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Don’t belittle 300 years of democracy by attributing Brexit to bigots and nationalists

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By: Chris Kuan

I know it is hard being a liberal in Singapore. Nevertheless, I do find it disappointing that fellow liberals labelled the Brexit result in the UK as something of a triumph for neo-Fascist or Fascist populism. I have no issue with the populism bit but it is the Facist part that I find very difficult to reconcile.

First it implies that more than 300 years of developing the present day rule of law and the democratic instituitions, traditions and instincts in the UK count for nought. Do we regard the British so poorly that we think they have reached for a totalitarian solution with their vote? And please do not take the idea that the UK has become something of the Weimar Republic (the failed democratic state in between the collapse of the German Empire at the end of World War 1 and the Third Reich) as some would have it. The Weimar Republic was terribly flawed, with many more used to and unable to accept the collapse of the authoritarian and repressive German Empire.

Second. No doubt there are bigots and nationalists but to say the Brexit results are due to them is to belittle the far more important and legimate reasons for voting against the EU. It is the monster that the EU has become where member states are placed under the strait jacket of EU wide laws and regulation and cannot do much to chart their own course, especially to get out of the present economic malaise. Since when does the desire to want back accountability for laws and regulations that are implemented in your own country is a symptom of Fascism?

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There are other points but let me just end this with a third. Using the term neo-Fascist or Fascist to describe what has happened in the UK seems, at least to me, an indulgence in moral relativity. It is as if an equivalence to the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. This does not do right to those who suffered in those days and to the great progress made since then.

My fellow liberals should neither be emotional nor to label our opponents too easily even if the liberal order is worth defending. We ought to accept that there are legitimate concerns even if these go against our instincts. Besides we liberals are also guilty. Guilty of assuming we are the well spring of all things progressive. So sure are we of our correctness that we may be blind to the other side of the argument. The same sureness that made the great Liberal project, the EU, alienate the very people it wants to pull together.

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