There was something misleading in the overwhelming support the British government enjoyed last week in Parliament in the vote over the controversial bill to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It started the formal process of the UK leaving the EU, but the debate over the nature of Brexit will go on for years. After all, most British MPs, even those who supported the bill, only last summer campaigned for the country to remain an EU member.
Eight months on, they would not dare defy last June’s referendum results or the wrath of the leadership of their own parties, which demanded they support the bill. The party machine of both big parties in British politics, Conservative and Labour, leaned heavily on their representatives in Parliament to support the bill proposed by the government.
It spelled the beginning of a slow and torturous process that will lead to the UK’s departure from the EU, and for the EU to prepare for life without the UK. Whereas four times more MPs supported the bill to start the long goodbye from the EU than those who opposed it, many did so with heavy hearts and against what they deeply believe is right for the country.
The long-term implications for the British people are immense, but since the unfortunate referendum, the wider implications – even beyond the EU – are starting to surface. There is little doubt that it was the precursor for world politics in which alternative and fake news entered in full force, and proved that they are very powerful tools in the ballot box. Donald Trump did not invent it, he just exploits it with no breaks or compunction.
Brexiteers acted very similarly, employing facts and figures that were very loosely connected to reality. The now-infamous promise of an extra £350 million ($436.5 million) for the public health service if the UK left the EU was as truthful as Trump’s promise that abolishing Obamacare would improve health care for the average American. It is not only truth that seems not to matter any longer in politics, but also the intensification of xenophobic and racist language that was legitimized in the Brexit campaign and became popular currency in the last US election. It seems to be similarly infectious in the discourse of European countries facing elections over the coming months. Central to this approach is turning our backs on the plight of refugees fleeing the horrors of war, as if they are to blame for their situation. They are left to the mercy of traffickers, exposing women and children to the dangers of violence and rape. Brexit had its revolting contribution in bringing this dark side into our societies’ mainstream politics. In the newly introduced Brexit world, mental and physical walls are erected between people, societies and cultures. It replaces bringing people together and achieving prosperity by sharing commonalities and embracing diversity. Moreover, similarly to Trump’s attempt to circumvent the legal system and abuse the constitution, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legalization of outposts in the occupied West Bank – against Israeli law – the British government tried to take the biggest decision in the country’s recent history without the approval of its elected body.
It was left to conscientious and proactive citizens to take the government to court, to give the Supreme Court the opportunity to rule that Britain is a representative democracy and not ruled by a referenda political system. The decision by the majority, as small as it was, should not be ignored. Hard Brexiteers, who have always viewed the European project with disdain, seized on the opportunity not only to loosen and downgrade relations with the rest of the continent, but also try to erase every mark the EU has left on the UK over the last 40-plus years (abridged).
The author is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program.
Source: Arab News