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Brexit: the UK in despair

For the French version, see



About Brexit much more needs to be said, then what has come across in the media. It will be of special interest to hear what our friends in England say about the outcome of the referendum. Of course, a media like CNN has continued to document the fall out of Brexit. Of interest is that they showed extensively how Donald Trump acted and what he said while he was at the same time of the referendum in Scotland to open one of his golf courses. While he was in favor of angry citizens casting their vote and taking back their country, a phrase used extensively by Farage as well, he ignored the fact that Scotland had just voted in favor of remaining in the European Union.

Most significant is that the youth voted for remain while the older people opted for leaving the European Union. To such a strange voting difference between generations, there can be applied an essay with the title “The poetics of life versus the poetics of death” by Greek poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke (http://poieinkaiprattein.org/poetry/katerina-anghelaki-rooke/the-poetics-of-life-versus-the-poetics-of-death-katerina-anghelaki-rooke-1994/ ). She noted while the youth still wants to set something positive against all negativity, those who are older and closer to death will be inclined to stay solely negative.

One fault line can be made out. Unfortunately during the campaign leading up to the crucial date of June 23, the universities in England had adopted a neutral position and hence substantial arguments were not really heard. Thus London School of Economics informed its alumni with following opening statement: “As you will likely be aware, in yesterday’s referendum the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. While the School maintained a position of institutional neutrality throughout the referendum campaign, this is not the result that the higher education sector at large, nor many of us here at LSE, wanted to see.” (Prof. Craig Calhoun LSE Statement on the EU Referendum). That neutrality was a mistake as it turns out now to be the case, for the universities stand to lose access to EU research funds and the students shall no longer be able to take advantage of ERASMUS. Already UK universities begin to register that they are no longer asked to be partners in European cooperation project proposals which have to be submitted by late August of this year. (see Chris Cook, “Universities take a knock post-Brexit”, Newsnight http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-uk-leaves-the-eu-36719923 )

We know many went to bed the evening before the referendum on June 23 quite reassured by the latest poll that the "remain" camp was ahead by even 5 to even 8 percentage points. When they woke up to realize quite the opposite was the case, not only they, but stock brokers and many others were shocked. Apparently this does not apply to Krugman. He may have a special notion of what is inherent in any crisis. Presumably the spill-over of many unresolved problems can produce an unpredictable dynamic fed by a new quality of "irrationality".

To define "irrationality" entails here a two-fold connotation. For one, it can imply that it is irrational to stay any longer in a situation if negative for oneself, so that it is better as Johnson and Farage have argued, to get out as fast as possible. Still, the UK as EU member did not heed the need to cooperate with all other member states on equal terms, but always sought exceptions and special conditions. For the referendum Cameron had asked even special conditions which would have violated basic principles of the EU such as the guarantee of free mobility and quite another policy towards immigration. Cameron during the referendum campaign argued repeatedly that the UK had the best deal by being inside as well as outside, and therefore had the best of both worlds. One can wonder if this sitting on the fence was not conducive for an irrational desire to obtain even more special conditions, in order to satisfy not the French but British version of “exceptionalism”.

On the other hand is it not also irrational to go against the best advice of all kinds of experts, and this includes what Obama had said when visiting Cameron prior to the referendum? He pointed out that the United States would negotiate in future preferably with a large single EU market, rather than with England once outside the EU. The UK would simply slide down in the list of priorities. However after the result of the referendum became known, he stated that the special relationship between the USA and England shall never change. This sounds rather odd since now the term "change" is used to emphasize nothing shall change.

The referendum had all the ingredients of irrationalities in it. Their real names are xenophobic tones with a virulent Racism having led after the referendum to even more hate crimes against strangers or foreigners. It is as if a new beast has suddenly lifted its head and hovers now over communities no longer able to uphold the British virtue of tolerance and love for diversity. Already the murder of Labor MP Jo Cox was a grave warning signal as to what incitement of hatred can lead to. Suddenly people hovering until now in silence and in the shade of society would break out into the open to commit their hate crime. Politicians nowadays don’t seem to understand the correspondence between their own public statements and what they legitimize especially in the minds of those who take their statement as a new fundamental Right to express such anger and other emotional discontents.

Alarming, equally unacceptable was the analogy Johnson drew when he suggested the European Union was similar to what Hitler had sought when seeking to seize power in Europe. Rightly so, someone pointed out such a debasement of the EU was due to Johnson having grown up with cartoons which love to draw over simplified enemy pictures with the bad guy always being the German with pickle helmet.

Since that touches on a deeper cynicism, with many in the aristocracy in England having endorsed Hitler or at least they were fascinated by his methods, it needs to be asked why such a verbal derailment of Johnson was not reason enough to raise right there the red flag. After all, there exists a law which prohibits the incitement of hatred. Why are politicians during campaigns exempted from that?

By the way, the same question has to be raised in view as to what Donald Trump allows himself when poisoning the political debate. Literally not just his personal attacks against Hillary demonstrate a lack of human decency, but he allows himself all kinds of gut reactions without ever waiting for a validation of any information. He demonstrated that once news spread that Egypt Air had disappeared. Immediately he claimed that it was an act of terrorism. Now that the black box has been recovered, evidence indicates fire broke out on board and brought the plane down. Naturally what caused the fire, no one knows right now anything definite or at least has not as of yet been made public. But to just imagine a politician who deals with things without checking first the facts before saying something in public, would come into power and make decisions based on his thoughtless “preconceptions”!

Of interest is that Cameron, Johnson and Farage have all retired after they caused 52% to vote for Brexit. Surely they must feel the wrath growing over the Brexit not only by those who voted to remain, but those who now regret but too late that they voted to leave. Someone characterized their behavior as a reckless play with serious matters affecting the lives of millions but it seems they do not care. It reflects clearly that such irresponsible behavior can only be practiced by those who belong to the elite which can allow itself almost everything and this independent from people in general. Likewise it makes one wonder why a majority of people believed them in the first place as this class division is so firm in the UK. As one person in the UK puts it, “we cannot just wrap our minds around the reality of living in a country where the nationalist sentiment is so ugly and so easily evoked by lies and emotional manipulation by a cynical and irresponsible elite…The politicians who led the leave campaign have proven to be lying, treacherous, spineless cowards within days of achieving their goals and it will be now up to all of us to suffer the consequences of their behavior. The worst of them have always been in bed with forces that aim to withdraw the state from its citizens even further and to enable the markets to suck money out of the public purse. Their main objection to Europe I fear is not that it was taking too much money of the state, but that it distributed it in ways that benefitted the poorest regions and causes they deem meaningless.Interestingly this person sees the referendum’s outcome to be due to a false pride contributing to a misunderstanding of what ‘national sovereignty’ entails. For one of “the left-overs of the Empire was the National Pride, - the empire made the elites rich while the ordinary people continued to struggle, but they were allowed to fight and die for the empire and their reward was to be proud to be part of it, while their women and children died in the mills. This sense of pride is still strong, passed down through generations, with little critical thought or reflection as to what one should be proud of.” It was Pablo Neruda who said the first thing to get rid of is “pride” for it would only lead to self-isolation.

The consequences of the Brexit shall be immense. The pound has been taking a hit since June 23, and the governor of the Bank of England stated that the signs of the crisis are beginning to crystallize. The construction industry is being hit in particular hard. The same applies to the steel industry. The key word making the market over nervous is “uncertainty”. No one seems to know as to what awaits the UK once Article 50 is evoked.

Some hope the Brexit may be averted and some other agreement between UK and the EU can be found. A law firm has already filed a case with the aim that parliament takes up this question, if the referendum is really legal binding. Political fine tuning is fully in demand but are the ones involved on both sides capable of bringing about a lesson with all learning out of the mistakes having been made?

EU nationals living in the UK are now most uncertain about their future status. Moreover parents worry about the future of their children since they shall be denied what they have taken nearly for granted until now e.g. thanks to ERASMUS studying in other European universities or else flying just with Ryanair to all spots in Europe. When entering another country, they just need to show their security card and nothing else. Equally it was easy for them until now to find work elsewhere and this without any bureaucracy blocking the way whether they work now in Berlin, London, Paris or Athens. Probably the positive side of the EU has been taken by them so much for granted that they failed to realize that their future in Europe was at stake. Indeed, it seems that the youth has not realized how precarious is this overall EU project founded on the ruins of Europe when WWII ended. Then there was a will to overcome the reasons of conflict between nations.

Whatever can be said about what brought about Brexit, naturally there are reasons which have led to an increasing disenchantment with Europe. But politicians of all parties have practiced a kind of schizophrenia, for when they work in Brussels or Strasbourg, they become Europeans, but back home they blame Brussels for everything negative while they claim to have done everything for their own respective country. The EU has failed to create true structures which gives Europeans a voice in the decision making process. Any election to the EU Parliament means to go through the national filter. There is no direct vote.

That this is not being perceived, was demonstrated once again when Commissioner Timmermans, who is in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, talked to the EU parliamentarians. He highlighted the importance of their work at the European Parliament as being the essence of the representative democracy: “751 Europeans have been elected to directly represent citizens from 28 different nations in all their diversities with their differences.” (Irene Kostaki, “Timmermans squares off with the Far Right in Strasbourg playground”, 15 July 2016 (https://www.neweurope.eu/article/timmermans-squares-off-far-right-strasbourg-playground/ )

Above all the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005 as proposed by the EU Convention meant the EU institutions have lost since then their "moral legitimacy". The Lisbon Treaty did not overcome that because the true issue of how to give all citizens equal rights remains unresolved. It is argued that the Parliament has been strengthened, but still the treaty allows member states to override the concerns not only of Parliament but of all citizens. This is because member states, and therefore the council of ministers over-dominate in all decisions taken at European level. In short, the bitter truth of Europe is that all citizens are equal except for the member states. It does remind of Orwell's "Animal Farm".

The Brexit must convince the member states that they are overplaying their influence in Europe, so that any proposal for reform which does not deal with the demand for equality for all citizens will not come to terms with what human reality demands. Politics is a complex undertaking, democracy an invaluable institution, but which requires a non-violent possibility to question any abuse of power before it is too late. Moreover institutions can end up being over demanded by problems they were not designed for to resolve.

Europe has the moral strength to find a way out of this current mess and political confusion caused by the Brexit, but it will require a cultural consensus throughout Europe if democracy is to be for all a livable and believable truth. As for the people in England, it is time to ask themselves why they believed liars and manipulators rather than listen to their own critical consciousness and to well-meant advice. Odysseus of Homer showed that survival depends on knowing to which advice one should listen to, in order to find your way home.


Hatto Fischer

Berlin 6.7.2016




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