Opinion: Why the Brexit Vote Still Does Not Deserve Respect

How the EU referendum and its consequences cannot be regarded with anything other than hostility

, by Willem Van Boxtel

Opinion: Why the Brexit Vote Still Does Not Deserve Respect
Brexit is making at least one person happy. Whether Nigel Farage’s endorsement makes the project more respectable is questionable. © Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

May 2016, a typical High Street in the north Birmingham suburb of Erdington, England. Three lone blue-shirted campaigners, handing out pro-EU leaflets just weeks ahead of the all-decisive vote on Brexit. We all know how this story ends: badly. But, as I was one of those three lone campaigners, I have seen for myself what the referendum did, what it still does, and what it will continue to do.

It did not just sow almost literal division in British society which is still ongoing and has no solution; it is also still threatening the settled lives of over four million people, those from the EU who decided to make Britain their home, and those Brits who contribute to life in other EU countries. Moreover, the decision to abandon forty years of progress in a single sweep was taken not by considerate, rational judgement, not by weighing off of pros and cons, not by taking evidence into account, but by emotion, anger, hate, irrationality, and anti-intellectualism. The Brexit vote does not command respect – it doesn’t even deserve it.

Economic Lies and Irresponsible Misgivings

In the year since the Brexit vote, many articles and opinionated columns have been written about how deceptive the Leave campaign was during the referendum, so I will not repeat what has been said. All that I need to reiterate here is that I have never seen a campaign so deliberately deceptive and economically illiterate as Vote Leave. Already, we have seen financial markets crash in the wake of immense uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote. The moment it became apparent Leave was winning, the value of the pound plummeted like never before. Currently, it is hovering around the €1.13 mark, down from over €1.40 in summer 2015, with some economists predicting the fall is at least semi-permanent. [1]

Nigel Farage, the arch-conservative architect of the sheer lunacy that is Brexit, demagogue of 17 million voters, well-known bigot and loudmouth, populist extraordinaire, and annoyingly successful politician, has celebrated this fall in Sterling value. Celebrated? Yes, you read that right. This anti-rational claptrap spouter applauds the increased cost of everyday families’ weekly shopping, of a tank of petrol, of trading goods with other countries. Yes, devaluing currencies has its benefits – but only in the right circumstances. Britain, which was on its way to make a very steady economic recovery, did not do so under those circumstances.

Rather than £350 million to spend on the NHS, what we got after the referendum was a deficit increase of more than a hundred billion pounds. A hundred billion pounds. Think of what that money could have ensured. [2] Rather than balancing the books by 2020, as would have been an achievable goal if the “British people” – if there is such a general thing – had been wise enough to vote Remain, or better still, if the government hadn’t embarked on calling this shambles of a referendum in the first place, what we got was an extension of deficit elimination to well into the 2020s.

Is this respectable? Is this to be revered, to be applauded? No. It is to be criticised, to be defied, and every single step of the way I intend to do so.

Rights of Expats: Generous or Mischievous?

Another aspect of Brexit that is just about as miserable as the economic situation is the post-referendum government’s response to the status of EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the EU. There have been no unilateral guarantees on anyone’s rights, which is both UK and EU governments’ fault, and all we have seen so far is an assurance of rights that expats already have. On 26th June, Theresa May outlined her so-called “generous” offer to the EU on the issue of EU nationals, [3] which mainly consisted of her applauding herself for being benign. She offered to ensure residency rights for EU nationals resident in the UK for 5 years or more – despite this group of people already having this right; it’s called Permanent Residency.

Theresa May’s proposal creates multiple classes of residents; it is inherently contradictory, saying it values the contribution EU citizens make to the UK while complicating their residency status immensely. Several cut-off dates, several different processes and statuses to apply for dependent on when an EU national has moved to the UK, and new identification schemes EU nationals will need to apply for, are not in any way part of a generous offer. [4] I didn’t expect Theresa May would have the audacity to propose folly like this, having been smashed in the elections in early June.

No, again Brexit fails to deliver. Not only will it be harder for academics, manual labourers, even fruit pickers, to come to the UK and make the contribution we – including May, apparently – all so value, but it also causes the UK government even more administrational mess. The UK scrapped its ID cards scheme in 2011, mainly due to objections to separate databases containing personal data, and the bureaucratic costs. But no, to ensure everything about foreigners is known, the UK government is more than willing to spend millions. Registration ahoy. Is this a respectable situation? Does this command the awe and reverence of the entire continent? Not only does it not, but in my view this shambles of a process deserves a fightback – a raised fist (or even a certain finger) to those who thought this was a good idea.

So, over a year since the fateful day of June 23rd 2016, what can we conclude? Can we say that the “will of the British people” is a respectable will? Or can we say that the “British people” were not only misled, miseducated and misguided by both – yes, both – sides of the referendum, but that the majority of them also knowingly, knowingly, chose the wrong option? I would go for the latter, and I don’t think any rationally-minded individual could say the former. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, respectable about the message 51.9% of British voters sent to Europe, to their continental neighbours, to the European citizens that are their friends, neighbours, nurses, university lecturers, and fruit pickers. And it is our job, the job of every European-minded activist, to make sure this is heard.


[1] Rodionova, Z. (2017) Pound Sterling drops to its lowest level since October flash crash ahead of Theresa May’s Brexit speech. The Independent, 16th January. Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/pound-sterling-euro-dollar-currency-exchange-theresa-may-hard-brexit-a7528866.html [Accessed 26/06/2017]

[2] O’Donnell, S. (2017) U.K. Faces Austerity as Brexit Weighs on Deficit, IFS Says. Bloomberg, 7th February. Available from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-07/u-k-faces-more-austerity-as-brexit-weighs-on-deficit-ifs-says [Accessed 26/06/2017]

[3] BBC News (2017) Theresa May sets out post-Brexit offer on EU citizens. 26th June. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40403431 [Accessed 26/06/2017]

[4] HM Government (2017) The United Kingdom’s Exit from the European Union: Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office: Williams Lea Group. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/621848/60093_Cm9464_NSS_SDR_Web.pdf [Accessed 26/06/2017]

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