Brexit’s Unanswered Questions

Editor’s note (February 13, 2019): An earlier version of this post incorrectly implied that the majority of voters in Newcastle voted Leave. While Newcastle had a sizable Leave vote, the majority of its voters selected Remain.

It has been 27 months since UK voters decided the country should leave the European Union. Since that seismic shock, British politics has been dominated by the rights and wrongs of the decision and by fierce argument about what Brexit is going to look like. For all the talk of Brexit’s future, however, insufficient attention has been paid to the question of why voters opted to leave the European Union in the first place.

But the reasons for Brexit need to be investigated and responded to. They’re still present, and they’re not going to disappear on their own. This is the focus of a new report, The Causes and Cures of Brexit [PDF], which features more than 20 essays from prominent political figures, journalists, activists, and academics who analyze the multiple systemic failures that led up to Brexit, and offer “Brexit-neutral” solutions that can be applied regardless of the UK’s status in Europe.     

The report looks beyond the rhetoric and examines some of the lived experiences of people caught up in the Brexit debate, such as the people we met in Salford, Newcastle, and other areas with a sizeable Leave vote who told us about their lived experiences and feeling excluded from the chance of a better future. Their vote was a reaction to what they saw around them: the growing number of working poor, the precarious lives of people impacted by health and mental health concerns, the lack of housing, and the rise in homelessness.

One theme that recurs is the profound inequality in the UK, “a country so imbalanced it has effectively fallen over,” in the words of the journalist John Harris. The cost of living has risen, earnings have fallen, and personal debt is being used to bridge the gap. The 30 regions identified in Social Mobility Commission’s 2017 report as the worst “coldspots” for social mobility all voted Leave. As politics remains mired in the mechanics of Brexit, inequality will only continue to increase.

Brexit was characterized by Leave campaigners as a chance to “take back control,” but the UK should look to its own overly centralized decision-making process as causing a failure of democracy. Brexit was, according to Ben Lucas, who works with cities on devolution and inclusive growth as director of Metro Dynamics, as much a rejection of Westminster as it was the EU. The system appears rigged, enabling wealth and power to be concentrated in too few hands—mostly in London and the southeast—while marginalizing other regions and communities. For Jon Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth and Shadow Cabinet member for the Cabinet Office, England’s towns and villages “haven’t been left behind, they have been held back.”

The report includes many ideas for a devolved, modern political system that gives decision-making and spending power to local assemblies and communities. The use of proportional representation, for example, could help transform democracy in the UK. “Democratic faith can only be restored when we’re only ever as powerful as our fellow voter,” says Frances Foley, the campaigns and projects coordinator at Compass. The benefits of devolution are manifold: UK immigration policy, Atul Hatwal, director of the Migration Matters Trust, argues, would be much better tackled at a regional rather than a national level.

Many of the solutions proposed by the report are far-reaching. To Neil McInroy, chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, it is important to restore the understanding that the economy is a social construct which citizens and civil society can remake and reset. Grace Blakeley, a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, contends that we must de-financialize the economy to create a sustainable, prosperous and equal system. Adrian Harper and Alice Martin from the New Economics Foundation talk about restoring the status of a new trade union movement, reworking collective bargaining, and preparing for a future where up to 30 percent of existing UK jobs could be impacted by automation.

Above all else, the report is solution-oriented. It is about balance and fairness in the economy, investment and better treatment for people in public services and a political system that is accountable and responsive to all voters. What type of country do British people want to live in? Unless the UK addresses the causes of Brexit and asks and answers this question, there will likely be other convulsions like Brexit in its future.

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I work in some of the most socio/economic deprived areas
with children's center staff who are in the front line of assistance to families. This government has no insight upon what the austerity measures have done to our society.

and nor do I suspect that they have any interest in the adverse impact of their ideologically-driven 'Austerity' on ordinary people throughout the country.

We have a word for what people with no hope, faith or trust in the society which they are unequal participants and recipients in. Alienation. This same alienation promotes create an apathy which renders them vulnerable to those with the motivation and resources to exploit their situation and manipulate opinion. The very same people with the same motivations ( greed for wealth and power) who have alienated them in the first place.

I think that your statement is very well put.

I suspect many people who have been suffering under the austerity programme and could see no likelyhood of things getting better felt that they had nothing to lose by voting for change. I believe that almost everyone will be worse off after Brexit and I would like the chance to vote on the deal that has been agreed between Mrs May and the EU.

I think you are right, Gerald but, unfortunately it is these very people in society who will find that Brexit does them the most harm. Rising prices and inflation, job losses etc will all have a greater impact in these areas.

Most people I know voted out as the EU is run by an unelected commission that is Undemoctratic !!! Simples !

Not true about the unelected commission part, but then Leavers never let facts get in the way of a good argument.

Are you saying the Commission IS elected then?

This is one of the lies created to fool you into voting into giving more power to the unscrupulous elite. Commissioners are the same as our civil servants. When was the last time you voted on who worked in the administrative team at your local council offices? Contrary to the rubbish you are repeating, the EU is completed democratic. Far more so than the UK.

So which commissioner did you vote for ?

I must have missed that election.

Commisioners are appointed by people that we DO vote for and are basically senior civil servants. Laws are passed by MEP's who we vote for. When did you vote for the House of Lords?

Don't even get me started on the unelected House of Lords!!

It's time people's misconceptions, about the way the EU is run and works, was corrected. Three years ago the majority of UK voters had no idea or interest in the workings of government let alone those of the EU, except those the media chose to highlight.

Or royal family! Now, how much do they cost us per head?

The Commission is the equivalent of our Civil Service and we do not elect those people here in the UK.

Our civil servants don't dream up new laws for our government to debate and pass though ( do they?) I think you'll find this is exactly what the EU Commission does though.

The Commission is elected by all the MEPs most of whom were not voted for by UK electorate. They vote for whatever suits their own agenda. Even a German MP has said in the near future it will be almost impossible to veto/block any legislation. MEPs then become overpaid rubber stampers. What is democratic about that.

You do realise that WTO is even more undemocratic, and more unaccountable to the general population than the EU? Most of not all WTO members have the right of veto over our proposals? We have not yet negotiated our stand-alone membership of this body? Objections have already been raised by, among others, Australia, to our rolling over the EU schedules of tariffs?

But the WTO is not a government!

Neither is the EU.

...only this isn't actually true. The decision makers in Brussels are ALL elected. Just as our Cabinet Ministers are all elected. Once with the parliament, they are chosen to undertake various tasks by their other elected co-workers. I hear this utter nonsense over and over again from people... that we are being controlled by unelected people. They were ALL elected by various member nations, including our own and once installed they end up with other tasks too.

Sigh. No it is not “simples”. Stop parroting slogans. We elect our MEPs to the European Parliament. Didn’t you vote for yours? If not, why not?

Sigh. The only people in the EU who can frame and propose new laws are the Commission - it even states that on the EUs own website. Sigh.

Not true ! The Council of Ministers, representing on Minister from each of the 28 Member Countries, dictate what the Commission do and make all the decisions on whether or not the work of the Commission is acceptable or not. The Commission has no vote, just as our Civil Servants have no vote ! The decision making mechanism is 'Bicameral', just like many other democracies. The Council of Ministers represents one 'Chamber' of decision making and the EU Parliament, represents the second 'Chamber', each always checking the work of the Commission and the other Chamber !

The EU is run by a combination of the Council, Commission and Parliament.

The Council is made up of the democratically elected governments of the member states.

The commission is mostly the civil service - with Commissioners appointed by the Council and approved by the Parliament rliament.

The Parliament is elected by all of us.

All this undemocratic stuff is just guff.

At its core the EU is democratic and is governed as such by article 2 of the EU treaty.

Get your facts right, each country appoints a Commissioner, so our elected representatives here appointed our commissioner. We directly elect our MEPs. The commissioners are like our civil service and work to put the ideas of the European Parliament into action.

Maybe "Simples", but if so (that most people voted leave because you EU is undemocratic) they were misled.

This was another one of the Brexit lies ("ruled by unelected officials ") perpetrated by some sections of the UK media over many years, and it is important to correct it.

EU laws are made by the Parliament (directly elected) and the Council (formed of ministers from the elected national governments).

The President of the Council (Tusk) is also elected by the national governments, and the President of the European Commission (Junckers) is elected by the Parliament.

You have put forward a very strong argument for a second referendum, this time based on the facts.

There are some interesting points & facts being put forward in this discussion, Why were these points not raised during the referendum campaign? All I saw from the remain team was project fear & personal insults ( you're a wacist etc ) You do realise that remain could have won if they had debated the issues instead of insulting the electorate.

Not leaving quite yet so may have to take part in the EU elections. Wait, what? Unelected you say!?

Except that only a small percentage of laws are made in Brussels. The Commission is the civil service of the EU. An international body has to have an international civil service and they are appointed -like the UK civil service-by elected people, In this case the national leaders.All this information could be looked up in ten minutes. Yet people going on repeating this and wonder why they aren't taken seriously.

Yes, they are elected, by the MEP's you elected, if you bothered to vote. Unlike the House of Lords, where we have no say whatsoever on who decides what laws are passed!

agreed, although those who wish to ignore the result and remain would disagree. I don't ever remember getting a vote on the president of the eu or even seeing any info on who was up for election.

Nothing about brexit is going to solve any of these self made problems. It has nothing to do with Europe, the state of our nation is firmly in the hands of ineffective weedy politicians who are too busy lining their own pockets. The damage that will be inflicted & the lack of trade with other nations coupled with cost increases will destroy the very people who voted for brexit. What little the poor have will be devoured & the rich will just stand by & do nothing. Even if we are lucky enough for a left wing labour government, the aims of the party will be subsumed by the vortex of destruction caused by leaving. The right wing press will feed off every disaster, blaming labour for every little problem.

Sums it up nicely, Phil!

All of my friends voted for Brexit as did our parliamentary constituency. The main reason given from everyone I spoke to was immigration leading to gross overpopulation and the loss of our culture and community. Second reason was paying billions to Europe and massive foreign aid.

Spot on most of the people I have spoken to who voted leave all say the same, the biggest problem seems to be the politicians who do not want to listen or act on how their constituents have voted which is wrong.

The billions paid to Europe represent less than 1% of GDP. In many cases a few pence per person per week. Less than a bar of chocolate.
In terms of immigration, the areas that voted most on this basis are among the areas with the lowest immigration. It's sad to see in these comments that most of the reasons given are factually incorrect. But that sums up brexit!

Kate could it be that even though these area's are low in terms of immigration this could still be one of thier main reasons for voting out. I live in an area that has doesnt have many people from different ethnicity backgrounds and would honestly say it is quite a racist area and xenophobic. Most people I know that voted out did so due to immigration.

I do agree that immigration was a significant reason for the vote to leave the EU. However, the government still intends to allow lower skilled workers to come to the UK- those immigrants instead will come from outside the EU. But you can’t separate the issue of immigration from the issues identified in the article. People’s opposition to immigration is as much about high levels of deprivation and growing inequality- they’re just targeting the wrong culprit. It’s ironic that it was the UK that opposed an EU financial transaction tax which would have reduced inequality and the financialization of the economy.

I am worried by the belittling of Billions of wasted pounds, when I know how many nurses and doctors can be employed for a Billion, and how we could build hospitals and equip them with MRI scanners etc. If a Billion is 1000 million, and we have a population of 31 million taxpayers in Britain, each Billion we give to the EU costs each of us £32.00. By the same calculation, at an average salary of £30,000 per year, we could have another 32,000 nurses or police officers. Think of the difference that would make, and that is only 1 Billion per year and we give a lot more than that to the EU!

Please do the calculation the other way round.
How much is leaving the EU going to cost the economy and how many billions in lost taxes and jobs ?

You assume that a £ not sent to the EU is a £ to spend on NHS. This is wrong on at least 2 counts. 1. A lot of this money came back to the UK as spend on farmers science infrastructure etc that was PROMISED to be replaced exactly by the Leave campaign. 2. This was paid for out of taxation so when the economy shrinks there will be less tax to put into the NHS. The basic point is not what you pay into a club but what you get out economically and the vast majority of economists say we are net beneficiaries.

Andy Do you really think if they didn't pay that money that it would go on the things you highlight? Of course not. That money is a drop in the ocean to govt. But sounds loads to us. We are one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world yet do nothing but complain there isn't enough money. Yet the magic money tree soon found over 1 billion pounds to bribe the DUP to prop up the minority govt with their 10 votes. And before that there was no money for firemen or nurses but the MP's got 10% rise in pay. The money is there for all you highlight but govt decide where to spend it not us. This drop in the ocean will not be spent on anything we think helps us, the non rich population. UK has the fastest growing equality gap between the rich and poor across EU states. That is nothing to do with EU policy. It is UK govts that have caused all this. They caused austerity, They targeted the disabled, they targeted those on benefits including working people on benefits, they do not do anything about tax evasion in off shore money however(new law in eu that means they couldnt do that now btw) they have reduced money to council's so we all moan about our council's not collecting bins or stopping children services etc. The EU has highlighted poverty stricken areas across the UK who are eligible for extra funding from EU money. Several are in UK. When we leave those areas have to rely on UK govt who have already said they won't get as much. Our govt promises 1.6 million to a deprived area over 5 years when the EU had already budgeted 22.4 million for the same area. We are a very influential member of the EU. We punch above our weight. It is not the EU v UK. We can veto decisions we think will negatively affect us at present which we can't afterwards. We just don't have the calibre of politicians at present. They are mostly self serving populists. Say one thing to get elected then do the opposite. Look how many of those politicians and celebs wanting to leave who have gone and got EU citizenship for them and their families. Farage-german, lawson-french, Rees mogg has moved his business to Eire and told his clients to move money out of UK, one of the backroom masterminds has bought Maltese citizenship for 650,000 quid the list goes on. That tells me all I need to know. This is not a decision that has the best interest of the country at heart. Or its 'non rich' citizens come to think of it.

I recently got my annual tax statement in the post and on the back it gives how much of my income tax and national insurance gies to various services ! The smallest payment of the 15 listed is £32 towards the EU out of the total of £4526 . I also pay £276 towards the interest of the National Debt and £95 goes towards Government administration !

So basically , no dogs no , blacks no irish ? I thought the country had moved on from the 1950s

Immigration won't change. We still need to numbers in order to function to capacity. The immigrants will just come from Indian, China, Pakistan etc. Our foreign aid bill will not change. Millions of those who voted to leave are racists, xenophobes and bigots. However, the majority were disenfranchised, desperate and were sold lie after lie. These people are the people who can make a difference by becoming better informed. We have seen how incompetent and self serving our MP's are. We need to remain in the EU and address our political system at home. Oh, and our media!

Immigration will change.
Instead of EU nationals, who could be asked to leave if they were not self sufficient within a relatively short period had our Government implemented the system available. We did not sign Schengen so didn't have unlimited free movement, but presumably will have to if we have the Norway solution.
We will have a much larger number getting visas from non EU countries in return for trade deals, China, India, Russia, etc They will not have the same restrictions.

One of the key factors is/was the deliberate manipulation of information by the media. Especially venerable newspapers trusted through generations by the middle classes - who had no idea that those organs had been completely swallowed by the ultra-far right capitalist "cabals"

Interesting read ...been around for a couple of months but slipped my personal net...

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