Opinion

Beyond Brexit: UK verdict reflects anxieties of those hit hard by economic inequality

This can't be viewed neatly as a battle between progressives and conservatives.

So the suspense is over – Britain has voted to leave. The margin of victory is very small, but the decision has been made.

The issues related to the referendum to remain or to leave the European Union are far more revelatory than the word “Brexit” suggests. This was more than just a choice between crazy jingoism and being progressive.

The vote to leave is being projected as a manifestation of the resistance to immigration and an uninformed understanding of the financial implications. But the debates in the British media in the weeks leading up to the vote have given a sense of other issues that the British people are also considering.

The stability of the United Kingdom, its strength as a democracy and political spaces that are still somewhat safer than the political tumult in many of the other European countries gets somewhat overlooked when the nation is viewed as a part of the EU.

Britain has been one of the most attractive countries for investment because of its stable financial institutions. In terms of real estate, it attracts a large amount of money because of the credibility of its legal system.

As part of the EU, all this is ignored – or overpowered by the concept of Europa, which at the time of its founding in 1993, appeared to be a strengthening initiative. But since then, the EU has become a place full of indebted nations, with uncomfortable diversity in their democratic cultures. The economic club is unequal and fragile

So why stay? As in all contemporary discussions, the dominant criterion used is economic power. With this decision, many are trying to predict what kind of crises could affect the global economy. But recent history has taught us that these bumps can settled fairly quickly due to the power of global communications, and because of the deep disparities in inter-region wealth and participation in the financial system.

The danger of this verdict is that some of the most outspoken leaders of Brexit have revealed xenophobic attitudes. However, there are others who see it as a way of protecting the best of Britain’s political and social culture. They also see it as an attempt to safeguard the nation’s economy. A strong British economy, they believe, can provide a better bulwark for other countries than the precarious European economy .

As anticipated, there is a clear divide in voting patterns between polling areas considered progressive, and those from areas considered working class. Commentators suggest that this inward-looking tendency is a sign of right-wing affirmation. However, this could also be a rejection of globalism, especially from who have suffered the consequences of the banditry of capital flows and the tumult of inequality.

These anxieties and viewpoints also need to be brought into the debates – not bifurcated neatly into progressive and conservative camps.

Devaki Jain is a visiting scholar at Wolfson College, Oxford.

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