Reflections on Brexit

EU referendumMy daughter wrote in her Facebook page that “I’ve attempted to write how disappointed and shocked I am over the results and I just can’t put it into words.”

My partner said she struggled to get to sleep because she was worried about Brexit, while earlier in the day she had long text conversations with her English cousins who were apologising for the result and (jokingly?) asking if they could come and live in Ireland.

In my office I signed an application for an Irish passport for someone who wants to retain EU citizenship and the freedom of movement it brings, while my partner says she’s going to stop calling herself Northern Irish and will also apply for an Irish passport.  Even in unionist areas applications for them have risen dramatically.

These personal responses to the Brexit vote are instinctive, since we don’t know exactly the changes coming down the line.  None of them are in themselves a political response in any real sense although they are healthy personal reactions.  However they aren’t answers.

Will the EU allow citizenship to those who are citizens of a state, the UK, that is not a member of the EU so that they could be both a citizen and non-citizen of the European Union?

Even assuming you wanted and were able to move to the Irish State the issues of nationalism, the EU and austerity would follow you.  The EU sent the Troika to impose austerity but thinking the Irish state can be some sort of protector is insane when you recall it would rather bankrupt itself than let down the gambling French and German bank bondholders.

And consider this: how fair is it that just because your parents were Irish you are entitled to Irish citizenship while children actually born in the Irish State are denied such citizenship?

The lovable and cosmopolitan Irish had their own referendum in 2004 in which they voted not to allow automatic Irish citizenship to children born in Ireland of foreign migrant (read – black) parents who were ‘obviously’ coming to Ireland to gain citizenship and residency for their whole family.  It was brutal and it was racist and the Irish voted almost 80 per cent in favour of it.

Today, after the Brexit vote, we have faced the smug and reactionary mug of Nigel Farage boasting that “real” and “decent” people have won “without a shot being fired” while these decent people are now emboldened to repeat xenophobic and racist comments to reporters, where previously they repeated them only in private.  The family and friends of the Labour MP murdered by a right wing zealot declaring ‘Britain First’, a rallying cry of the Brexit campaign, may stand shocked and horrified at the claim that not a shot has been fired.

Last night a TV reporter stated how difficult it has always been to get people on the streets to respond to political questions but that now in this Brexit town everyone was prepared to speak.  But of course now nationalist prejudice has been validated; it is now legitimate to repeat bigotry because the Brexit campaign won, it is the majority, its campaign was successful and it will now govern.

That this was a victory for the most reactionary forces is understood by many, and understood in the responses recounted at the start of the post, even by people who aren’t particularly political.  Not only was the campaign reactionary but so also are its consequences, including an invigorated Tory Party, soon under an even more reactionary leader; a rancorous exit procedure that will stir up xenophobic feeling even more; and further accommodation to racist attitudes by Blairite MPs who are plotting against Jeremy Corbyn.

So while the motives for the Brexit campaign have been reactionary and its campaign became even more so as it went along for some, despite all this, it must be considered  as some sort of workers’ revolt against austerity and denial of democracy.  Even Farage has claimed it was a campaign against the establishment, “against the multinationals” and “against the big merchant banks”. This, from an ex-City trader!  But it is no truer when mouthed by the left than it is when claimed by Farage.

Some on the Left have looked on the Brexit majorities in some working class towns and hailed this alienation from the political system as progressive, merely distorted somewhat by anti-immigrant attitudes but nevertheless a healthy revolt.  Since many of the same people also hailed the nationalist illusions of many Scottish workers in the Scottish referendum this creates something of a problem for their view of the world. I have yet to see a rationale for both a vote to remain by Scots and a vote to exit by the English both being valid expressions of opposition to the establishment.

I have also yet to hear what these left nationalists have to say about the millions of workers – including two thirds of Labour Party voters, in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland who voted to remain, who obviously also oppose austerity but who refused to blame immigrants for their problems.  I doubt very much they have many great illusions in the EU either, certainly their leader Jeremy Corbyn gave them no reason to have any, and I don’t recall anyone saying the EU was wholly progressive.  Except of course the Blairite MPs who want to get closer to the one-third of Labour voters who endorsed the bigoted Leave campaign and get further away from the two-thirds who rejected its reactionary appeal to nationalism.

Which brings us to yet another reactionary consequence of the referendum – the renewed, but not entirely confident, demand for another Scottish referendum: a case of maybees aye, maybees naw.  After all, even the most wilfully blind Scottish nationalist is going to wonder how the Scottish state will finance state services with the price of oil through the floor.  Another Scottish nationalist vote against austerity that inevitably inflicts austerity is exactly the same sort of non-solution English workers voting Brexit have just embraced.

So Scottish nationalists, having played the nationalist card and lost, see English nationalists play their own and have responded in kind.  Like the Irish who have forgotten their own shameful racist referendum, Scots nationalists regard other peoples’ nationalism as ugly and their own always attractive.  Except for some really lost people on the left who now seem to regard all these nationalisms as healthy, at least underneath it all, and sometimes not even underneath.  Like most left nationalists they have left wing opinions and right wing politics.

Returning from work on Friday evening I had my MP3 player on, listening to the media show on Radio 4 in which some BBC editor was making a poor show of defending himself against the charge of one listener/viewer who said the BBC unduly emphasised the Tory versus Tory argument in its referendum coverage. Five minutes later the PM news programme headlines carried statements from Cameron, Sturgeon, Boris Johnson and a couple of others but not Jeremy Corbyn.  No wonder BBC pundits claim Corbyn didn’t do enough!

Like some on the Left they have an outsiders view of what is going on in the real world, where some workers are voting for racism but somehow are never themselves racist while workers who reject scapegoating are written out of the picture, swallowed up in categories such as youth, metropolitan elites or middle class because some of them have a good job.  Only voters against immigration apparently express genuine alienation while the others have uncomplicated pro-EU views.

But they, and the near 50 per cent who voted Remain, are the hope for the immediate future in this bleak hour.  The left that supported Brexit can get lost chasing an ‘anti-austerity’ vote consumed by reaction while the former is the basis for stemming the tide of reaction.  The anger expressed on social media, the barracking of Johnson as he travelled to his victory press conference, signal that though there has been initial despair this can translate into anger that can transform into action.

That the campaign was portrayed primarily as a Blue on Bluey fight, which of course was its catalyst, reflects deep divisions in the Tory party, although this is no time for purveying false confidence on this count.  The Tories heightened class consciousness has given them a keen sense of self-preservation and understanding of the need for unity.  Now that UKIP has achieved its programme many of these reactionaries may return to their Tory home.

However precisely because it is the Tories who wrought this overturning of the existing arrangements it is they who will have to account for it and all its looming failure to deliver on its promises.  Already the £350bn to the NHS has been dropped.  The reaction of EU leaders to the hope for a slow exit negotiation process is a warning that the other EU states have no incentive to pander to the requirements of a party that has threatened their project.  The arrogance of British nationalism will clash against the reality of Britain’s much reduced power in the world that has been reduced further by the vote.  Now more than ever the British state is reliant on “the kindness of strangers”, as the Governor of the Bank of England put it, in particular the US. The latter has no reason to disrupt the UK economy, particularly now, but now less reason to give it any privileged protection.

So if the Tories have the potential to split, and will be under stress for their responsibility for Brexit and all it will entail, it is the Labour Party and wider British labour movement that alone offers hope to the nearly half the voters who voted Remain, and even to those who opposed austerity by blaming immigration. Most unions supported Remain and in my own little part of the world, my own union NIPSA, which voted Brexit, got some considerable grief from many members who first heard of the debate after the decision was publicised.  In this decision it aligned itself with that bastion of progressive thought in Ireland – the Democratic Unionist Party.

The centrality of Corbyn to this fight is illustrated by that steadfast and trusted friend of the labour movement, Polly Toynbee in ‘The Guardian’ today:

“Jeremy Corbyn faces an immediate leadership challenge after a performance that was dismally inadequate, lifeless and spineless, displaying an inability to lead anyone anywhere. What absence of mind to emphasise support for free migration on the eve of a poll where Labour was haemorrhaging support for precisely those metropolitan views.”

These ‘metropolitan’ views are socialist views, it’s called freedom. Like all liberals, Toynbee will defend it except when it’s under attack.  Corbyn, to his eternal credit, defended it when every other leading politician was uttering weasel words of exclusion and discrimination.  Having defended these principles it is up to all those who voted Remain to defend him from the blinkered and opportunist attacks of Blairite MPs who would rather see a Tory victory than a Labour victory under Corbyn.

It is speculated that a general election will arise when the new righter-than-right Tory leader takes over, supposedly to give him or her a mandate but equally to protect them from the developing failure of a Brexit project that will breed disappointment and anger.  It is also speculated that this failure, and the anger that will flow from it, will not rebound on the promoters of this crazed project but will intensify antagonism to the already identified scapegoat – immigrants, ethnic minorities and foreigners.  But this is not inevitable, or at least the scale of it certainly is not.  But to ensure it is minimised and defeated requires a working class alternative based on those workers who have already rejected it, as many as possible of whom should be organised into the labour movement.

The underlying weakness of the Brexit project is revealed in its reliance on xenophobia and prejudice because it has no strong rationale of its own.  It will fail to make good its promises, which is why some have been deserted so quickly.  This weakness is reflected in the incredulity of some Leave voters that they actually won. More than one has revealed that they doubt they have made the correct decision.

The evening before the vote I heard an interview with two intending Leave voters who said they were ‘voting with their heart and not their head’; an admission that they couldn’t defend their decision.  This is not to say that the majority who voted leave are unsure, many are dyed-in-the-wool nationalists or even racists but many will not be.  But what will not convince them that they are wrong is the proposal from Toynbee, Blair, Mandelson and all the other career politicians that actually they are right!

The majority of young people voted Remain, another reason for hope.  The millions of EU citizens in the UK are also a reservoir of support.  Claims by the Leave campaign that their rights will be protected are exposed by the fact that they weren’t allowed to vote.

There are therefore some grounds for hope in what is an otherwise depressing situation.  But I am reasonably sure that my grounds for hope are stronger than the optimism that it must be assumed is felt by those lefties who ‘won’ through supporting Brexit.  Lexit was a failure.  The left case for Brexit or whatever you want to call it was and is miserable.

The Socialist Party (SP) in Ireland has claimed that the creation of an EU border in the middle of Ireland will not mean a “hard border” because the common travel area between the UK and the Irish State pre-dates EU membership.  They fail to recognise that both jurisdictions were then outside the EU; they were then both in and shortly one will be out. The only chances that there will not be a hard border is if the EU doesn’t care about its borders, the Brexit campaigners don’t care about immigration or they decide to keep all the Paddies at arms lengthy by putting the hard border at Holyhead, Stranraer, Glasgow airport or Heathrow etc.

The SP make the frankly nonsensical statement that “there is nothing genuinely internationalist about the EU.”  Where do you start with this?

Well you start with capitalism as it exists and fight to make a socialist society based on capitalism’s already international development, not try to wind the clock back to an earlier period that actually never existed.  In this the supporters of Lexit are the same as Brexit – pining for a mythical national development that, even were you to attempt to return to it, would lead forward again to internationalism.  The fact that the EU is an international  political arrangement of international capitalism makes the statement that the EU is not internationalist simply a stupid thing to say.

It may not be our internationalism but the nationalist socialism of the SP is not genuine internationalism either.  The failure of the Lexit campaign means that they may have been on the right side of the result but were on the wrong side of the campaign.  They too, just like the Tories, can look forward to telling us how the evolving exit from the EU is such a great step forward, for them supposedly for working people and for socialism.  Both promised money for the NHS and not the EU and that promise is as worthless from both.

What those disappointed by the result should do now is not simply put down in words how gutted they are but think for a while and put down what they think could be done to make things better.  Even working to understand the issues better is a contribution because out of understanding comes a realisation that there is an alternative and knowing this is an invitation to make it happen.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Brexit

  1. well I see it very differently, after the night of the vote I was as happy as a jumping bean. It was an absolute pleasure to to see the cherry faces of the remainers on the TV screen turn to a sickly yellow when the Sunderland vote came in, all those car workers were supposed to vote for remain, but they did not dance to EU’s badly strung fiddle. Imagine the plebs giving the two fingers to the British Prime Minister, the Leaders of the Labour and Liberal parties and you can chuck in the miserable SNP, the policy committee and the head of the Bank of England, the IMF, the European Central Bank, the American Federal Reserve, President Obama, the CBI, the Stock exchange, the Financial Times, the economists magazine the CoE’s of most of the trans-nationals and the Banks, the promptings of Branson, Geldof and Bono and a ship load of other wealthy celebrities, add on about 5000 or so self serving economists, plus all of the Chancellors of the rancid Universities and quite a few campaign socialists like the barmy Varoufakis and last but no means least Gerry Adams and his cronies. Happy days are here again I thought.

    But of course I know my happiness is going to be sabotaged by the MPs in Parliament, they will take the Leave vote as a strictly indicative one, and the the new leader of the government and Tory party, the golden haired Boris the super ambitious Turk is in reality a closet Remainer at least according the testimony of his personal friends. Since almost the entire British Parliament and Civil Service is for Remain, there is vast scope for turning the normative Leave vote into a de facto Remain outcome and this I am confident will happen when the plebs begin to nod off. As the father of the grand EU fantasy once put it ‘Europe’s nations should be guided towards the Superstate without their people understanding what it happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each disguised as having an essential economic purpose, but will eventually and irreversibly leading to a federation’ ( Jean Monnet)

    But it was a fantastic count night, I even open a couple of bottles of cider before hitting the hay in the early hours, this time I thought well done England and shit on those losers the Scots.

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