A lot will be written about Britain’s vote and how it was a statement from people, left, right and centre, who feel excluded from decision-making and who feel they have no voice in how their lives are run from distant, detached powers.
It’s difficult not to blame the EU for many predicaments – after all, the way it handled the Eurozone’s problems and the migration crisis make it hard to feel sympathy for the Brussels bureaucracy and for the governments of the Member States. Anti-establishment feelings are legitimate, as there is a lot to be angry against.
What this victory shows, however, is that 52% of the voters went with an option that has no vision for the future of its country, no plan, no roadmap, no credible alternative to what was perhaps the UK’s most important strategic option in the last 50 years. The Leave campaign comprises a broad set of people with different political views whose only common objective was to pull the UK out of the European Union. As of today, there is an electoral mandate to do that, but the road ends there – no idea of what sort of relationship the UK and the EU will forge – and looking at the regional differences in the voting, there’s no idea of what the UK will even look like within 4-5 years.
Most of all, this was a victory of a campaign which resorted to lies, half-truths and distortion on a regular basis:
the message that the UK would be forced by the EU to accept a huge number of refugees, even though the UK is not bound to accept any refuges under the EU’s redistribution scheme
that EU citizens in the UK are draining the country’s welfare services, even though figures show the proportion of EU citizens in the UK who rely on state benefits is very small and their contribution to the British economy is significant
that it is possible for the UK to enjoy nearly all the benefits of the single market while putting a cap on EU immigration, even though being part of the single market implies accepting freedom of movement and other arrangements will take long to negotiate and will be cumbersome
that British taxpayers should not bailout troubled Eurozone countries, even though the UK is not even part of the Eurozone and will never be forced to join unless it wants to
that the EU is on its way to becoming a superstate with an army of its own at the expense of the UK’s sovereignty on defence, even though none of this is in the plans and could not be applied to the UK without British consent anyway
that the UK is constantly outvoted in EU Council meetings, even though in the enormous majority of times the UK votes with most of the EU member states
that 50% or so of the laws in the UK are drafted and approved by unelected bureaucrats at the expense of the British people, even though the EU decision-making involves two bodies whose members are democratically elected and one body whose leadership is selected and validated by the two other bodies
Confront these claims with the facts and the Leave camp is reduced to empty, angry rhetoric. Not very different from Donald Trump, when you look at it. Also not very unlike those who say that global warming is a myth and that there’s no actual evidence to claim that it is man-made – and there are several people in the Leave campaign who hold this position as well. Almost as if the only rule to follow was “everything you hear from an authority, certified organisation or any other source against your views is wrong”, exemplified by Michael Gove’s statement that the British public had enough of “so-called experts”.
Once the celebrations of the Leave campaign fade out, responsibilities will be demanded: the people who voted Leave, as genuinely convinced as they might have been that their problems are rooted in the UK’s condition as an EU member, will want to see promises fulfilled and this will be extremely difficult to deliver. We don’t know what will happen to UKIP, now that their main objective has been electorally achieved – if the UKIP is to erode by itself, Farage & Co. will not be held accountable for their contribution to this, while the Conservatives will have a responsibility greater that they can imagine, namely they will have to manage the UK’s departure in the least chaotic and more stable way possible, as long as it may take…and once again, there is no plan, no roadmap, no strategy whatsoever. It certainly won’t fall on David Cameron, now that he considers his mission to have failed and drew his own conclusions.
Perhaps what should be looked into is not why David Cameron pushed for a referendum on EU membership to save his political career (that’s what politicians do after all, secure their survival on the short term, it helped him in May 2015) but rather why an electorate that was expected to be risk-averse to such an option has decided to take this plunge and walk into an uncertainty that nobody knows exactly how it will turn out. Why have over 17 million people voted for a project (if we can even call it a project) that ignores clear, unambiguous information that debunks Leave’s most significant claims and why did politicians with a responsibility to defend the welfare of their constituents put themselves behind this platform.
For my generation, which was too young to recall the events of the late 1980s and early 1990s with the interest they deserved, this will probably be the most significant political event of our lives. For the first time in many years, I am genuinely afraid of what will happen in this part of the world over the next few years. This is not a crisis that can be contained to one or two countries or which can be solved with long meetings until 7 am in a Brussels building, this was the most serious wound ever dealt to the world’s most ambitious, and until recently, most successful integration process. If within 12 – 18 months the political map of Europe has not changed significantly, then we will have dodged a rain of bullets. Until then, what was triggered today is virtually unstoppable and if we thought that previous crises were difficult to handle, it won’t take long until we’re proven wrong.