Viewpoint by Roberto Savio *
ROME (IDN) – The campaign around the so-called Brexit – the withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union – is only the insular British version of the current implosion of the world fuelled by fear and greed.
There is little if no debate on the vision or values of identity of Europe in the campaign pro or con Brexit which will peak with the referendum on June 23. In England – and I stress England – the debate is one of fear against greed. The Brexit camp has launched a campaign based on fear. Fear of immigrants, fear of losing control of borders, fear of being subject to the whims of Brussels (widely seen as those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and therefore of Germany).
Contrary to any interpretation of reality, the Brexit campaign is now about “the threat of 70 million Turks being able to enter Great Britain and rape women”. The fact that there is no chance of Turkey becoming a member of the EU in the foreseeable future is conveniently ignored. One of Brexit's prominent supporters is Dominic Raab, British justice minister (and son of a Czech father, who came to Britain in 1938 as a Jewish refugee). He has said that ”EU membership makes us less safe ... This puts British families at risk.”
The British tabloid press has launched itself into an unbelievable campaign – Britons could lose control of their coastline; their country could be merged with France; and Brussels Is going to veto use of the kettle, the indispensable instrument for daily tea. One recent study found that of 982 articles focused on the referendum, 45% were about leaving the EU and only 27% in favour of staying.
Boris Johnson, former mayor of London, who has written in two books how important it is for the United Kingdom to be part of Europe and boasted of his family’s Turkish ancestry, has now jumped on the “leave the EU” bandwagon with the obvious aim of replacing David Cameron as British prime minister when the latter resigns should the anti-EU vote win the referendum – after all, the referendum was Cameron's idea, so his destiny is clearly swings on the outcome.
The fear campaign thrives on and fosters the xenophobic arguments and rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump in the United States, Marie Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy (all of whom support the Brexit) – it has no specifically British flair.
If fear is the argument for leaving the EU, the argument for staying is based on greed. To an extent, it is also a sort of fear campaign but not centred on security, safety, borders or immigrants. Here it is a question of money, of how much money Great Britain would lose if excluded by the European common market.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has already declared that there would be no way that Britain would have special arrangements similar to those for Norway. Cameron has warned of a pensions crisis for British citizens. The financial sector and companies have been financing the anti-Brexit campaign, pointing to the economic damage that leaving the EU would entail. Cameron has been doing the rounds of major players in the international economic system – from the IMF to the World Bank, from the OECD to the G7 – arguing that Brexit would damage not only Britain, but also all of Europe and the world economy. In any case, the damage would inevitably be much higher for Britain.
The problem is that such arguments do not go far with the Brexit people, and polls show that they are the ones who feel neglected and left out, who are fearful about their family and their jobs, and who have lower levels of education and income.
According to online market research company YouGov, the strongest geographical areas of support for remaining part of the EU are Northern Ireland, which receives large amounts of financial aid, and Scotland and London, two relatively rich regions. The more you move to the less prosperous regions, like the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humberside or areas of large immigration like East Anglia, the more you find support for Brexit.
It is impossible to say which side will prevail on referendum day (and the potential impact of the killing on June 16 of pro-EU Labour MP Jo Cox by an alleged 'Britain First' sympathiser remains to be seen). The two sides are so close that every new poll brings different and contradictory results.
There is no doubt that a Brexit would accelerate the process of disintegration of Europe, with right-wing populist, nationalist and xenophobic parties on the rise. Next year there are elections in France and Germany, and Le Pen is now poised to win in France, while the anti-Europe Alternative for Germany (AfD) will continue growing.
Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-Europe UK Independence Party (UKIP), recently declared to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he and Beppe Grillo, comedian leader of Italy's anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, are going to “destroy the old EU”. Poland and Hungary will be happy to continue on their nationalist path, and so will other countries in Eastern Europe. The Nordic countries will be tempted to follow Norway, not inside the EU but with special agreements for trade and finance.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have much interest in remaining in Europe, so it is widely considered that they would probably separate from England and seek readmission to the EU. The lack of an active campaign by Scottish prime minister Nicola Surgeon has been interpreted by some as a Machiavellian manoeuvre to have the Brexit win, and be able to call for a new independence referendum. That would be the end of the United Kingdom, and England would lose its main historical conquests; only small Wales would remain to save the term “United Kingdom”.
There is no doubt that England would suffer. To be cut off from a market of 400 million people would have serious consequences for its crucial financial sector, and many international companies would probably move out of London to remain inside Europe (Edinburgh is a serious candidate). And a resized England would have much less international weight, starting with its relations with the United States.
Is there a positive side to Brexit? While I do not see any for Britain or the Europe of today, it could still have a great influence on the tide of history. It could give birth to a new, much more homogeneous Europe, formed by what could be called the 'Carolingian Europe'. In the 8th century, Charles the Great was able to unify most of Europe and made France and Germany the basis of his kingdom. As Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he also brought the south of Europe into the Empire, an empire based on the values of Christianity with strong support from the Pope.
A new Europe will have to discuss the foundation values for being viable beyond its economic basis. The errors made during the European Union of today will have to be discussed and avoided in the new one. Eventually it could become a pole of attraction for those who have left, who have in the meantime discovered that integration is a crucial issue in our globalised world.
But of greater relevance is that the turmoil and decline of England after Brexit will be an extraordinarily powerful message to all other European countries. It will show that while the populism, nationalism and xenophobia that European integration was supposed to consign to the dustbin of history can be useful tools for winning an election, they are not for running a country. The England of the past will never come back and, hopefully, reality will seep in. England was supposed to be a cradle of democracy. If a campaign of fear can win in a supposedly civilised country, much more education is obviously required for vibrant democracy.
*Roberto Savio is publisher of OtherNews, adviser to INPS-IDN and to Global Cooperation Council. He is also co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. This article is an edited version of the article published under the title 'Not Politically Correct Reflections on Brexit'. It is being published by agreement with OtherNews. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 June 2016]
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Photo: Britain Stronger in Europe campaigners, London, June 2016, Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.