Lessons from Brexit
Friday, July 1, 2016, 18:26
By G. Michael Reid
“We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed. If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.” ~ Winston Churchill
“It is not the European Union that is the problem here, it is the Conservative Government. Do we allow xenophobes to take over or do we instead occupy that political and intellectual territory of the idea that you can solve things together? You’d better build those alliances working with people rather than isolating yourselves from them.”~ Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Depending on who you speak to, last Thursday’s referendum in the United Kingdom (UK) was either the best thing since slice bread or the worse thing since the American Revolution; for the British that is!
Fulfilling a manifesto promise made in 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron last week launched a referendum that most people outside of the UK and many within felt could go only one way. It didn’t, and the results sent shock waves reverberating in financial markets around the globe. By Friday morning, stock markets around the world were plunging sharply and the British pound had fallen to its lowest level in history. Despite the initial shock however, many experts are predicting that the UK will rebound, recover and hold its own. It will be left to be seen.
The referendum that has been described as a “seismic event” saw more than 30 million people casting votes. 72 percent of the UK’s 45 million registered voters turned up at the polls, surpassing the last general elections’ turnout of 66 percent. There was apparently high interest.
Interestingly enough, despite rabid campaigning and intense fervour in the UK, Belizeans were paying very little attention to Brexit and most were unaware that this was happening. Our local news stations carried absolutely nothing about the event and it went under the radar of even the Saturday morning market gossip. The thing is that while there was a time when we got regular BBC reports, recently, our view of the world comes through the lens of CNN or Fox news. We are fully abreast of every move that Donald Trump makes but “news of the world” is no longer a part of our daily intake. That I believe is unfortunate.
The referendum, dubbed Brexit (a portmanteau combining Britain with exit) was held to determine whether or not the United Kingdom should remain a part of the European Union (EU). The UK had joined the EU back in 1973 but from very early in the arrangement, there had been dissenters and opponents to the idea. Just two years after joining what was back then known as the European Economic Community (EEC) or simply the “Common Market”the UK held its first ever referendum as the result of a similar campaign promise. As did Cameron, the Labour Party had promised their electorate that should they win the election, they would let them decide “through the ballot box” whether to remain with the EEC or not. At that time, the “Remains” outvoted the “Leaves” by a considerable margin with 67% voting to remain a part of the union.
While we in Belize might not have been paying keen attention, the leaders in the US were. In a visit to the UK as a part of the Queens 90th birthday celebration, President Obama basically threatened that if the UK voted to leave the EU that it would push them to the “back of the queue”where trade with the US was concerned. Trump on the other hand, in an interview with Piers Morgan in May remarked that if he was British, he would “vote to leave the EU” and defined the union as “very bureaucratic and very difficult”. Let us hope that the “leave” victory is not a harbinger of things to come in the US where Trump is campaigning on some of the very issues involved here.
The most interesting thing about the UK referendum, apart from the large number of voters who expressed regret after learning the results, was the large degree of ignorance to what the EU actually was or what it was about. A report from Google revealed that following the fact, many British were searching to find out what the European Union was. An opinion poll conducted in the wake of the decision found that over a million voters dubbed “Bregretters” actually wished that they had voted the other way. One voter actually tweeted on social media that, "Urm, I think I kind of regret my vote. I had no real reason to pick what I did!" A subsequent petition calling for a second referendum was circulated and garnered over 3 million signatures. Of course, it is difficult to determine how many of those had actually voted “remain” to begin with and how likely it would be to achieve such a redux.
Another interesting statistic coming out of the referendum is the breakdown of who actually voted and why. The key issues seemed to be immigration, the economy and the high cost of membership in the EU. High on the list were concerns of the high number of immigrants entering the UK from other European countries; considered by some nationalism and by others, xenophobia. EU citizens can freely travel between member states and immigration to the UK has risen dramatically in recent years.
The UK referendum “divided generations, pitted nations of the UK against each other and split social classes”. Older people, traditional English and rich and middle class tended to vote “remain” while the young, urban dwellers and the under-educated were more inclined to “leave”. Many young people in the UK are lamenting that their future has been decided upon by the older generation who will likely not be around to suffer the consequences. Analysts are pointing out however, that the young have only themselves to blame. Exit polls reveal that only 36 percent of voters between the ages of 18 and 24 years turned out to vote in last week’s referendum while 78 percent of those over 65 did. For an issue that was so important to the future, this is intriguing if not deplorable.
This of course, brings up to the relevance of UK’s recent referendum to Belize. It would seem that very likely; we will soon be heading to the polls for a referendum of our own. Dean Barrow and Sedi Elrington can jump high or jump low, but no decision in the ICJ can be made without first getting approval from the people. The time to educate ourselves on this issue is not after the votes are tabulated but now. We obviously cannot depend on those in authority to educate us so we will have to do our own research and fact-findings. It will also be important for people to come out and vote, in particular the young who like in the UK, will be most affected by whatever decision is made.
We cannot vote, like many in the UK did, basing our decision on lies, emotions or phobias. We must educate ourselves, read, and ask questions in order to make a determination based on sound logic and information. Wake up Belize and let us learn from the experiences of other. May GOD bless Belize!
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