Brexit is often characterised as a glorious liberation from an oppressive EU which stifles the UK’s potential. However, we can expect Brexit’s liberatory potential to disproportionately benefit the forces of ignorance and privilege, while eroding living standards and harming the underrepresented.
Brexit has already encouraged the liberation of willful ignorance. When Doctor David Nicholl called in to LBC to raise concerns with Jacob Rees-Mogg about an increased mortality rate due to lack of medical supplies in a no-deal Brexit, he was rebuked by Rees-Mogg for being ‘the worst excess of Project Fear’. This is despite Nicholl’s role as an adviser to the leaked government report ‘Operation Yellowhammer’ into the outcomes of a worst-case scenario no-deal Brexit, and his findings being supported by it. Rees-Mogg’s willful ignorance distracts from the real threat that key parts of the national infrastructure will be shackled by Brexit, not liberated by it.
Brexit will be liberating for people with vested interests. Rees-Mogg’s part-owned Somerset Capital investment firm stands to gain heavily from a post-Brexit UK economy becoming more reliant on emerging markets in which it has investments. One of Boris Johnson’s key Brexit backers, multimillionaire Crispin Odey, is also reported to have bet hundreds of millions on the UK economy’s failure. Examples such as these show that the parts of Britain’s global standing that will not die with Brexit are those which an exclusive club will use to enrich itself from a malleable, maimed UK economy, while many others will make do with poorer living standards as a result of profit-motivated standard slashing. Chlorinated chicken, anyone?
Brexit will be liberating for those who wish to indulge in illusions of grandeur based on misplaced nostalgia for a powerful ‘Empire Britain’ and a ‘Blitz spirit’ that says “we were alright in the war”. Well, the empire is not coming back, and hopefully neither is the war. The reality is that the UK economy is dependent on imports and has comparatively little to export. The weaker pound caused by Brexit uncertainty makes imports more expensive, hitting living standards.
Brexit will be liberating for racists and bigots, as reflected in Stop Hate UK’s reporting of a 50% increase in overall hate crime incidents in the three months following the referendum. This behaviour is hardly discouraged by the low-grade, high-soundbite nationalist discourse spearheaded by UKIP.
Boris Johnson’s attempt to liberate himself from the bounds of the UK’s normal democratic process by stifling debate on no-deal with prorogation has been countered by rebellion from his own MPs. Nevertheless, his reckless approach may be a sign of things to come in a UK parliamentary system already showing itself to be a façade of stone masking hollowed foundations of sand. If this damaging winner-takes-all approach to governance continues, these would be dark, illiberal times for representative politics in the UK.
Brexit may be a fascinating exercise in how a small, listless country can stay afloat on the stormy seas of world trade. Some people relish it as a chance for a liberated UK to make its own way in the world. However, these positions are untenable for those immigrants whose futures depend on a stable Brexit, those students who need to know if they can study in Europe without extra barriers or those doctors and patients who need to know if the right medicine will be in stock. It is unacceptable for Brexit to be defended as liberating by those with vested interests or by those with blinkered nationalist opinions which blind them to Brexit’s real impact, while the same Brexit shackles many others to a future of reduced choice, unpredictability and rising xenophobia. No, that is not liberating at all.
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