FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Britain Walked Out: Brexit Can’t be Written Off to Populism and Xenophobia

by

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, must regret having compared a UK Leave vote to ‘the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also western political civilisation in its entirety’ (1). Nevertheless, the thunderclap of the Brexit victory resounds across Europe.

This time it will be difficult to ignore universal suffrage and ask a political class disowned by the result of the 23 June referendum to patch up an arrangement the people have rejected. No one imagines that the UK will be subjected to a democratic denial as flagrant as those perpetrated in France and the Netherlands after their no votes on the European constitution in May and June 2005. It is also unlikely that the British will be treated with as much contempt as the Greeks who, in response to their pleas for the EU to change course, were financially asphyxiated and socially purged, with disastrous economic consequences.

De Gaulle opposed the UK joining the European Economic Community in 1967 because he did not want ‘the creation of a free trade area in western Europe, in preparation for one covering the Atlantic area, which would rob our continent of its unique character.’ To blame the British government alone for this loss of identitywould be unfair, however, when it had so many willing accomplices in Berlin, Paris, Rome and Madrid; so many that it’s hard to see what ‘unique character’ or specificity the EU still defends. It is also telling that, in an effort to stop the UK from leaving, the EU hadreadily agreed to measures that would have suspended welfare benefit payments for workers from other EU countries and strengthened legal protection for the UK’s financial sector.

The EU, brainchild of an intellectual elite, born in a world divided by war, missed one of history’s great choices, or opportunities, to take another route 25 years ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a chance for Europe to rebuild a project that could have satisfied its peoples’ aspirations for social justice and peace. If it had had the courage to demolish and rebuild the EU bureaucratic structures surreptitiously erected alongside its states, and remove free trade as the engine of the machine, it could have opposed the triumphal progress of global competition with a model based on regional cooperation, social protection and top-down integration of the peoples of the former eastern bloc.

But instead of a community, it built a market. Bristling with commissioners, rules for member states, penalties for its peoples, yet wide open to competition among workers, soulless and with only one aim — to serve the wealthiest and best connected in financial centres and major metropolises. The European dream has been reduced to a world of penances and austerity, invariably justified as the lesser evil.

The protests expressed in the British vote cannot be dismissed solely as populism or xenophobia. And it is not by further reducing national sovereignty, in favour of a federal Europe almost nobody wants, that our politically discredited elites will assuage the popular anger unleashed in the UK — and rising elsewhere.

Notes.

(1) BBC World, 13 June 2016.

This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.

More articles by:

Serge Halimi is president of Le Monde diplomatique

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail