Just over a week ago Britain chose to leave the European Union and the shockwaves are still being felt. Since the vote, the (so-called) experts’ warnings of economic disaster have begun the transition from ‘project fear’, as it was so nonchalantly dismissed by the Leave campaign, to ‘project fact’. The value of the pound has fallen dramatically, billions have been wiped off the FTSE 100 and economic growth forecasts have been revised down- with some economists predicting that a recession is imminent.
The economic chaos is rivalled only by what is happening inside Westminster. The Prime Minister has resigned and has plunged the Conservative party into a power struggle worthy of Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, there is no opposition to fill the void as Labour MPs attempt a botched version of the Red Wedding in a battle for the soul of the party. All this at a time when strong leadership is vital to reassure not only the markets but the people of the country who face an uncertain future.
Amidst all of the chaos, it would be easy to forget what a significant victory this was for the Leave campaign. They defeated the combined strength of the UK’s major political parties, the Governor of the Bank of England, most economists, all of Britain’s allies… the list goes on. But at what cost have Leave secured this victory?
Immigration, Immigration, Immigration
Do not be fooled by the suggestion that the Leave campaign convinced 17 million people on the nuanced issue of sovereignty. While Leave’s slogan was ‘take back control’, it was combined with inflammatory rhetoric about immigration which meant its meaning transformed into something altogether more sinister. Immigration won the referendum for the Brexiters.
Remain simply could not stand against the fear created by the fanciful threat of millions of Turks coming to take the jobs of those who already feel left behind in a globalised world. Nor could it stand against Nigel Farage’s Nazi-esque propaganda which disingenuously used the plight of millions of refugees in order to secure just a few more votes, to inject just a bit more fear. The Leave campaign exploited their one trump card with surgical precision.
Yes, there are legitimate concerns regarding immigration, but it would be delusional to think that this campaign has helped moved that debate forward in any way. The opposite is in fact true. Brexit politicians have exploited the concerns and vulnerability felt by so many in a bid to secure victory.
I won’t bore you by telling you that the vast majority of Leave voters are decent people, that much should be obvious, but the tone of the Leave campaign has emboldened the indecent. Since the result was announced, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of racist hate crimes reported. Rhetoric does not exist in a vacuum and it does have consequences.
These consequences will be long felt as the fabrications of the Leave politicians become apparent. Even before the body of the Remain campaign was cold, Leavers began to row back on their promises as harsh economic reality permeated their bluster. Ian Duncan Smith described the claims made by the campaign as just a ‘series of possibilities’, while Tory MEP David Hannan admitted that free movement of people will not necessarily end post Brexit.
One can only imagine the furious backlash that any deal involving free movement would inspire from those who equated a vote for Brexit with a vote to end immigration. Many of these people are already angry at an establishment which they view as out of touch and this would inflame these tensions even more. Even if controls on free movement are secured, the economic consequences of such a deal will largely be felt by the very same people. Once they realise they have been sold a lie, their anger will not dissipate and it could manifest itself in the form of riots, hate crime and support for the far right.
The Leave campaign has unleashed forces beyond its control and they do not have a plan to tame them. Their campaign told the British public that they could enjoy all the benefits of the European Union without free movement if they just took a leap of faith; well now Britain is in freefall and there is no soft landing in sight. When the UK hits the bottom, it is likely that irreparable damage will have been inflicted on both its economy and society.