About Brexit

United Kingdom voters, you’re getting it wrong.

You’re not to blame for that. Hell, I got it wrong. When I wrote that “I’d seen enough of the arguments in the campaign leading up to the United Kingdom referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Union, often labeled ‘Brexit,’ to conclude that this was largely a race between neoliberals against authoritarian populists and paleoconservatives,”[1] I hadn’t contemplated that part of the Leave campaign could in fact be an attempt to enable further deregulation, beyond what the European Union, itself under the control of the ordoliberal flavor of neoliberalism, would ever allow. The signs were there: I missed them. This, of course, is only one of several factions in the argument over Brexit, which is why your parliament can’t agree on any one plan, be it Theresa May’s or anyone else’s.

But here’s the mistake that, again, you aren’t really to blame for, but for a different reason: Everybody else is making the same mistake, which is to assume that power correlates to an ability to accomplish. I wasn’t alone in underestimating the complexity of Brexit. If anyone saw the problem of the Irish border coming, I sure didn’t hear about it. (Remember that the consensus assumption of pundits was that Remain would prevail; it simply didn’t get discussed seriously, at least where I was looking.) And it’s a pretty safe bet that if the Leave campaign had imagined that this would tear the Tories asunder, let alone Labour, they would have surely done this differently.

They didn’t. And that’s where you’re really getting it wrong. It’s not enough to just say “do it.” There has be agreement on how. Such an agreement currently seems out of reach.

It turns out there are not just two, but rather a multitude of views on what the relationship between Britain and the European Union should look like. Blaming the politicians for not just doing it is essentially to say that such disagreements should simply be swept aside.

That’s what Donald Trump is trying to do in the United States. In his rhetoric, it is clear that he is president not of the whole country, but of and for authoritarian populists and social conservatives (the main tendencies in his base). Everyone else can simply go to hell. In Trump’s view, we, the rest of us, are not “red-blooded Americans” and so we and our views are of no consequence.

That isn’t working out so well, which is why the U.S. is now in such turmoil. But your “just do it,” as if a Nike slogan were prudent politics, approach reduces to pinning the tail on the donkey. It is simply no way to get this right.

You’re going to have to face up to this. You’re going to have to confront your differences. And you’re going to have to do it as British subjects. Leaving it to your politicians won’t do.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “The ‘Brexit’ vote may signify the end of the illusion of ‘progress,’” Not Housebroken, June 26, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/2016/06/26/the-brexit-vote-may-signify-the-end-of-the-illusion-of-progress/

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