It’s strange to be in Australia at this particular juncture. For a start it’s snowing! And then there is the small matter of the Australian elections coming up at the end of this week. But of most fascination is watching the post-Brexit fall out through Australian eyes. I have been reading the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian as well as being an avid watcher of ABC News and listener to the radio. Despite the apocalyptic hysteria I observe on social media from home, one thing is clear, the end of the world has not happened, and things will move on regardless of our little local difficulty.
There were different perceptions about what had happened. One commentator called it “a win for xenophobia and economic resentment.” But the main comments were positive – The Australians headline was positive “Britannia Rules again as the Bulldog Bites.” There was some admiration for the way that British democracy worked –
“It seems the British people did not respond well to being bullied. Pause for a moment and consider the magnitude of their magnificent democratic achievement. “
For my Australian friends I thought I would provide the following brief summary of the issues (I hope it will be helpful to others who have been asking as well).
- Why was there a referendum?
There had been growing frustration within the UK over the EU. In the 1980’s this was primarily seen through the Left-Wing of the Labour party – for example the current leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a life long Euro-sceptic. (Also the Scottish National Party was strongly anti-EU until they needed something to leave the UK for). But there has always been a Euro-sceptic wing of the Conservative party as well. They got more and more frustrated and when a new party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, came into being, the Conservatives began to hemorrhage voters. In the 2015 General Election UKIP won 12.6% of the vote – 3.8 million votes. They were not only a threat to the Conservatives, but were increasingly picking up votes in traditional Labour areas. So in order to stop UKIP the Conservatives promised a European referendum in their manifesto, little expecting that they would get a majority and have to deliver on their promise.
- Why did Britain vote to leave?
This is not simple although people have tried to make it so. There are a variety of reasons. One narrative being spun at the moment is that those who voted for Brexit were old, white, uneducated racists who have robbed the young of their future and created the atmosphere for xenophobic, intolerant country. But things are not that simple. There were 17.5 million people who voted to leave the EU – the largest vote in UK history. Undoubtedly there were some who were supporters of far right groups, after all it was not so long since the BNP got one million votes in a Euro-election, but it is the worst kind of ad hominem attack to accuse those who voted for Britain to be free of the political entity known as the European Union, as being ignorant racists.
So why did the British people, despite most major political parties and leaders, most financial ‘experts’ and almost all the Universities, as well as numerous celebrities, President Obama and the great and good of European society, vote against what their betters told them? Because they don’t trust the ‘experts’ who are perceived as the ‘haves’ who are primarily concerned about what they do have. The Universities for example were overwhelmingly pro-EU because they receive almost £900 million from the EU. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
Then there was the question of democracy. The late Tony Benn, veteran Labour left-winger, argued that if you cannot elect or remove the people who make your laws, then you do not live in a democracy. The EU is largely governed by its unelected commissioners who are in effect its political executive. Anything between 35% and 59% of Britain’s laws are made by the EU.
A key question was also the question of immigration. The Remain side wanted to portray those on the opposite side as being little more than closet racists. But they were making the simplistic equation that being opposed to increased immigration is equal to racism. Britain, especially England, is an overcrowded island, and with net immigration rising to 300,000 plus every year, there are enormous strains on infrastructure and wages. If you are a lorry driver in Sunderland, a restaurant worker in Coventry, a factory worker in Bradford and are then faced with Eastern Europeans who are prepared to work longer hours for less money, it is little wonder that you feel somewhat resentful. The ‘haves’ tend not to be affected by this – except that they get their nannies, restaurant workers and goods cheaper. I suspect that if it was the middle classes who were losing their jobs and wages then their concerns might be somewhat changed. I find the racism and ignorance of the BNP and other far right groups frightening and disgusting. I love having the Poles, Rumanians, Estonians etc. in the UK and especially in Scotland I think we could do with more not less immigrants. But the failure of the political classes to recognize the legitimate concerns of ordinary working class people, only feeds and fuels the far right.
The bottom line is that Britain voted to leave because in a democratic vote, the people did not just accept what their betters told them. We did this, not because we are stupid, uneducated, racists, but rather because we can think for ourselves and don’t want to live in a country where we are not responsible for making our own laws, not in control of our own borders, and where we are dependent on euro-elites and corporations for our bread and butter. We voted leave because we have a more positive vision of a democratic, free, inclusive, diverse and prosperous Britain.
- What happens next?
We were told that it would be the end of the world. This was Project Fear that of course has not happened. But it has been the end of David Cameron who announced his resignation immediately afterwards. He had said that he would invoke article 50 (the part of the EU treaty which allows a country to leave) immediately, but like many of this other promises, it was broken. He left boasting that making Same Sex Marriage legal was his greatest achievement.
Jeremy Corbyn the leader of the opposition Labour party is also in severe trouble. Seen as having conducted a lackluster campaign that resulted in many Labour voters voting out, half the shadow cabinet have resigned. Perhaps this is slightly unfair on Corbyn who would surely have been better sticking with his gut instincts, and voting against the EU. However the elites of New Labour think that all they have to do is speak the word and traditional Labour voters will follow, and that is now no longer the case. This vote was a revolt against the elites of all sides, as much as it was against the EU.
In Scotland things were different – but not by as much as the propaganda suggests. Yes it was true that a majority in every council area voted to Remain and that Scotland as a whole voted 62%-38% to stay. But despite the grandiose claims of the SNP the Scottish people did not speak with ‘one voice’. 1.1 million Scots voted against the EU, 1.3 million did not vote at all, and 1.6 million voted to Remain. The Scottish government does not have the power to call a second Independence referendum and despite press reports, does not have the power to prevent the UK leaving. But this will not stop what Jim Sillars of the SNP calls ‘Project Deception’ being set in full swing.
There will be an attempt to prevent Brexit – The EU has a habit of rejecting democratic votes of the people and there are plenty within the UK who would like to do that. A petition has been set up to ask for a recall, Article 50 has not yet been invoked, social media is being used to portray a racist nation, political leadership is weak and pathetic (apart from Nicola Sturgeon), liberal news outlets are pointing out that there are some who have regrets (hardly surprising in a vote of 17.5 million), suddenly some MPs are discovering that the referendum was ‘advisory’ and they can ‘for the good of the people’, prevent Brexit. My own view is that Brexit is not certain at all. I think that there has been a move from democracy towards autocracy in Europe and the UK, and that may have gone too far.
It would be a disaster for the UK if the democratic vote of the people was overturned by the elites, backed up by the social media mob. Personally my own opposition to the EU was primarily on the democratic issue. It would be beyond irony and far more serious than being in or out of Europe, if a democratic vote was overturned by the elites ‘for the good of the people’.
- How does this affect Australia?
a) Financially – $50 billion was wiped from Australian shares – but that is what always happens when the markets face ‘uncertainty’. The money does not disappear. It goes into government bonds and gold. It is not lost and one wonders anyway whether we should have economies and democracies that are governed by the whims and fears of billionaire stockbrokers. The Australian minister for the treasury pointed out that in the long term he did not expect much difference –
“Britain has its own Central Bank, its own currency. There will be no change in financial or banking regulations.”
In other words things will go on. It was interesting that David Cameron was blamed by some for talking up economic consequences and causing a run on the markets.
b) Politics – Brexit is a gift to Malcolm Turnbull of the Liberals who can portray himself as a stable voice in a time of economic turmoil. I suspect it will contribute to his re-election at the end of this week.
c) Trade – The Australian newspapers pointed out that Australia will soon want to start its own trade negotiations with Britain. This is seen as a positive thing, not least because the EU trade negotiations are taking so long. This is one great advantage Britain now has.
d) Immigration – I had not realised that emigration to the UK had become much more difficult because of EU rules. The number of Australians going to work in Britain has dropped from 30,000 to 15,000 as it became much harder to get visas. In the whole argument about immigration the Remain side projected themselves as being pro-immigrant when in reality they were pro-European immigrants and by definition this means less immigrants from the rest of the world. Why? Because if an already overcrowded Britain has to have open borders to the 28 countries of the EU, then there is less room and scope for people from other countries. White Europeans are welcome – Asians, Africans, Americans and Australians are not. It’s strange to me that this policy is somehow seen as being anti-racist! I have to declare a personal interest here. My daughter is Scottish born, bred and educated. She married an Australian and we are here to visit our first grandchild. It would seem an obvious thing that she should be able to return home with her husband and our grandchild, but, because of the immigration situation, this will be very difficult – unless she has a lot of money. This is the Brave New World that our Remainers want to defend – where if you have enough money you can have freedom of movement, or if you are poor European and are prepared to do the dirty jobs cheaper than the locals, but marriage, kinship and historical ties count for nothing to everyone else. If Britain does manage to get out of Fortress Europe I look forward to more free trade and more free movement of all peoples, not just the wealthy. And like the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation I look forward to freedom of movement between the UK and Australia. Have a look at this very interesting report – http://www.cfmo.org/2016/06/australia-new-zealand-to-negotiate-new.html?m=1
I have one question for the Remainers who are going around screaming racism. Can you tell me why my daughter, born, bred, raised and educated in Scotland could be excluded with her family from living in her native land because she married an Australian, but if she had married a Bulgarian, Italian or Spaniard, she would have been fine. Can you tell me why that is not racism? (discrimination based on race).
It was amusing watching Australian news this morning as England did their own ‘out of Europe’ show, losing 2:1 to the mighty Iceland. I thought the Scots were bad at schadenfreude, but the Aussies cannot contain their general rejoicing! I guess there is something within human nature that causes us to rejoice at the defeat and shame of our ‘enemies’. In sporting terms that is relatively harmless…in real life it is shameful.
As I observe the UK from afar I am reminded how immature and shallow a culture we have become. If people come together and unite to accept the democratic vote of the people, even though we strongly disagree with it, there might be some hope. But if the temper tantrums, elitist snobbery and continual abuse of those who dared to vote differently continue then I can only see more social and political division occurring.
As a Christian I also have to say that without God we can have no real hope for our nations. Sin is a reproach to any people, but righteousness exalts a nation. It is my view that if the UK, Europe and Australia do not return to their Christian roots then no matter what, we are in deep trouble. This article that I wrote for the Solas magazine explains – https://theweeflea.com/2016/03/20/the-crescent-the-cross-and-the-collapse-of-european-civilisation/