Free Press Journal

Brexit: A leap into the unknown

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A taxi driver holds a sticker for the "Vote Leave" pro-Brexit campaign as he drives past media in central London on June 22, 2016, ahead of the June 23 EU referendum. Rival sides threw their efforts into the final day of campaigning Wednesday, on the eve of Britain's vote on EU membership that will shape the future of Europe. / AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS

Within hours of Britain’s vote to exit the European Union we have been told so many nasty things about this decision that it would appear that a catastrophe has befallen the earth. Where the fact is all that has happened is that 52 percent of the 33 million voters who participated in the “leave versus remain” referendum have preferred to exit. This is not a small number. If we are to have some faith in the democratic process, then we should believe that these millions of adults took a conscious decision to exit Europe. Now if they have been ‘misled’ by some false propaganda, then simply, let them pay for their mistake. If in this process the others who voted ‘remain’ also suffer, then let us not forget that this suffering is a part of the democratic bargain. You have to pay for the choices of the majority.

IF we are to have some faith in the democratic process, then we should believe that these millions of adults took a conscious decision to exit Europe. Now if they have been ‘misled’ by some false propaganda, then simply, let them pay for their mistake. If in this process the others who voted ‘remain’ also suffer, then let us not forget that this suffering is a part of the democratic bargain.

It is always seductive to draw conclusions from voting behaviour and vote counts about people, their attitudes, but this exercise though often pleasurable can be utterly misleading. The plain truth being that voter choices are personal, and these do not lend themselves to generalisations. We should admit that even they coalesce into such a result, the voter reasons are as individual and exclusive in the final analysis. So, a conclusion that all the British people are anti-Europe after this vote would be utterly misleading.


After all, 48 percent did vote to remain. Their votes may not count in the decision making process now, but as individuals in day to day life they would keep impacting the society and its attitudes. Besides, already another petition has been signed by more than 130,000 people have signed an online petition calling for London to seek to independently join the EU. The change.org petition calls for the capital to be declared “a world city” which should “remain at the heart of Europe”. Similarly, Scotland has also voted to remain in the EU, and may now seek a referendum for independence from the United Kingdom.

In that sense, the leave vote is really a leap into the unknown. Now no one really knows as to how the events would unfold. The EU wants a quick divorce, but the terms of separation would have to be negotiated. It is only this exit settlement that we would know about the shape of the new post Brexit world. Apparently, this would not happen soon enough. This uncertainty would be painful, and exact a price.

The Britain-EU exit negotiations cannot happen unless there is a new British prime minister now that David Cameron has decided to step down. He was leading the ‘remain’ campaign, and this is a personal defeat for him. Boris Johnson, one of the lead campaigners who is now tipped to succeed him has stated that there was ‘no need for haste’ in quitting EU and nothing would change in the short term. This may be an attempt to soothe nerves that have been jangled in the immediate aftermath of the verdict, but then it does not make any sense to delay the process now.

In fact having won a victory for which he campaigned hard, Johnson or whosoever from the Brexiters among the Conservatives is elected to be the prime minister should make haste in quitting the EU. After all, they have been championing the virtues of Britain getting back its controls from the EU, and the massive gains that would flow for the British people. One of their main planks was that Britain would save 350 million pounds per week that it has to send to Brussels for staying in the EU. Not only would this money be saved, it would be deployed for the National Health Service that takes care of all the citizens. Surely, this saving should be a cause enough to make haste.

There is a message in the success of Leave campaign. It may not sound very good to the people who believe in the so-called large causes, but this is the reality of democratic life. It is being observed all over. The voter is taken in by powerful and convincing campaign rhetoric. The people want to believe in such messages that are described as isolationist, or demagogic by analysts and commentators. So, whether the messages are factually correct or not, the people want to believe in them.

For instance, take the claim about the sum paid out by Britain to EU every week. As per rules, member states are normally expected to pay 1% of national GDP into the EU’s collective budget. But after Margaret Thatcher negotiated Britain’s rebate in 1984, the United Kingdom has been required to pay significantly less and this work to 100 million pounds per week. The media and others brought this fact into the public domain, but Johnson and other exiters continued with their figure.

The people also seemed to believe in the Leave campaign, this is akin to the faith held by voters in India some two summers ago that they would get their share of Rs 15 lakhs each when the new government brings back trillions stashed away in black money abroad. Post-elections this promise has been dismissed as political rhetoric by the president of the party that made this claim, but the people still cling to the hope that if not Rs 15 lakhs at least some amount would come to them. The fallacy of the hope aroused by the politicians is not a deterrent for the people and they keep themselves engaged with that chimera.

Democracy has its own perils. One such flaw is the lack of wisdom among the masses when it comes to issues that demand serious analysis. It is almost axiomatic that you cannot expect a million people to design an aircraft or run a chemical laboratory. This is a job that is done best by experts. The politicians are chosen by the people to take these decisions. But when they abrogate as Cameron did, and go back to the people, you get the kind of divided verdict that says Britain should get out of EU, and have the world groaning about it. Ab initio, the idea of holding a referendum was bad. No wonder, the people have taken a leap into the unknown.