What’s Conspicuously Missing from the Big Bad Brexit Debate Drama?



My informal survey yesterday of a random sample of the good people of the village of Burnham, Buckinghamshire, and my short random exit poll survey this morning both revealed a strong outpouring of support for Brexit. None of the people with whom I spoke struck me as racists, and most did not even mention the topic of immigration, though all signs point to immigration as one of the most important factors in voters’ decision-making on this historic day. Yes, for the first time in more than forty years, the British people are being permitted to weigh in on the wisdom of their country’s membership in the European Union.

One of the most interesting things I noticed in chatting with these people was that they often began revealing their preference for “Leave” in a hesitant, hushed voice. Once they realized that I was not a Remain Shamer, some of them began pouring out their many concerns. I spoke with a nurse whose retirement was postponed for four years by the EU. I spoke with a woman with small children who had noticed that the National Health Service (NHS) had become difficult to access. Of course, the Tories are certainly in part to blame for that, but it does not help, she lamented, that there is so much competition for the already scarce social resources.

A couple of people were angry about Prime Minister David Cameron’s doom-and-gloom “the sky will fall if we leave!” narrative. One person expressed offense at President Obama’s threat to the effect that Britain will go to “the end of the queue” for trade if they leave the EU. I got the distinct impression that Brits do not generally believe that Britain will suffer any long-term damage from leaving the EU, though they are aware that there will be bumps initially, whatever the outcome of the EU referendum ends up being.

It seems obvious to most people that lots of nations are not members of the EU, as Britain was not before, and they are doing quite well. Many people (not only the people with whom I spoke, but elsewhere on the internet) have expressed consternation about the topic of trade, not knowing whom to believe. The bankers? The EU technocrats and political elites? Why in the world should it be more difficult for Britain to trade freely than to navigate the volumes of regulations pumped out by the EU? How could it be more difficult for small businesses to not have to comply with the edicts of Eurocrats before selling their products and services abroad?


The people with whom I spoke seemed far more concerned about sovereignty and self-determination than anything else. A few mentioned “control” over their own laws. A casual glance at the inflammatory Remain campaign rhetoric being pumped out would suggest that all Brexit supporters are somehow enamored of Nigel Farage and the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party). Not so, however. (Perhaps that’s why Farage skipped his last debate? Did he finally realize that, like Cameron, he was hurting, not helping, the cause he so ardently champions?)

Of course, it is entirely possible that many people are really concerned above all about immigration but wish to avoid being associated with racists and far-right extremist groups. Some crazy person assassinated MP Jo Cox last week, and there was an immediate poll effect: Remain got a big boost, as did the markets. This happened because people were moved by emotions to conclude that Brexit advocates must be crazy people. Obviously, that’s a non sequitur of gargantuan proportion, but good luck explaining that to emotion-driven voters. Particularly in this debate, where scare tactics, fear-mongering, and appeals to emotion are everywhere on display.

One thing is clear: no one with whom I spoke understands how the admission of an ever-lengthening list of new member nations is supposed to strengthen the European Union—which everyone on both sides of the debate appears to agree is a sinking ship. If all of the new members are worse off economically than the United Kingdom, then how can the new members possibly contribute to plugging the hole in the hull?

This just seems like common sense to many people: How many Brits want to move to Croatia or Albania? I am guessing that the number is rather small. And so there is bound to be real concern among the British people about the projected increase in their population in the coming years. Some of these people may have racist fears, but the numbers alone are enough to cause one to pause.

Moreover, the more member nations there are in the European Union, the less important becomes any single country’s voice, including that of Britain. Each time the EU grows larger, each member state (aside from the new inductees) automatically has less, not more, power.


I am well aware that some advocates of Brexit are far-right racists, but others simply abhor bureaucratic, democratically unaccountable hegemons. One wouldn’t know it from scanning the acrimonious ugliness poured out by self-styled “liberals” on Twitter and Facebook, but there are some pretty solid progressive arguments for Brexit.

For one thing, the trade agreements recently negotiated in secret—the TPP, TTIP and TISA—are all tyrannical megacorporate monstrosities inimical to workers everywhere. Any latte-sipping member of the bourgeoisie who claims to favor Remain without first studying the effect of these agreements on the workers of the world is a liberal only in name. (One can learn a lot about the Remain bloc by checking out the arguments proffered by #CatsAgainstBrexit on Twitter…)


My own honest puzzlement about this entire dispute is over the issue of immigration, but not in the way in which anyone else appears to be worried. To be perfectly frank, I have never understood how granting preferential status to fellow Europeans (most of whom are, I believe, Caucasians) is somehow less racist than treating all outsiders equally. This is a serious puzzle for me. Please step forward in the comments section to disabuse me of my misconceptions here, but how is it supposed to be less racist to permit unskilled Europeans to move freely throughout the European Union but not, say, Africans or Muslims from the Middle East?

This brings us, at last, to the now notorious “Breaking Point” poster denounced by fair-minded liberals the world over:


Everyone seems to grasp intuitively that this poster is abhorrent. But no one, as far as I have seen, is discussing how this picture was made possible. The truth is that the above picture of a mass of homeless human beings came about only because of fierce military intervention in the Middle East, with the United States as the primary perpetrator, but other Western nations, including the United Kingdom, also bombing Muslim nations on a regular basis, thereby catalyzing the exodus of large numbers of people, who quite naturally wish to preserve their own lives, as any rational person in their situation would.

President Obama dropped more than 23,000 bombs on Muslim-majority nations in 2015 alone. Some were delivered by drones; others by manned combat aircraft. Either way, that’s a lot of bombs, and that’s a lot of “death from the sky,” to quote his speech at Hiroshima. Under Obama’s leadership, the United States is fighting wars and providing homicidal weapons to rebels in at least seven different countries in the Middle East alone.

Small wonder that the populations of those lands have been leaving in a steady stream—or tsunami, as the case may be. What else can they do? Too bad they can’t come to the United States, because that is where all of those people belong, given the reason for their displacement. Only when the people of the United States begin to suffer the consequences of their government’s military intervention abroad will they finally be motivated to call a halt to the mass homicide committed in their name.


5 thoughts on “What’s Conspicuously Missing from the Big Bad Brexit Debate Drama?

  1. Laurie, I accept many of your points but my own experience is different. Living in the UK for several months each year I have encountered many people who talked about ‘the problem’, but wouldn’t be pinned down on what the problem was (clearly non white immigrants and sausage-eating white ones that were outside their norms).

    People are completely wrong that immigration is harming the NHS. The NHS runs on immigrants. The UK has the lowest expenditure on health of any of the main developed countries, and among the best outcomes. The problems come from funding cuts that Conservatives made to fund their tax cuts. (Labour not much better). Immigrants are net contributors to the tax base, so are a source of funding for the NHS, not a net cost. To understand the actions of the present government, (and the next one) one must understand the Shock Doctrine.

    While there are certainly problems with EU regulations, these are grossly exaggerated as near as I can see, and it is generally companies and business interests that ask for them, not the reverse (see curved banana controversy). A lot of people want the never-never-land of US libertarianism, but wouldn’t be too happy with that either.

    Democracy in the EU is difficult, but real democracy always is. The people who want Brexit are often people who prefer easy authoritarian solutions, not the grind of politics. They are happy to choose sides, but not so happy to work on solutions. They tend to be the people who support violent solutions to the world’s problems, and they will be happier in an alliance with the US.

    While the addition of Poland dilutes Britain’s power within the EU, the power of the EU increases, so Britain’s power in the world remains the same.

    The EU was sold at least in part on the basis of preventing any more wars among Europeans. It was certainly Caucasian-centric idea, but there has always been strong movement for inclusivity, which explains the welcoming of Eastern Europe. Generally Remain types welcome inclusivity for both Europeans and migrants from outside, and Leavers want neither. I’m guessing there are few Leavers going to Calais to take food to migrants.

    My own view is that Brexit is primarily a xenophobic movement by people unwilling to accept foreigners. That is natural and I feel a little of it too, watching all the newsagents in my city become Polish or Turkish or Middle Eastern convenience stores. It should have been addressed by the Blair government which tolerated rapid immigration and didn’t listen to people who were concerned.

    I suspect, but don’t know, that there is a high corelation between Brexit and support for US/UK wars abroad. The people who are worried about foreigners generally feel that they can solve the ‘foreigner problem’ by shooting at them, which of course makes it worse.

    Polling has shown that most people are wrong about almost every fact relating to the EU issue. Probably on both sides. The UK media are active players, propagandists, not informers. BBC Southeast (which I watch nightly) carries a constant stream of bias-framed negative stories about immigration. Contrast this with the emphasis on positive stories about immigration in the Canadian media.

    Of interest, several of my English friends report instances in the last few days of openly racist comments being made in situations where they wouldn’t have been previously, as people feel empowered to state their true feelings.

    I realise many of my comments reflect stereotypes, and there are many, exceptions, but these are impressions that I developed long before the referendum was announced (which I have missed entirely because I am not there).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to articulate your views, which I am sure are shared by many others. I welcome this form of civil dialogue, which sadly was largely missing in the lead-up to the vote. My impression is that the threats, fear-mongering and “holier than thou” insults hurled by many Remain advocates at already angry Brits served only make them angrier. Being denounced as “peasants”, “racists” and “idiots” obviously did not change the minds of people already leaning toward Leave. Some of the undecided voters may even have been pushed to vote for Brexit as a result.

      This was democracy in action, whether one likes the results or not. I am appalled by the childish call for a second referendum by sore losers, and even more so by the outrageous suggestion that senior citizens should be disenfranchised. Everyone in this referendum voted out according to their perception of their self-interest and their beliefs about what Britain’s place in the world should be. One of the best comments I encountered during my random survey came from a man who was still undecided the day before the referendum. He asked: “Why can’t we just be a country?”

      I respectfully disagree with you about the EU being a benevolent force for good. It is a neoliberal global hegemon’s dream come true. In fact, my understanding is that the idea was dreamt up by the CIA. Again, the trade agreements negotiated in secret tell the truth about the EU. There’s a very good reason why US Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein favored Brexit. Look at the comportment of EU Commissioner, who in the aftermath of the vote began immediately issuing edicts clearly intended to be punitive.

      I find this laughable, because the truth is that the EU possesses only the power of its member states, and Britain was among the strongest of them. Therefore, the EU is weaker post-Brexit, not stronger. The EU needed the UK more than the UK needed the EU, and I predict that in the aftermath of the Brexit vote other countries will follow suit. The burden borne by Britain must be redistributed, and “the peasants” are bound to revolt. As they should, quite rationally, it seems to me.

      Will the UK suffer any long term economic damage? Of course not. Trade is driven by supply and demand. European countries want to buy British products and vice versa. They certainly don’t need the permission of a sprawling shadow meta-government of unaccountable bureaucrats to be able to do that. See Switzerland for more information.

      One last point: the NHS problem is complex, but the admission of more and more member states was bound to exacerbate the problem, whatever the British govt did. The EU is a system of redistribution from wealthy to less wealthy nations. Somebody has to pay, and it certainly wasn’t the crony capitalists. It’s a matter of simple mathematics: dividing up resources amongst more people leaves some people with more than they had before and others with less. The people of Iceland recognized this fact and declined to join the EU to protect their fishing interests. They were right to do so, it seems to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your comments about the uncivil dialogue. Completely unproductive as well as unpleasant, although I largely missed it because I was otherwise occupied.

    We’ll have to disagree about the NHS. The UK is not poorer than other countries that spend much more on public healthcare so it is a matter of internal national spending priorities. The EU has very little impact on health spending in the UK except as it relates to general redistribution of funds, and that isn’t why the UK spends less. The UK Tories spend less because they fundamentally disagree with public health care because their wealthy controllers lose out financially by subsidising poorer Brits. And probably, (shock doctrine) they want to devalue the NHS in order to privatise, for ideology or private gain. The NHS has exceptional outcomes and does it with less money than almost anyone else. People whinging about immigrants in front of them in the queue and generally just whinging, a favourite English pastime.

    Coming from a federation that is much like the EU, I disagree with your comments about the redistributive nature of federations. This is a good thing, and thoughtful citizens will realise that redistribution can benefit everyone in the short term and the long term. The fact that the EU has very serious problems does not negate its role as a parliament of the nations that belong, so long as its structures work to redress problems. . Of course the dreamplace of neoliberal hegemons is not the EU but another Federation, the USA, which has a bigger problem with effective democracy than the EU and fewer mechanisms for solving it. In a world of global corporations, democratic transnational governments and federations are perhaps the public’s only defence.

    I don’t think anyone can predict who will be better off in the future, there are too many variables. I know I feel diminished by my loss of European citizenship, and the empowerment of my adversaries in the extreme right, but I don’t have as big a stake in the UK as permanent residents do, and I didn’t participate in the referendum so I shouldn’t complain too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. Way too many variables to be able to make make precise predictions at this point. Fortunately, the sky is still in tact, and I don’t see either World War 3 or the Armageddon on the horizon. I also find it difficult to believe that the UK ship will sink faster than the EU’s. Britain has weathered many centuries of conflict & turmoil, which suggests that they will also survive this storm.

      One final note: If Generation Snark (I mean the young people calling for the disenfranchisement of British seniors) was produced by the EU system, then that just shows how shallow the touted virtues of supposedly democratic tolerance really are. I could only laugh when London Mayor Kahn tweeted that Europeans are welcome in his city. The day he invites unskilled Africans to walk freely through the gates of the city will be the day the latte liberals can truly claim to be championing universal humanitarian values.

      At this point, everyone seems to be motivated by narrow self-interest. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but the admixture of moral sanctimoniousness chez Remain advocates becomes emetic at some point. In the runup to the vote, I saw an ad (paid for, obviously, by taxpaying citizens of EU member countries, including the UK…) on Twitter about the virtues of EU membership, one of which is the “right” to claim hundreds of £ of compensation if one’s flight is delayed by more than 3 hrs. To whom is that benefit relevant? Certainly not the nurse whose retirement was delayed for 4 years, also by the EU. That’s the sort of redistribution which angers ordinary working people and explains the amazingly high turnout at the polls despite torrential rain on both the morning and the evening of referendum day.


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