Brexit’s supporters seem shocked at their success. Nigel Farage, the leader of the xenophobic UKIP, admitted that it is impossible to re-direct 350 million pounds a week from Brussels into the National Health Service. This promise may have very well been the key to winning the referendum. Boris Johnson, the most likely new Prime Minister, drastically softened the tone. He is currently building a vision of post-prexit Britain which seems almost indistinguishable from the current membership status. Polls show that over 70% of Brexit’s supporters didn’t believe that they would win and some did not even realize that a victory means that the UK would leave the European Union. Google marked a huge surge in “what is European Union” searches. England acts like a drunk man, who thought it would be hilarious to axe his left leg and is now sobering up at an appropriately fast speed.
We’re quickly becoming aware of the incredible price of this Brexit affair. In just two days we’ve seen a rapid currency devaluation, a stock-market crash, and clear signs that Britain will suffer a huge loss of business and high-level jobs. Bank of England promised to pump up the economy with up to £500b. Such a measure must be applied with extreme caution in a country where a large percentage of the population holds large long-term mortgages. Potential raise in inflation would result in higher interest rates and bigger costs for the middle class and the less well-off. Scotland has made it clear that it values its union with Europe more than the union with England. The looming second Scottish independence referendum has much higher chances to succeed. Peace in Northern Ireland hangs on the lack of an actual border with the Republic. A fresh round of troubles on the small island seems increasingly likely.
Great Britain is turning into Small England at a stunning speed
Chaos, however, offers a glimpse of hope as well. A hope that Europe will finally wake up from its long slumber and see the huge dangers it’s facing. Irrational populism has long been eating up the fabric of Western society. So far the process has been slow enough as to give the status quo a false hope that business as usual is possible and things will somehow sort themselves out. Things will not sort themselves out. We are facing monumental challenges – a possible disintegration of the Western world from within, sophisticated hybrid and military attacks from two resurging and increasingly aggressive Asian empires, global terrorism, even more global warming. None of these problems can be solved without bold, intelligent, forward-looking leadership.
England’s exit from the EU is a historical mistake. Even though the campaign was built on lies, paranoia and manipulation, however, it capitalized on real problems that the political elite has been unwilling to name for way too long. In Britain, frustration comes from the unaccountability of the institutions in Brussels. Ordinary EU citizens don’t know what the European Parliament does or where national government powers end and European Commission powers start. Great Britain is a country of solid democratic traditions. All Farage and co. had to do to take the UK out of the EU was to convince a portion of the population that their country was controlled by unaccountable foreign bureaucrats.
We see a similar situation with Donald Trump’s presidential bid in the US. Relying on the fully authentic feeling of longstanding economic stagnation among the working class, Trump has built a heavily racist, isolationist, campaign on the promise to close the borders, kick outout Mexicans and Muslims and create jobs for the losers of globalization. Trump’s promises are no more realistic than Farage’s.
France’s National Front has been feeding off the decades of systematic failure of emigration policy and again, the income stagnation among the people with low education.
Bulgarian populism thrives on the long standing refusal of systemic parties to fight or even talk about corruption.
We see a similar picture across the globe. As the establishment refuses to address its own failures, loud and shameless populists sprout up and point at a made-up but plausible enemy – the EU, the Mexicans, the Turks. Anti-establishment politicians offer easily digestible, and ultimately unworkable solutions and gain a lot of traction through cleverly leveraging social media.
Before June 23, populism had one victory – in Greece. Prime-minister Tsipras and his left-populist party Siriza promised the impossible, backed it with a referendum and at the end were smashed and humiliated by the EU. England, however, is too big, too important and too rich – it cannot be humiliated; any cataclysm in England will have an impact across the world. We are now in a unique situation where populists, having turned the train of history will have to deal with the consequences of their own success. They and we are about to see a wide-scale demonstration of the fact that the world is a complex and interrelated system and simple radical solutions are both harmful and impossible to implement.
Nobody in the west wishes to see England going into a long recession and a spiral of social and economic problems. Our hope is that the inevitable shock will be a wake-up call for Europe. It must urge a strong and accountable leadership into implementation of deep reforms. Changes are needed not just in England and the rest of the UK but also across the EU and in America. Our hope is that globalists will wake up to the problems brought about by the huge economic and technological changes over the last 30 years instead of joyfully pretending globalization has no disadvantages for certain social groups. Pretending problems don’t exist allows anti-globalists to take initiative. Our hope is that the West will mature to the fact that the End of History has been cancelled.
Our hope is that politicians with common sense and deep expertise will implement the necessary difficult reforms and will prevent the loud and selfish populists to bring some sort of moon-shine infused Apocalypse.