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What will post Brexit Britain look like for British citizens?

Ian Caistor-Parker, University of Warwick

This is our first article for our collaboration with The Colloquium, a student magazine at Trinity College Dublin.

As Britain’s exit from the European Union slowly transforms from theory to reality, every detail receives huge media attention. Most are focused upon the plight of EU nationals residing in Britain,  the economic consequences of Brexit, and Britain’s place in the International System outside of the EU – and rightly so. However, I want to offer an alternative perspective by considering what post Brexit Britain might look like for those us living in Britain. This perspective is often overlooked but is of great significance: it is how most of us living in Britain will actually ‘experience’ Brexit. In this analysis I have not dwelt upon economic considerations - these paint an unequivocally bleak picture which has already been discussed by many and in exhaustive detail. Instead I consider the political and social ramifications of Brexit.

Politically, it seems Brexit is unstoppable - although recent events do seem to be proving that nothing can be said to be ‘certain.’ Assuming it goes ahead, Britain will be left deeply politically divided. The Conservative party will be forced to move decisively in a new direction regardless of whether they cling on to power. ‘Maysim’ is toxic and will only become more so as negotiations unfold. Due to the fallacies of those in the leave campaign and her disastrous general election, May’s success is being measured against an impossible barometer, and she will be pilloried for it - she will have to go. The resulting shift could be in a reactionary (most likely) or a moderate (unlikely) direction but either will leave conservative MP’s with divided loyalties and a confused support base. This divide may be patched over for a period - Jeremy Corbyn and his politics are anathema to the Tories and their threat to conservative values may be enough to limit the intraparty conflicts, but these will inevitably be central to the politics of 2019.

Labour also faces political division: Jeremy Corbyn, with momentum behind him (both figuaratively and literally!) will likely have completed Labour’s rebirth as a socialist party by the time Article 50 lapses. In the process, factionalism over political principles within the Party will have re-emerged, especially if Labour is in a position of power and has the additional challenge of implementing policy. The tensions between MPs and local party members which were smoothed over by the General Election have not disappeared. Labour’s remerging position as a socialist party will accentuate further ideological divides across the political landscape to an extent not seen since the emergence of New Labour. Division, then, will be endemic to British politics and this is without even considering the future of the Liberal Democrats who appear to be drifting away from both of the major parties for principled and pragmatic reasons.

We will also all suffer from a profound feeling of social division. Few of the traditional social cleavages will have eroded by 2019. Economic inequality will continue to grow (because of conservative economic policies) and consequently both the class and geographical inequalities observable in contemporary Britain will be enhanced. Adding to this, the social divide between those who have been to university and those who have not will increase. This has become increasingly divisive since the Labour party ‘re-politicised’ the issue of tuition fees. With huge numbers of graduates hamstrung by extortionate fees and intense media focus on the way voters split along educational lines the issue is unlikely to go away. This may exacerbate a profound sense of alienation in post Brexit Britain as the country becomes more insular and localised. With immigration limited, the spectre of the feckless European economic migrant ‘flooding’ Britain will inevitably recede from public consciousness as it becomes clear that this does not in fact adequately account for all of Britain’s shortcomings. In its place another ‘other’ this time internal will have to be identified - the Tabloid Press will need someone to blame for the failure of Brexit. One potential scapegoat is the university educated whose egalitarian scheming demeans ‘British values’ and fights the ubiquitous ‘will of the people.’

Everything discussed so far paints a bleak picture of post Brexit Britain of 2019 as economically and social weaker than its pre-Brexit counterpart. However, in the longer term there may be some positive consequences of Brexit. Firstly, a political climate in which there is genuine ideological conflict gives the electorate more of a meaningful choice and helps to empower a range of political opinions instead of relentlessly focusing upon the ‘median’. The positive implications of this shift were seen in Brexit and the 2017 General Election both of which led to genuine principled political debate. While this debate is often divisive it is undisputedly engaging and this helps draw people in to politics. Also, both events saw a major increase in political participation which is an unequivocal positive sign. Prior to the referendum, electoral turnout had seemed to be in steady and irreversible decline; [1] a decline that without being addressed could eventually have threaten the legitimacy of Britain’s governments and democracy. This increase in turnout has the potential to continue into the future. Most of the new voters came from the 18-24 age group, the most malleable section of the electorate who quickly become socialised into a pattern of voting or not voting. Aside from the benefits for the country of this increased Youth turnout there are also benefits for us as young people – if more of us vote we become harder to ignore and that will give more weight to our concerns.

Brexit could and should be viewed as a disaster. It will leave Britain more divided and weaker than ever. The impact on migrants and refugees hoping for a better life and the economic connotations are of particular concern despite being beyond this articles scope. We should, in my view, approach the future of Britain outside of the EU with a profound sense of pessimism, to do otherwise would be to ignore the reality of the situation. However, the fact that there may be some indirect long-term benefits from Brexit is a small chink of much needed positivity one can cling to in the dark days ahead.

 


[1] See Colin Hay’s Book Why we hate Politics for a very detailed analysis of this (particularly first half).

 

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