Brexit – what does it mean?

June 25, 2016


Here are some thoughts from various people about what the Brexit vote means.

Anthony Barnet has written an interesting analysis of the Brexit win called “Blimey, it is Brexit!”

“What led the English to decide to try and take the whole of the United Kingdom out of Europe?

A striking victory for what I dubbed ‘Maggyism’ has taken place. It seeks the “liberation” of Europe from a ‘super-state’, not isolation. It might even succeed, this being a time of surprise, as the EU is struggling with a dysfunctional currency and has other electorates already enflamed by its rigid policies and lack of democracy. In England for sure, under the banner of Maggyism’s alluring yet chilling command to ‘take back control’, a new form of populist Toryism will be tested. The challenge for the left across England will go deep and it will have to discard its attachment to the ruins of Labourism if it is to recover.

The first thing to register is the scale of the outcome, then its nature. Already some Labour MPs are pointing to how narrow the outcome is. The left is brilliant at denial. Since last year’s general election many on the left can be heard to say that the Tories won only 24% of the electorate – as if this means it was not a ‘real’ victory for Cameron and company. A more clear-eyed reading is that whereas in 2010 the parties of the left and centre (Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green) got 16 millions votes between them and those of the right (Tories, UKIP and BNP) only 12 million, last year the combined vote of the centre and left went down to 14.3 million while the right rose to over 15 million. In 2016, for the first time in sixty years, the combined parties of the right outnumbered those of the left and centre. The referendum is a further step in this rightward trajectory.

Yet it is also an amazing democratic moment and not a right-wing one of the kind we have been used to since the rise of neoliberalism at the end of the 1970s. The popular rebuke delivered to the corporate political class is devastating.”

The people of England have spoken.

But so far all they have said is that they do not want to be told that their voice is worthless or they must accept their fate as decided in ‘Brussels’.


Over at OpenDemocracyUK Jeremy Gilbert has a piece entitled “This vote shows that people do care about democracy”

“I’m going to keep saying this again and again and again.

The vote is not just a vote against austerity and it is not just a vote for xenophobia.

It is also a desperate vote against a situation in which the mechanisms of representative democracy have completely broken down. The policy agendas pursued by successive governments since the 1970s have not matched the express desires of voters, whether the issue was immigration or the privatisation of public services. The EU is an obvious and perfectly appropriate target for anger at this situation, being a classic example of a ‘post-democratic’ institution (as we saw when they imposed an agenda with no legitimacy on the people of Greece).”


Yanis Varoufakis has a written a piece entitled “The Right Left for Europe”

“The United Kingdom’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union created odd bedfellows – and some odder adversaries. As Tory turned mercilessly against Tory, the schism in the Conservative establishment received much attention. But a parallel (thankfully more civilized) split afflicted my side: the left.

Having campaigned against “Leave” for several months in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, it was inevitable that I faced criticism from left-wing supporters of “Brexit,” or “Lexit” as it came to be known.

Lexiteers reject the call issued by DiEM25 (the radical Democracy in Europe Movement, launched in Berlin in February) for a pan-European movement to change the EU from within. They believe that reviving progressive politics requires exiting an incorrigibly neoliberal EU. The left needed the resulting debate.

Many on the left rightly disdain the easy surrender of others on their side to the premise that globalization has rendered the nation-state irrelevant. While nation-states have become weaker, power should never be confused with sovereignty.

As little Iceland has demonstrated, it is possible for a sovereign people to safeguard basic freedoms and values independently of their state’s power. And, crucially, Iceland, unlike Greece and the UK, never entered the EU.

But it is one thing to oppose entering the EU; it is quite another to favor exiting it once inside. Exiting is unlikely to get you to where you would have been, economically and politically, had you not entered. So opposing both entry and exit is a coherent position.

Whether it makes sense for leftists to advocate exit hinges on whether a nation-state freed from EU institutions provides more fertile ground for cultivating a progressive agenda of redistribution, labor rights, and anti-racism. It also depends on the likely impact of an exit campaign on transnational solidarity. As I travel across Europe, advocating a pan-European movement to confront the EU’s authoritarianism, I sense a great surge of internationalism in places as different from one another as Germany, Ireland, and Portugal.”


Paul Mason writes “Brexit wins. An illusion dies”

“Britain has voted to leave the EU. The reason? A large section of the working class, concentrated in towns and cities that have been quietly devastated by free-market economics, decided they’d had enough.

Enough bleakness, enough ruined high streets, enough minimum wage jobs, and enough lies and fearmongering from the political class.

The issue that catalysed the vote for Brexit was the massive, unplanned migration from Europe that began after the accession of the A8 countries and then surged again after 2008 once the Eurozone stagnated while Britain enjoyed a limp recovery.

It is no surprise to anybody who’s lived their life at the street end of politics and journalism that a minority of the white working class are racists and xenophobes. But anyone who thinks half the British population fits that description is dead wrong.

Tens of thousands of black and Asian people will have voted for Brexit, and similar numbers of politically educated, left-leaning workers too. Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield and Coventry — multi-ethnic university cities — they too went for Leave.

Neither the political centre or the pro-remain left was able to explain how to offset the negative economic impact of low-skilled migration in conditions of (a) guaranteed free movement (b) permanent stagnation in Europe and (c) austerity in Britain.

Told by the government they could never control migration while inside the EU, just over 50% of the population decided controlling migration was more important than EU membership.”


Paul Krugman, a progressive economist, writes “Brexit: The Morning After”

“It seems clear that the European project – the whole effort to promote peace and growing political union through economic integration – is in deep, deep trouble. Brexit is probably just the beginning, as populist/separatist/xenophobic movements gain influence across the continent. Add to this the underlying weakness of the European economy, which is a prime candidate for “secular stagnation” – persistent low-grade depression driven by things like demographic decline that deters investment. Lots of people are now very pessimistic about Europe’s future, and I share their worries.

But those worries wouldn’t have gone away even if Remain had won. The big mistakes were the adoption of the euro without careful thought about how a single currency would work without a unified government; the disastrous framing of the euro crisis as a morality play brought on by irresponsible southerners; the establishment of free labor mobility among culturally diverse countries with very different income levels, without careful thought about how that would work. Brexit is mainly a symptom of those problems, and the loss of official credibility that came with them. (That credibility loss is why the euro disaster played a role in Brexit even though Britain itself had the good sense to stay out.)”

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