The UK Is Trumped: Departs from the EU, Deeply Divided

Memorial, Jo Cox, London
Memorial for Jo Cox, MP, at Trafalgar Square, London.  Photo credit: Garry Knight / Flickr (CC0 1.0) 

The people have had their say: The UK will quit the 28-nation European Union.

Push finally came to shove and voters decided the risk of leaving the EU was a risk worth taking.

Brexit’s Trump-like central message — “Put Our Own People First” — will resonate across Europe as mostly far-right politicians follow its lead.

Campaigning was suspended for three days in its final week after the brutal murder of Jo Cox — a young Member of Parliament on a crusade to keep the UK in the EU. Her death failed to influence the outcome.

A former aid worker, she was known for her support of Syrian refugees. In court, Cox’s killer gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Only a month earlier, Britain’s far-right politician Nigel Farage told a BBC reporter that violence over migration would be “the next step…if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything.”

The Brexit vote is a momentous event for global stock markets and a reality check for the political elites in London, Brussels and other EU capitals.

Here are four takeaways from Britain’s In-or-Out EU referendum:

Brexit was a Protest Vote in a Staggeringly Unequal Economy

The UK’s “Out” vote reflects a critical mass of loathing for mainstream political parties, business and media elites.

Millions of alienated British citizens — ignoring dire warnings of economic depression and the sheer peril of the unknown — voted to abandon membership in the European Union. An idea considered crazy when first launched over two decades ago carried the day.

“It was fired by a feeling of revulsion in the pit of people’s stomachs,” Nicholas Shaxson, who writes for the Tax Justice Network, told WhoWhatWhy. “It’s a generalized hatred of the elites in Britain. It’s a phenomenon that you’ve also seen in the United States. And there’s similar things happening elsewhere in Europe.”

Working-class voters were drawn to the “Leave” camp because it presented a rare opportunity to strike back at a system that has created the worst income inequality since the 1930s.

Sociologist Lisa Mckenzie, whose research focuses on the lives of the working poor she grew up with, wrote in The Guardian that Brexit “is about the precarity of being working class….The referendum has opened up a chasm of inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society are crawling out.”

The release of the Panama Papers in April marked a turning point in the run-up to the EU Referendum. The more Prime Minister David Cameron, chief supporter of the “Remain” camp, dodged questions about his own global offshore holdings — earning him the nickname “Dodgy Dave” — the more it fueled support for Brexit.

Many Brits ceased to believe a word coming out of Cameron’s mouth no matter how many times he said a Brexit would increase taxes, threaten pensions and reduce funding for the National Health Service (NHS).

Likewise, the Bank of England told UK citizens they would be poorer if they pushed their country out of the EU. They were joined by the International Monetary Fund and a chorus of talking-head experts.

The too-close-to call polls led Cameron to make a last-ditch stand in front of 10 Downing Street (the equivalent of the White House), where he issued a desperate, Churchillian appeal to the British “not to quit.”

On Friday morning, Cameron announced that he would step down by October.

Brexit Won by Bashing Immigrants

Nigel Farage, UKIP, leave poster

Nigel Farage with UKIP ‘leave’ poster  Photo credit: Ruptly TV / YouTube

The far-right’s anti-immigrant campaign ultimately overshadowed the anger of working-class voters and the angst about British sovereignty. Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP), previously on the fringe, has become a major force in British politics.

“It’s immigration, stupid. This is the issue. The real issue,” pro-Brexit MP Peter Bone told Politico.

Poll results suggested that immigration was the No. 1 issue for voters.

Much like Trump ranting about Mexican rapists, Farage regularly evoked the “security of women.” The threat of sexual assaults by migrants was, according to him, the “nuclear bomb” of the EU referendum.

Only a few days before her death, Jo Cox addressed the issue in a column in her local newspaper, arguing that “Brexit is no answer to real concerns on immigration.”

On the morning of the day Cox was murdered, Farage unveiled a campaign poster in British Parliament showing lines of refugees and the headline: “Breaking Point.” The caption read: “We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.”

Meanwhile, Leave.eu, a pro-Brexit splinter group, was comparing both refugees and LGBT people to vicious snakes in one of its videos, which included a reading by Trump.

Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and most prominent pro-Brexit politician, made half-hearted attempts to distance himself from the UKIP campaign’s racist undertones, while emitting his own dog- whistle slurs. In one, he suggested that Obama opposes Brexit because of the “part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire.”

In or Out: Big Finance Is a Winner

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For the UK’s financial sector, Europe’s largest, Brexit will be a short-term shock but with the UK outside the EU, it will enlarge upon its already leading role as a business and tax haven for the world’s superrich.

City of London

City of London skyscrapers, north of the Thames, viewed from City Hall.  Photo credit: Doc Searls / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Headquartered in a small area of central London, the UK’s financial hub actually has its own jurisdiction, The City of London Corporation, more often referred to as the City of London or just the City.

David Cameron used the EU referendum to squeeze concessions from the EU for the City and promote its deregulatory agenda. It was British lobbying that sank the European Union financial transactions tax and watered down bank regulations designed to avoid a financial crisis of the kind that brought the world economy to it knees in 2008.

The Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory published a report last week analyzing how “from the day a ballot on UK membership was first announced by Cameron three years ago, the financial sector has sought and won significant lobbying victories.”

Now that Brexit has won it will, according to Nicholas Shaxson, further increased the power of  “unaccountable, offshore interests.”

The charity Christian Aid recently pointed out that “a quarter of the world’s major tax havens on a ‘blacklist’ published today by the European Commission are either British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies.”

Brexit Is Just the Beginning

At this point, Brexit looks more like the beginning than the end of populist revolt in the European Union. The Leave victory in the UK’s referendum could trigger the process of EU disintegration.

In other EU countries, political outsiders, mostly from the far right, are drawing inspiration from Brexit.

Both The Netherlands and France face elections in a few months that will include popular far-right parties. Both countries rejected the EU constitution in 2005 (later adopted as the 2007 Lisbon Treaty).

A majority of French say they too should get to have their own referendum on whether they stay in the EU. France’s Marine Le Pen, the most prominent far-right politician in Europe, says she wants the EU to “explode.”

The results of a Europe-wide survey show that “voters of Eurosceptic parties feel fundamentally abandoned and betrayed by their own society and institutions.”

Brexit has shown the way. The European Union is not too big to fail.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and Boris Johnson (Financial Times / Flickr  – CC BY 2.0) 

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16 responses to “The UK Is Trumped: Departs from the EU, Deeply Divided”

  1. rms says:

    I live in the UK. You are wrong. It’s not all “hate”.

    • Tanya says:

      I also live in the UK. It is about hate. All I hear everyday are how immigrants have taken jobs and money from Brits. People are angry and hateful. We are on our way to really becoming “Little Britain”. Sad, very sad indeed.

    • Holly Anderson says:

      The vote was both about racism, hate and ecumenical hatred for the ruling elites. It was not a vote of class consciousness, for there is little. The liberal socialists have assured this along with the bankrupt neoliberal trade unions. So this was not a true ‘labor v. capital’ vote. It was a vote of disgust for the plan by the elites to send refugees to Europe and their plans to destroy sovereignty..

      The vote was about what happens in a monopoly capitalist ginned up global financial world, even if the people did not embrace this notion. It is now time to organize a true socialist movement for if not, fascism will rear its ugly head.

    • artemis6 says:

      A true socialist movement, indeed, in both our countries, if we are to survive as who we are. Not under the heel of some far away expert who asks us to suffer for their real masters. Hint: it’s not us.

    • artemis6 says:

      I do not believe this vote was about hate, but freedom. I am in the USA and we are constantly mis-cast as well. Most humans are good if given a decent chance to be. The structural violence of poverty the elites impose on everyone else denies many of us this chance.

  2. Geoff Smith says:

    I ‘hate’ to disagree, Rob, but I also live in the UK and the whole
    campaign has been driven by hate and fear -mainly towards immigrants
    from the Brexit camp, and dark bogeyman terror from the remain side. If
    stabbing and shooting an MP to death in broad daylight, screaming that
    she’s a traitor doesn’t count as hate, I’m not sure what does.

    If that’s not enough, how about an elected Tory councillor publicly
    proclaiming that he would donate ‘the steam off his piss’ to Jo Cox’s
    funeral?

    It’s only going to get worse as people discover that as bad as Brussels is, an unfettered Westminster will be worse.

    This article is right to focus on how the financial sector shapes Britain. Dark days ahead.

  3. MrLiberty says:

    Disgust with the tyranny of the ruling elites, crony capitalists, and globalists is not hate. It is about self-preservation and every human being’s desire for freedom and liberty. One can only hope that the same desire for freedom and liberty will spread to the US and bring about the end of this failed experiment in tyranny. We were supposed to be a collection of sovereign states, yet today we have far less sovereignty relative to Washington DC and the federal government than any of the EU nations have relative to Brussels. Don’t we Americans – as the supposedly “free country” – deserve the same ability to restore OUR sovereignty?

  4. Neil Lori says:

    You are off base about the leave voters. Many of them vote Labour. The right wing in Britain is not as large or influential as you say. Give Americans a vote on trade agreements and a majority of us would vote to exit.

    • Holly Anderson says:

      Right, the article mentions nothing a about labor mobility or capital mobility nor trade agreements.

    • Catherine Robert says:

      The campaign was orchestrated by right wingers Gove, Johnson, Farage (far right/Britain First) – this article doesn’t say the voters were right wing. The author mentions a ‘working class’ vote, analysis seems to show voters were not united by right or left wing politics, and there seems to have been a kind of generalized hatred and disgust with ‘the state of the country’, with blame directed and misdirected at the EU. I’ve not been able to find much positive idealism.

      I grew up in Britain: there has been a continual celebration of generalized hatred and ridicule against the EU for over 20 years in the gutter press which is widely read, most of it untrue or badly interpreted. This article reflects my analysis of what happened pretty well. Whatever criticisms can be thrown at the EU, in the UK the referendum campaign was based on a ‘what’s in it for me?/Britain’ attitude (take a look at the campaign websites Leave and Remain). Since the vote over a million voters have expressed regret at being misled into voting ‘leave’ (the information they were fed by the right wing campaign leaders has turned out to be demonstrably false).

  5. VoxFox says:

    There’s much that’s NOT being reported by the Media Echo-Chamber.
    Like millions being given by Brussels to empty Land-Owners (Saudis, Russians, etc); like massive salaries to 10,000 bureaucrats, like bribes to media-types and ‘artists’, like exporting jobs to Asia with Euro encouragement, etc. etc.

    This vote was a chance for the ordinary Brits to shove it up the nose of almost all politicians, pundits and all the so-called “experts” who have screwed up the world. Now, for Euro to blow apart and restore local control.

    THEEE CHEERS FOR DEMOCRACY.

  6. artemis6 says:

    This is AMAZING!!! The bank of England should do some serious favs for the British people who just saved them from total dissolution by Washington? CIA banking cartel..The Elites have disgusted lots of people around the globe. There has to be a tipping point.

  7. william beeby says:

    Firstly the death of Jo Cox was nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit as it turns out she intervened in a dispute between two men outside her office . The MSM was guilty of using it as a political tool but as the article points out if did not work . Secondly according to the MSM there are 16 million right wing bigoted racists in Britain who all voted for Brexit . This also is complete rubbish. The reason people voted to leave the EU was a simple one , they want the ability to make and change our own laws back in parliament , whose members we know and can vote for , and not decided in Brussels as has been the case for more than 40 years. Also the simplicity of the main message that it costs this country 350 million pounds a week to be a member of this rich business interests cartel / cabal.

    • Holly Anderson says:

      Very true. This article is biased and from the start. No mention of undemocratic Troikas, no mention of Greece, no mention of Austerity, no mention of undemocratic elites destroying sovereignty. No, the article is remiss and you make a far better point.

    • artemis6 says:

      That is how I took it. I do not think history will look at this vote as anything but an issue of one people wanting to have a rightful mastery over their own destiny. Nothing wrong with that. Wish we had it here in the USA. Notice how they do not let us vote on anything like this? All these stupid wars would never pass the vote.

  8. (Comment by reader @pappjo) people are more swayed by those that play to fears and prejudices than they are by calmer more rational voices.