The events and issues that finally culminated in the now global event that is Brexit have been a long time in the making. To make it a question about immigration, democracy or opportunism in isolation is but a gross simplification of a union that has experienced the effects of good intentions, political agendas, recession, growth, inequality and expansion for over 70 years.
From a Singaporean context, the Workers’ Party has issued a statement on Brexit calling for change to be carefully managed drawing references to the rise of immigration and globalisation in Singapore (https://theindependent.sg.sg/workers-party-spore-is-not-alien-to-the-emotions-expressed-at-brexit/). Historian Thum Ping Jin has said that the “underlying issue with Brexit was the nature of the European Union…. it is an intrinsically anti-democratic institution.” (https://theindependent.sg.sg/wp-will-be-irrelevant-if-it-does-not-fight-for-reform-historian/).
While the reasons for the outcome of the referendum are too nuanced to ever be properly quantified or explained away, the full effects of democracy or its lack thereof are on full display.
Many have hailed the results of Brexit as democracy. But can a vote based on misinformation and ignorance ever be construed as democracy?
There are two sides to democracy. While you empower people with the right to choose, you have an equal responsibility to provide them the tools with which to make an informed choice. Politicians who fail to adequately provide the information required are not only irresponsible but also undermine the very basis of democracy. In this regard, the press and the education system have also failed the people of the United Kingdom.
Based on interviews with pro Brexit voters after the results were announced, it would appear that quite a number of voters made their decision based on the red herring of immigration without realising that an exit from the EU will not necessarily mean an end to freedom of movement. In order to take the benefit of the single market within Europe, the United Kingdom will have to be within the European Economic Area (EEA). Given the rights and obligations given to other non EU countries that are within the EEA, freedom of movement does not seem to be something that can be negotiated.
Besides, were the public made aware of the political fallout that would ensue which would not lead to favourable terms for the UK after an exit from the EU? With the vote result being the way it is, the United Kingdom now faces the prospect of sharp increases in the prices of everything except baked beans with no guarantee that immigrants will stop coming in.
Were people sufficiently warned about the possibility of a second Scottish referendum for independence and the economic repercussions this will have on the future of the United Kingdom? Given how close the first referendum on independence was and the clear stand Nicola Sturgeon has made on Scotland’s view with regards to EU membership, it seemed abundantly clear that Scotland would actually leave the United Kingdom in order to be part of the EU. Before the vote however, this possibility was not mentioned by any politician or any major news publication.
An article in the Straits Times likened Brexit to Singapore leaving Malaysia. I would like to point out that economic reality of the 1960s and those of 2016 differ greatly. Global economies are highly intertwined these days. The two situations are therefore not comparable.
To me, Brexit is a mistake with fall out that cannot easily be rectified. As a result of the vote, the pound has fallen and share prices have plunged. Important diplomatic ties with countries that would have traditionally been allies have also been severely damaged. Let’s not even mention the gargantuan split that has occurred in the ruling Tory party and the freak show that is now taking root in the strongest opposition party in the UK, the Labour party. With drama and intrigue that is linked directly to the fallout over Brexit, politics in the UK now resembles a shit show of epic proportions.
It is easy to romanticise the notion of sovereignty and freedom. But the reality of job losses to come will not be pretty.
Were the people who were casting their vote sufficiently warned about these things?
A significant number of disenfranchised voters also cast their vote based on their disillusionment with the Tory party and David Cameron. Somehow, they have confused this vote with that of the General Elections. A vote out of the EU is not a vote against David Cameron. It is a vote against your own country and livelihood. And who will suffer more? It will not be the hated high flying bankers or posh people. They will just leave. It will be the working class disenfranchised that will suffer even more. It is a sad day indeed that these two elections were confused. In this regard both pro and against Brexit politicians have severely failed the country. As has the press who chose to fan the flames of bigotry over cold hard reality of jobs and inflation.
The indictment lies not just on politicians on both sides of the fence for failing to provide proper information but on the press for stirring up sentiments without properly educating their readers.
It is also disturbing that the workings of the EU are not taught in schools! It is a massive failing on the part of the school system that after the vote results were in, the highest number of searches on Google in the UK was “What is the EU?”
In the first place, this was something that should never have been put to a referendum. If the politicians wanted to put this to a referendum, then they owed the country a debt of at least educating voters on its potential pitfalls. The fact that they did not is an epic failing on their part. Indeed, they gambled on the future of the country.
From a Singaporean perspective, we should take heed on rising disenfranchisement that can lead to voting on emotions and not facts. The government should be more committed to educating voters so that they are equipped to make a sound decision as opposed to one made in fear or emotion. To the main stream media, I can only hope that it will report more objectively in the interests of education as opposed to propaganda that can backfire. As for the school system, perhaps room should be made for children to be educated about political parties and democracy with allowance made for debate and discussion.
Brexit has led to unbridled racism and misplaced nationalism whereby the results have given closet racists the legitimacy to be openly racist. It has also led to isolation from the EU who is in no mood to be charitable. David Cameron is on the way out. Boris Johnson will not be Prime Minister. The Tory party is deeply divided and Labour is a shambles. There is no political certainty which is bad for business and jobs.
Somehow, I don’t think this was the intention of democracy. A no win for anyone.