Actually, there are dozens of things we can learn from Brexit chaos that has torn at the very fabric of Britain and the European Union. British polls continue to verify that most respondents can hardly even recall what the referendum was about and most express confusion over whether there can be any hope for a successful outcome. These lessons for politics, citizenship, populism and the media are vast and have some things to tell any lover of democracy.
Much of the confusion likely comes down to political parties playing with the fear of the future that so empowered the populist movement in Europe in recent years. British newspapers are discovering that, while many still hold to their positions to leave or stay, the vast majority can no longer say why. In other words, the angst felt by British citizens over their fate was really about anger more than reason. They wanted change and quickly fell in with those who promised it. It was just so easy to blame the EU for the immigration quotas, the opportunity for Europeans to vie for jobs in Britain itself, and for the rampant populism that was sweeping countries like Germany and France to connect to a similar spirit among the Brits.
Will an implemented Brexit stop all of this? Not a chance. It’s a globalized world and any nation seeking to construct walls, whether physical, social or legislative, to keep that erupting world out can only lose out to greater forces. It’s ironic that a nation once so determined to not only live in the broader world but actually control it through empire would now tell that world to “push off.”
The evidence publicized during the Brexit campaign had no real veracity to it. Like Trump’s wall, it satisfied the simple desires of those aware of their nation losing its clout in the world and seeking to make it great again by turning inward. They believed the “leaders of leave” when told that the funds saved by no longer paying for EU membership could be plowed into domestic British issues. This was false on at least two levels. First, the financial penalties levied to pullout of the historic arrangement were steep and destined to hollow out most of the economic advantages of departing. And second, other powerful political forces in places like Scotland significantly benefitted to EU investments while keeping English dominance at bay. All those promises were just a means for fomenting anger without knowing with any certainty what was true and what wasn’t.
Then there was the grand lie that Britain’s pressing troubles – worker stagnation, immigration fallout, steep debts, high healthcare costs and political unrest – emerged because of the country’s partnership with their allies on the European continent. There is no truth to this. In fact, it was Britain’s joining the EU that paved the way for its renaissance prior to the turn of the millennium. As with America, the true reason for most of the blame fell squarely on the financial fallout of the Great Recession in 2007 and the refusal of Britain’s financial sector to curtail its own greed and extremism. It undercut public works, pressed for the lowering of corporate taxes, and desired above all the shrinking of government itself – the only institution that could curtail its dominant designs. Well, it succeeded, and now Britain is reaping the whirlwind.
What remarkable in all of this is that virtually no one in Britain can now predict any likely outcome. That was also true at the beginning of the process, but no one was really looking for facts then, merely scapegoats. A powerful alliance of the political and financial sectors played the British insecurity, for the sake of gaining themselves even larger pieces of the financial pie. And now all bets are off – every single one of them. If the people were fearful before, they are terrified now. Politics manipulated them and financial elites starved them and now they feel lost.
We shouldn’t be surprised to discover that Canada can learn much from the Brexit experience. There are rampant political populists in various regions of the country who relish dividing the electorate so as to conquer us. And there are financial forces pressing hard every day in every federal, provincial and civic domain to get government regulations out of the realm of capitalism so that national wealth can be gained. It’s ridiculous. There is already more wealth generated in Canada than ever, but it’s no longer ending up in the pockets of average Canadians or necessary institutions.
Progressive change is one thing; revolution out of ignorance is quite another. There likely is no longer the chance of a favourable outcome from the Brexit experience. But there are key lessons to be acquired and the first is to never let elites – political or financial – plays us against each other in order to gain power and wealth. Give in to such forces and soon enough our own country will begin turning in on itself and tearing itself into separate parts – the polar opposite of what made Canada one of the great nations on earth to live in.