|Right wing UKIP leader Nigel Farage celebrates victory. Taking our country back!|
The vote for Brexit has sent Britain and Europe spinning. The instant reaction of the EU has been an insistence on immediate and irrevocable withdrawal and a point-blank refusal to negotiate a single concession. They see clearly ahead the nightmare of an unravelling of the entire project, with Brexit followed by Dexit, Swexit, Frexit, Spexit…
To their honour, Scotland and multi-ethnic London strongly voted REMAIN. But England, Wales and the Protestant community in Northern Ireland mostly voted LEAVE by significant margins. All the passion, the rhetorical tricks and the emotional manipulation had come from the LEAVE side, while the sole argument of Cameron and the establishment was: membership of the EU gives us access to a market of 500 million people; in other words, "we can make lots of money out of Europe, so to hell with your problems". Corbyn, to his credit, did rightly defend free movement of labour, and stress the threat posed by Brexit to the minimal workers' rights wrested earlier from the EU (which had been conceded as a means of protecting German and other employers from the risk of being undercut by weaker competitors). However, his voice was drowned out as usual by the media.
Cheap demagogues like Johnson and Farage have used outrageous jingoistic bombast to conjure up the faded glory of British imperialism 150 years ago, when Britain was a "great trading nation" and "the workshop of the world". It is a ridiculous fantasy.
Ever since the wilful destruction of British industry by Thatcher's government in the 1980s, used as a deliberate policy to smash the power of the trade unions (a policy cheerfully maintained under Blair's subsequent "New Labour" government), the old manufacturing base of the British economy has gone. There are virtually no shipyards, coal mines, steelworks or car plants left. What then will be the basis of Britain's revived role as a "trading nation"? What can Britain offer for sale? All that is left is the banks, whose crooked practices already so recently plunged the economy into catastrophe. Britain is now little more than just another money-laundering tax haven offshoreisland, siphoning up the dirty money of the world's oligarchs and gangsters into a booming property market that shuts out the local population from any hope of ever buying or even renting any living space.
One EU bureaucrat scoffed that Britain would end up as just an island off the European coast like Guernsey. Maybe its main attraction will be as a theme park, living off visits to Stratford-on-Avon and the Tower of London.
The only heavy industry that still barely survives in Britain consists of a handful of factories owned by foreign companies like Honda, or - until its recent announcement that it was shutting it down - Tata Steel. These companies had strategically targeted a British location for no other reason than precisely as a stepping stone into the European market. Once Britain leaves the EU, these companies will inevitably pull out. Meanwhile, the sharp fall in the value of the pound will send the price of fuel, food and other essentials sky-high. So Brexit could well bring in its wake the added horrors of mass unemployment and soaring inflation - both of them problems which the British economy had avoided up to now since the start of the 2008 recession.
The victorious Brexit campaign has already in effect legitimised widespread moods of xenophobia and bigotry which had previously been largely muted. In conditions of intensified economic hardship, these could well now erupt into a huge rash of verbal and physical street attacks on immigrants, and - especially in the aftermath of any successful atrocities by Islamic terrorists - in outright race riots.
To their lasting dishonour, nearly all the left groups had opportunistically jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, using as justification their quite justified abstract characterisation of the EU as an instrument for naked rule by the multinational monopolies. At the same time, they shamefacedly brushed aside its increasingly blatant xenophobic character.
They argued, correctly, that the vote to leave the EU represented a revolt against austerity; but it was a blind and perversely misdirected outcry against years of low wages, zero hours dead-end jobs, homelessness, welfare cuts and unremitting cuts. It was a classic case of the same old diabolical "divide-and-rule" manoeuvre. The media had succeeded in diverting their despair into safe channels by scapegoating immigrants: largely migrant workers from Eastern Europe and the handful of refugees allowed in from current war zones. In the process, like every authoritarian regime in the world, or in the best traditions of British imperialism (as practised so skilfully over the ages in Ireland, India, Palestine, etc.), the rage of the poor was neatly deflected from the ruling class to attacks on a despised minority.
Britain has entered into a dangerous, volatile period; a period of sharp and sudden shocks. It has witnessed huge trade-union demonstrations, student upsurges, youth riots, political instability, even a political assassination. Both the traditional political parties are on the verge of splits. The only certainty is that more such events are imminent, probably still more shocking and more violent.