the idea alive.
No, I’m Not Xenophobic
All large political movements attract people with a broad spectrum of views. To get straight to the most divisive point of the Brexit campaign, yes, there are racists in the “Leave” campaign. There will have been racists in the “Remain” campaign as well because there is nothing incompatible between racism and European Union. Ask a Turk why Turkey has such difficulties with the EU and they will often respond that the EU is simply racist. The merits of such arguments about the level of racism in Britain or the EU are irrelevant to me because I do not need to be a racist to want to leave the EU or even to restrict immigration.
My views on immigration stem from a first principle which cannot be violated – populations cannot grow forever. I believe in sustainability. I have previously written about the need to accept a stable population and to find a way to manage the economy without unlimited population growth. No one in the political establishment is yet ready for such a move, and we will probably have to wait for a man made demographic disaster to embrace the idea of population stability. Consequently, as my core views on immigration are completely different to most people, the key issues for me are not at stake in the Brexit.
Despite this, I will turn at last to the issue that everyone says they do not want to talk about but, in reality, they talk about all the time – Muslim immigration. The EU is forcing Britain to accept what amounts to an open-ended number of immigrants from some of the most radical Muslim societies in the world – Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan. Libya, Iran, Somalia, Eritrea and more. Members of these societies overwhelmingly support what most Westerners would call extreme Islam and sharia law is enormously popular. I am a strong critic of Islam and Islamism (as I am of all three Abrahamic religions). I know Islam quite well. I do not have a medical condition known as “Islamophobia.” I am a secular liberal with a philosophical objection to the ideology of a medieval Arab warlord who thought it was fair to kill people who wished to leave his religion, or who did not believe in the god of Abraham. I do not hide my criticism of Islam any more than I do my criticism of other destructive or authoritarian political ideologies, such as fascism, communism or Ba’athism.
Despite that, I have complex views on what to do about these immigrants, particularly considering that many will be genuine war victims and that those wars have been partly or entirely shaped by Western foreign policies. I am also essentially unconcerned about terrorism. Terrorists are few, they are largely incompetent, and they are less of a threat to daily life than the many rapists, thugs and organised criminals that prey on the vulnerable every single day.
All this said, the EU’s approach to immigration is worrying. EU leaders have no credible plans for the integration of new arrivals, social services are being stretched, and Britain is being told who should be settled in the country and when. Britain should not accept this and few in the EU or elsewhere should lecture Britain about it. For Western states to continue to be places where refugees can be settled in an orderly fashion, the process must be just that – orderly and socially acceptable.
Everywhere but a handful of Western countries, illegal immigrants and legitimate refugees alike are bundled into permanent camps or are ignored entirely by the state. They must struggle for a living and are usually denied citizenship (often for their children as well), education and working rights. It is only in the handful of wealthy, liberal Western states that, despite the damning claims of the political left, enormous numbers of refugees are taken in, given housing, money, social services, education and citizenship. Yet even in the most generous countries – Australia, Sweden, Germany, Austria – there are logical limits to capacity.
Over the past year, EU member states which were previously lauded for their hospitality began to close their doors in violation of previous treaty commitments, an inevitable outcome if there is no way of limiting new arrivals. EU states cannot simply turn their entire productive capacity to integrating refugees, and if you agree with that statement then all that is left is for us to argue about is the appropriate number. If you have any experience in refugee settlement, I suspect our nominal maximal numbers will not be too different.
Brexit is Nothing Unusual
I am impressed with the British public for seeing through the alarmist lies of the “Remain” campaign and for charting a new potential future for Great Britain. With non-British citizens allowed to vote, and with many foreigners with inherited passports joining in the fray from overseas in order to protect their own travel rights (several of my friends were in this category), I suspected the bar would be set too high and Britain would vote to remain. Expectations confounded, it is now up to the British people to not waste this amazing opportunity to reshape their economy, re-regulate their financial sector, reinvigorate their parties and democratic processes and reimagine their future.
Unfortunately, I think Britain will fail its next task and the Brexit will deliver very little of its potential. Caught up in debates about the future of Scotland and Ireland, and mired in an ongoing economic stagnation and debt crisis, none of the major parties will have what it takes to redirect the country to be all it can be (particularly when the transnational elite will be present in London, irrespective of their recent losses). That is a shame but it is the new normal. The economies of the entire Western world have been suffering from a ‘lost decade’ that is sure to continue at least as long again, and the remaining EU states will hardly do any better.
It is also important to remember that this is not the end of history for Britain or the EU. Far from being unprecedented, the Brexit is just one more example of self-determination in the modern world. Since the beginning of human history states and empires have formed, broken down, reformed, changed borders, integrated and split apart. Over one hundred new states have been created in the past fifty years. Multiple attempts at unions have been tried and failed in that time. More territories seek independence or greater unity each year. There is no essential reason why the EU had to have Britain in it now and, despite the rhetoric, there is no reason to think the Brexit will not be reversed in fifty years’ time – that is, if the French don’t invade first. We know they have not changed. Just ask David Cameron.
*Dr. Simon Leitch is the Editor in Chief, Foreign Policy and International Affairs, Alochonaa. He taught International Relations and Security Studies at Griffith University. His research interests are in foreign policy and strategy with a particular interest in the interaction of the great powers.
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