Brexit: The Disconnect

As the dust settles after last week’s UK referendum in which England and to a lesser extent Wales voted the UK out of the European Union, some things are becoming clearer.

The first is that the Leave campaign had no real blueprint for how Brexit would be effected. It is hard to imagine another context in which voting for an option so vaguely and inadequately outlined would even have been countenanced. It is as if most of the leaders of the Leave campaign only began to believe that they might win in the dying days of the campaign. Certainly we are hearing in the media that numbers of those who voted Leave did so thinking their vote would not count, and “Regrexit” has now been coined to cover those who repent of their vote to leave.

This itself brings into sharper focus the reality of why people voted as they did in the referendum. The two main motives for the mass of Brexiteers appear now to have been (1) expressing a profound dissatisfaction with the two major parties who are said to have been totally out of touch with the electorate at large, and (2) concerns about immigration. This latter topic was crudely exploited by Nigel Farage in his infamous campaign poster; crudely but effectively it seems. The higher-brow Brexit leaders avoided the topic, preferring to speak of the less toxic issue of sovereignty.

This failure to address the agenda of the disaffected, politically-disconnected masses rather confirms the first motive. By failing to address directly the issue of immigration the political leaders proved how out of touch they are with the masses. Both sides missed a vital opportunity to nip in the bud the incipient tide of racial discontent that has been manifesting itself more openly in the days after the referendum. Perhaps there was a fear of being seen to be racist. Ironically racists are now feeling empowered by Brexit to graffiti Polish community centres and pass xenophobic notes through immigrants’ letterboxes.

The politicians on both sides failed miserably to neuter this disturbing trend. By failing to address openly and directly the concerns about immigration they proved how out of touch they were, and how much closer to the mood of the people was the objectionable Mr Farage. What was needed was a clear exposition of the positive role immigrants play in the economic and social life of the country, and a demonstration that such immigrants are mostly temporary and mostly take jobs the British seem unwilling to do themselves, especially in agriculture. The current low unemployment rate of 5% is ample evidence of this fact. If they had faced up to this electoral time-bomb they might have defused it.

So now, as Yeats put it, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. The United Kingdom itself is in danger of fragmenting as Scotland seeks to stay in the EU and Northern Ireland seeks to preserve its newly forged and healthy links with the Irish Republic. Both Labour and the Tories are set for bloody leadership contests. Spain is eyeing Gibraltar. London is toying with its own independence from Britain. The dormant and small pimple of racism has now been inflamed. The far right in several EU countries are seizing on Brexit to force referenda of their own causing the whole European edifice to wobble. The economic outlook for Britain has suddenly turned from sunny to darkly cloudy, and the grand promises about NHS funding are being quietly shelved.

By refusing to address directly the issue of immigration, by demonising reasoned and consistent warnings about Brexit’s likely consequences as a campaign of fear, by failing to have even a semblance of a blueprint for effecting Brexit in an orderly way, the politicians have shown themselves to be truly disconnected not only from the masses, but from reality.

15 thoughts on “Brexit: The Disconnect

  1. Thank you very much for this Father Hugh. Sadly, it is the only reasoned analysis that I have read about this whole sorry affair. I would, however, add one thing to your analysis. Most people I know are very busy in one way or another. This may be due to work, family issues, illness or a host of other things and even a combination of them. My point is that, in order to understand the complexities of the campaign, people were expected to have a grasp of the issues. Most of those I know have been too busy to gain this understanding. There has, therefore, as I see it, been a good deal of voting ‘with the gut’ rather than reason.
    I also suspect that there may be dark days ahead given the issues which have arisen with the result of the vote. I pray that God will give us men and women of sound morals to lead us through these days.

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    1. Good morning Simon, and thank you.

      Thinking about what you have written I find myself agreeing. There were complex issues involved, including those of national identity and political empowerment within the democratic status quo. None of this admitted of adequate treatment by memes or slogans. The inanity of “Our Independence Day” is example enough of that. Sadly, that is all people got, and so the appeal to the heart—or to the gut, the visceral level—had little to counteract it. When there was some apt counteraction from the Remain it was labelled “Campaign Fear” and then dismissed, the issues ignored. Now we see the Brexit emperor has very few clothes indeed.

      The real winners were the propagandists; and the recent spate of incidents of racial and ethnic intolerance is the harvest we must now destroy if we are to keep our rightful level of civilisation. Part of the solution must surely be a clean sweep at the top of the pack: Cameron has dutifully bowed out, Corbyn should too, and Farage is well past his expiry date. Likewise it is hard to see a place in this for the mendacious figure of Boris Johnson. Ironically (for me), the only beacon that shines with any lustre in this affair is Nicola Sturgeon, and that takes me aback even as I type it. But she has appeared principled, sane and committed, and in touch with her nation. Let us hope she makes the most of this opportunity to do good for us all.

      Pax!

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      1. Fr. Hugh,

        I would echo the comments of others about your fine piece of writing here accurately summing up the mess. If the situation were not so serious it would be farcical as an overall majority of people voted for ‘Leave’ with many of them thinking they were voting on a single issue, i.e. immigration, or making a protest vote, oblivious to the consequences. Even more disturbing is the at best foolhardy, if not downright gross irresponsibility of Team Leave in having no concrete plan merely lies and bluster. I am sure you have heard the brilliant comments of Lord Heseltine on BloJo. No doubt daggers are being sharpened for the duplicitous Gove as I write.

        As you rightly observer renegotiating trade deals is a lengthy process. We learnt this week that the UK has not negotiated a full trade deal since the 1970s and we have no team in place to do this. In contrast the EU has a dedicated team of 500 plus experts and is doing it all the time. There is doubt whether we can actually negotiate deals whilst we are still an EU member – which some people seem to have forgotten we actually still are – during the two-year formal exit process. Considering our strength is our service based industry, not manufacturing, it is indeed quite probable that we need the EU more than they need us and the gap could well be filled, to our disadvantage, by the Far-East economies seizing their opportunity.

        On the ground – so to speak – their have been increasing reports of racist abuse in the media which are as stupid as they are unacceptable. On a personal level I found a black lady on the checkout in Sainsburys with tears welling in her eyes early on Wednesday morning. She made a comment about ‘bad times’ to which I responded not everyone voted ‘Leave’ and this was not over yet which brought a welcome smile to her which was worth a lot. My elderly father and his friend, both who voted ‘Leave’ and now regret it – went to a small farm in Chipping Campden on Tuesday to buy broad beans and peas for their freezers. The farmer was furious with the Brexit debacle and told them it would put him out of business. He explained that for the short harvesting period he uses a team of East Europeans who he calls when he needs them, are 100% reliable and excellent workers. He said there were no local people interested in the work to form teams and when he had tried in the past to use local people they had failed to turn up when needed.

        I too found myself – to my own surprise – strongly agreeing with Nicola Sturgeon who appears to be one of the handful of politicians consistently saying the same things before and after the referendum. Likewise I also hope she will act in the best interest of all the people of the UK by all means at her disposal.

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      2. Good morning!

        The farmers’ vote did surprise me given that so much of their income is derived from CAP. Maybe they have acted truly disinterestedly? I doubt it, as most people voted with passion not even-handed disinterestedness. I will be very interested to see if they do get the deal they hope for from a post-Brexit government. The Tories will squeeze the budget dry in order to balance the books. Labour generally has no great love. One Brexit voter, and old party-line socialist fighting battles long over, told me he voted precisely to put it up the farmers “who have had it too good, too long”. For him a farmer is a Lord Grantham of Downton. This is how out of touch many voters are, quite apart from the politicians!

        The egregious Farage said that the genie is out of the bottle now. Quite. But which genie exactly is it? Or indeed, is it more than one genie now roaming about seeking whom he may devour?

        Pax!

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  2. Several thing that confuses me is the economics of this. If you have low unemployment and you are producing goods that the world is willing to pay for then separate trade agreements should shore up any weakness that is perceived by the masses. The uncertainty factor does effect the markets and I am sure that folks like Soros are busy manipulating currency rates by leading the pack by dumping British Currency holdings. However, nothing has really changed economically and, in fact, any trade agreements should, ostensibly, be more favorable to Britain than those that the EU enters into. So it seems to me that the Pound is a good investment if your leadership has any talent in these things. Also, a weak pound means that your goods are cheaper and production should also rise, creating more jobs and the pound should recover as soon as the uncertainty passes.

    Also, the open borders of the EU is something like the U.S. though the pressure put on particular states that offer more aid to the immigrants is astounding. And in the UK your aid is probably better than most members of the EU and therefore you will get more than your “fair share”. Though that would mean that the people should regulate their immigration as all sovereign countries have done from the beginning of nation states. That, it seems to me is a good thing. Responsibility means that you at least have control on what resources you have and what is reasonable for your economy and your culture. After all, most of our countries are bankrupt and we are spending more money that we are taking in and will never pay off our debt unless we take care of these issues in a responsible manner.

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    1. Well, I am no economist. But I do know that if the pound keeps falling it will make our exports cheaper, yes; but it will make imports (and we import so much) more expensive, pushing up prices and also, as a consequence, inflation. Inflation and a weak pound will not be much help to the poor.

      There is no guarantee that the UK will be able to walk into neat trade agreements. The USA has said that the UK will have no advantages post-Brexit. These deals take a long time to negotiate. Negotiations for the TTIP between Europe and the USA began in 2011 and are still to be concluded.

      Actually most of our countries are not bankrupt, just heavily indebted. Much of this debt is incurred due to the demands of a welfare state and the security and defence needs arising from the instability caused by Islamic militancy and Russian and Chinese destabilisation. A weakened economy will not help us continue to meet these demands.

      Pax.

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  3. A view from across the pond.

    Lawrence Alan “Larry” Kudlow (born August 20, 1947) is an American conservative commentator, television personality, and newspaper columnist. He was the host of CNBC’s The Kudlow Report. As a syndicated columnist, his articles appear in numerous U.S. newspapers and web sites, including his own blog, Kudlow’s Money Politic. An interesting aside about Mr. Kudlow is that In the mid-1990s, he entered a twelve-step program in order to deal with his addiction to cocaine and alcohol. He subsequently converted to Catholicism under the guidance of Father C. John McCloskey III.

    Here is a link to a copy of his recent article on Newsmax.com, a conservative American news media organization that has a Web presence and a Cable TV station called Newsmax TV. It is primarily concerned with the economic impact of Brexit, but doesn’t that impact the well being of all the people of the UK?

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/o2y8arqoi7u4o3p/Kudlow%3A%20Brexit%20Is%20Magna%20Carta%202.0%20-%20Good%20for%20Freedom%2C%20Good%20for%20Growth.pdf?dl=0

    I am an American whose deceased husband was a dual citizen of American and Great Britain. I have spent much of my time in North Yorkshire over the past 27 years where we had second home. The Brexit issue is of great interest to me. I have been interested in your views Father Hugh.

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    1. Good morning. I disagree with the majority of what Mr Kudlow writes, as many of his premises are mistaken. That the UK did not have autonomous self-government or political freedom is patently absurd. For example, the global financial crisis and the UK’s austerity measures in response reveal both the effective autonomy of the UK as these measure were not imposed by the EU, and the fact that true independence is an illusion conjured up by propagandists, since the crisis was precipitated by American banks! In the global village no nation is an island unto itself. Hermit kingdoms like North Korea show the stagnation and horror that comes from the attempt to be truly independent. We have to start ditching propaganda’s terminology and stick to facts.

      That the EU needed fixing is beyond doubt. That it has strayed from the vision of its founders, so many of them Catholic, is also beyond doubt. That the EU is the principal factor in the postwar peace of Europe, the longest in modern history, is also beyond doubt.

      The principle of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that Kudlow thinks will ensure that the economic crisis is brief will not necessarily operate at all. On the wings are countries like China ready to capitalise from this shake-up. We may find that Europe does not need the UK as much as the UK thinks it does; China and the USA will move to fill the gaps.

      Mr Kudlow has lots of assertions, but precious little evidence to support them. He is an optimist about Brexit, and it is easy to be one from the distant haven of the USA.

      Pax!

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  4. Oh well said . . . yes, I think you have encapsulated it nicely. Now, for the other side of the Atlantic, I think there are messages here which may play out in November . . . as a new American voter, I have been firmly in the ‘none of the above’ box, perhaps as described in your excellent piece. But on a lesser-of-two-evils vote, it may just be the Supreme Court issue (the next White House is likely to make appointments to slant the Court for years to come) which swings the vote . . . let’s see . . . and pray . . .

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    1. Hi James. A belated reply, for which I apologise. It seems the protest vote is becoming a “thing”. The problem with one-issue protest voting is the collateral damage it causes on real important issues. The solution is not to vote against everything tainted by “establishment” but to find alternatives. If our democracies are truly healthy then alternatives should arise naturally. I guess the argument is that Trump and Sanders are the alternatives, and of course you can undo things with the next election. Brett is not so easily fixed.

      Vote early; vote often.😛

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