Brexit: Revolt of poor and marginalised
by Sandhya Jain on 12 Jul 2016 10 Comments

Much of the early commentary following Britain’s sensational vote to quit the European Union was conspicuous by an aversion to admit that Brexit represents a revolt of the poor, marginalised working and middle classes that have long been at the mercy of a dehumanizing system of mobile capital aggravated by cheap mobile labour. The fact that some racist attacks followed the June 23 referendum does not mean that the vote was principally motivated by racism, as some have insinuated.


The poor and middle classes rejected the soul-dead Brussels bureaucracy for a return to economic stability and political accountability. They voted for old-fashioned nationalism, wherein a nation’s polity must pursue economic policies that benefit its people, especially the vulnerable. As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stated, “Many communities are fed up with cuts, they are fed up with economic dislocation and feel very angry at the way they have been betrayed and marginalised by successive governments in very poor areas of the country”.


The Labour Party failed to position itself for a likely sudden general election. So pernicious is the legacy of ‘new’ Labour crafted by former Prime Minister Tony Blair, that most MPs are elitist globalists who want party president Jeremy Corbyn to resign for paying lip service to the ‘Remain’ campaign. Corbyn, convinced of the merits of Brexit, is struggling to retain his chair (the latest threat coming from Angela Eagle).


In large parts of the United Kingdom, people feel stranded by the pace of globalisation and loss of skilled jobs with adequate pay to support families. Since the 2008 crisis, people are stuck with zero-hours contracts on minimum wage, with immigration adding to pressure on wages, housing and public services, particularly health services. Young people wish to raise families in the communities they grew up in, instead of being sucked into the slums of London and the Southeast.


It is a canard that the vote was too narrow to be anticipated. A staggering 72 per cent Britons voted; the result was 52:48, a stark four per cent lead for Exit and a decisive snub to the country’s elite. As no democratically-fought election result can be overturned on grounds of an allegedly narrow margin; the attempt to decry the credibility of the referendum is depraved. Fortunately, no serious leader is wasting time on this inanity. Prime Minister David Cameron was unequivocal, “The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected”.


The European Union was always an elitist project. Ordinary citizens in member-countries can hardly name Members elected to the European Parliament from their countries. Its power structure and functioning are opaque. Power revolves between the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz; the President of the European Council Donald Tusk; the Holder of the (rotating) Presidency of the Council of the EU Mark Rutte (also Prime Minister of The Netherlands); and the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. The people’s verdict is that a faceless bureaucracy in Brussels runs the Union at the behest of big bankers, to the ruination of the citizenry.


There are several legitimate reasons for the pent-up frustration against the European Union. While individual countries were forced to impose severe austerity measures upon citizens, including pay cuts for government staff, EU employees enjoyed lavish pay. In 2014, a British newspaper found that several mid-level EU workers earned more than the British Prime Minister.


There is simply no accountability. All major EU decisions are negotiated privately at the European Commission or at EU meetings. The organisation does not respect national mandates. In 2005, France and Holland rejected the EU constitution for mooting deeper integration; two years later, the EU imposed many of the rejected changes via the Lisbon Treaty. The episode convinced many Britons that the EU establishment had contempt for ordinary citizens and would brazenly concentrate all decision-making in Brussels.


The establishments at Strasbourg (France) and Brussels (Belgium) cost a staggering US $200 million annually, which many regard a colossal waste. By treaty, the European Parliament can only meet in full session in Strasbourg, though the headquarters is in Brussels. Thus, for one week every month, nearly ten thousand persons (751 legislators, support staff, lobbyists, journalists, etc.) move to Strasbourg. What pinches is that the European Parliament cannot propose any law, but only approves legislation mooted by the non-elected European Commission.


Further instances of wasteful expenditure include translation of all meetings and documents into all 24 official languages via 1,750 linguists, 600 full-time interpreters and 3,000 freelancers on the rolls of the European Commission. Then, each member-country has the privilege of appointing a Commissioner (a politician who will run an agency) with attendant paraphernalia.


The bureaucratese was often enervating, as epitomized in the episode of the “bendy banana”. In 1994, the EU laid down quality standards for bananas (Commission Regulation No. 2257/94), which clashed with the British aversion for rigidity. The British banana industry had defined a Class I banana as one ‘free from abnormal curvature.’ The EU borrowed the definition, but twisted it to declare that it was illegal to sell anything other than Class 1 for direct human consumption on pain of a six-month jail sentence or/and a £5,000 fine. What were growers to do with naturally ‘bendy’ bananas? This was one of the top issues raised by the Brexit camp in the run up to the referendum.


Hours after the result, David Cameron resigned, suggesting a transition by October (the Tories have begun hunting for a successor; so far home secretary Theresa May is leading) and leaving it to his successor to trigger Article 50 to settle the terms of the split with the European Union. But, anxious to prevent other members (like France, Greece) from slipping away, European Parliament president Martin Schulz is pressing for early invocation of Article 50. Leaders in Poland, Italy and Denmark admit to “declining trust” in the EU. Turkey, whose possible membership of the EU figured in the UK referendum, believes the organisation’s disintegration is inevitable.


Brexit will boost the Russia-China axis while puncturing American exceptionalism and European unity. President Obama’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is over; the One Belt One Road from China, via Russia to Portugal, linking East Asia to Western Europe, will unite the Eurasian landmass. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation & BRICS will truly take off. And countries of Eastern Europe (Hungary, Rumania, Serbia, Macedonia), disgusted at the treatment meted out to them by Germany and France, will slowly gravitate towards Moscow.

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