Brexit is a bad idea and has been controversial since it was first voted on in June 2016. Brexit’s controversy comes from, as observers have astutely noted, the fact that people were fed false information through a series of sensationalist media campaigns prior to the vote. Even if British voters had not been inundated with false information about Brexit, I don’t think that anyone can reasonably expect British voters to understand the unimaginable consequences of such a serious decision for global politics. After all, the average voter in any country has probably not studied international politics. At best, we can expect voters to have a fuzzy idea about the direct implications of the decision for themselves and, if lucky, an even fuzzier ideological underpinning that drives their decision. Something like, “I am voting for Brexit because there will be fewer migrants in my city,” might have an ideological underpinning in conservative British politics.
The term Brexit refers to Great Britain’s ongoing attempts to withdraw from the European Union (EU). After voting to withdraw from the EU, Britain is now struggling to negotiate a trade and travel deal with the EU. The deal that former Prime Minister (PM) Teresa May negotiated has been rejected by current PM Boris Johnson. Most recently, PM Johnson has been arguing for a “no-deal Brexit” which means that Britain would leave the EU without determining the terms on which it does so. Johnson is effectively bluffing for a better bargaining position. He is attempting to muscle a better deal out of the EU. This is not likely to happen because the EU is in a better bargaining position.
Although the debate over Brexit could easily break down into a philosophical debate regarding the principles of representative democracy versus direct democracy it should be much simpler. Brexit is bad because it is selfish.
In terms of international relations, Brexit is significant because it is a turn away from the institutions of international governance. Since World War II, there has been global investment in institutions of international governance like the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Criminal Court and regional organizations like the EU. Brexit represents a turn away from decades of progress and a turn towards a dangerous form of populism rooted in a self-centered nationalism that says to the world’s most vulnerable populations: “Me first” and, while they’re at it, “Get out of my country.”
Brexit is bad because it gives a platform to, and is driven by, racism and xenophobia. The people who voted for Britain to leave the EU did so in part as a reaction to the influx of migrants to the EU fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Brexit reeks of an ugly selfishness found in the language and policy of other populist leaders, including the anti-immigrant policies in the U.S. promoted by President Donald Trump.
Perhaps out of exhaustion — or maybe fear — somewhere along the way, two of the world’s most powerful liberal democracies have given up on the angels of their better nature and quietly resigned themselves to the callous comforts provided by their overwhelmingly homogenous institutions. We have lost our will to work to be better people. Looking into the abyss, at the faces of the hungry, the poor and the homeless that we have helped to create through years of careless foreign policy, we have let out an intolerable whimper, turned and ran cowering back to the comfort of our plentiful homes and warm beds. Just like America’s border wall, Brexit is bad because it represents “self before all others.”