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Brexit: Divisive Politics Leading to a More Fractured Britain?

On Friday the 24th June Britain woke up split through the middle, with a 51.9% – 48.1% majority decision to leave the EU. Very few, even the Brexiters, had believed Britain would leave the EU after four decades of economic and political benefit. To many it is now going to be a very tortuous journey for Project Europe which has helped keep the peace for decades after two horrific world wars in the last century.

What swayed the vote in the end was the dispossessed and disenfranchised mainly across middle England. The older generation of working class people voted with their feet and kicked back at our political establishment that had failed to help them from poverty and worry over the last few years. The Leave campaign, supported by the tabloids, managed to channel their anger at the EU and immigration. London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain. Many who supported the Remain believe that the Leave campaign was based on lies; they consider EU exit as a disaster. An online petition was signed by more than 3.5 million people calling for a second referendum on whether Britain should leave, although it was started by a Leave campaigner.

A soul searching is taking place in some quarters on this outcome for Britain in living memory in this era of globalisation. Some fingers are being pointed at PM David Cameron who may go down in history as the man who has presided over Brexit from Europe. Boris Johnson’s political future is also now shattered by the sudden ‘treachery’ by his Brexit partner Michael Gove.

Since the Brexit vote, the consequences of this referendum are being strongly felt not only throughout the country but in the rest of the EU countries and across the world. In the immediate aftermath stock markets reacted negatively which was coupled with a sharp depreciation of the pound. The level of uncertainty in the markets has made it difficult for businesses to continue as normal. With some banks already talking about moving some operations out of Britain, fear has now spread to other industries. The overall economic situation is volatile and there are projections from some quarters of a second recession.

The PM wasted no time and resigned on the morning of the referendum result and as the main bulwark in support for Remain he decided not to “clear the mess” the Brexit has caused. This has triggered a leadership contest in the ruling Conservative party with some senior Tories vying for leadership. The uncertainty will remain until the autumn with the potential for a general election afterwards.

The opposition Labour Party is going through a meltdown after an orchestrated campaign, understood to be from the Blairite camp, resulting in four fifths of Labour MPs passing a no-confidence motion in their leader. Mr Corbyn has dug his heel and decided to fight back the leadership challenge by saying “he would not betray the members who voted for him by resigning”.

With Westminster politics in disarray it has been a field week for some racists and Islamophobes to turn on vulnerable and minority communities including children and women. The shocking surge in hate crimes, particularly Islamophobia, has been roundly condemned by the PM and London Mayor who called for an end to racist abuse in our town and cities. How long this chaotic period empowers the worst elements in British political life remains to be seen.

Using bigoted rhetoric for political gains has sadly become a tradition in some developed countries, including Britain. The irony is some of these bigots are often ahead of others in denouncing bigotry. During the campaign, the tone of both camps was viewed as negative. Some Leave campaigners resorted to shameful tactics with one particular UKIP poster, using a picture of thousands of refugees crossing into Slovenia from Croatia during the height of the migrant crisis, being compared to Nazi propaganda. Nigel Farage’s statement calling Brexit an ‘Independence Day‘ was termed as both insensitive and offensive.

Both campaigns were led by the political elite, but the Brexit campaign was supported by popular media that whipped up people’s raw feelings towards undeserving targets, namely immigrants. Now that vote Brexit has opened up Pandora’s Box in our social and political life, we need a strong political leadership to tackle the ensuing social chaos. Without this leadership, confidence in our politics and politicians, having been tainted by the expenses scandal in 2009, will continue to decline.

Neo-conservative arrogance in the first decade of the 21st century destroyed Iraq, with the eventual rise of terrorist groups causing an unprecedented internal displacement of human beings culminating in mass migrations to Europe. The ascendancy of neoliberalism in developed countries with rising inequality and social fractures has the capacity to strike a hammer blow at the social fabric and pit people against one another. We already see physical walls being built or proposed by politicians across the Atlantic. Although walls are merely bricks and mortars that can be easily dismantled, we should all be concerned about the walls that are being created between people – the haves and have-nots.

It is time our politicians see things beyond their short-term vote gains and election wins. It is time ordinary people wake up and do not give into the divisive politics that can give rise to populist, separatist or xenophobic trends. It is vital citizens organise themselves and strengthen their civil society to build political and economic models that serve people’s hopes, aspirations and need.

This post was originally submitted to Huffington Post.


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