Could Brexit Get Even Worse?

JS Adams fears that the Brexit fallout could threaten our civil liberties, our economic relationship with the rest of the world and even peace and stability across Europe.

I have no evidence that Brexit could trigger another world war, but it can’t be a coincidence that Britain was at peace with Europe all the time it was a member of the EU. If other countries follow us out could the continent fracture, as it did pre-1914 or pre-1939?

The Schuman Declaration that laid the groundwork for the EU was signed by people who had seen first-hand the horrors of two world wars. They knew in their hearts that peace could only be sustained if Europe formed a united trading block. Schuman regulated the production of coal and steel for the express aim of ‘[changing] the destinies of those regions which have long been devoted to the manufacture of munitions of war, of which they have been the most constant victims.’

If the EU was founded on principles of peace, order and justice, it’s worrying that Brexit could only chip away at all that. Neoliberal capitalism could run rampant, no longer restrained by EU employment regulations. Already we’ve had a spike in hate crime and racial/cultural tensions – not helpful in an age of global terrorism and neo-imperialism.

Brexit may also threaten our civil liberties, given that our major legislation in this area is derived from the EU. If fear and distrust towards foreigners continues, it won’t be difficult for our political masters to stamp even harder on our freedom of speech, expression, religion and so forth. Cue tighter security in public places, national and international travel restrictions and our freedom of movement crushed under a heavy wallet packed full of papers: your birth certificate, driver’s licence, marriage certificate, proof of address, passport… But don’t worry! The Americans will put all that info on a RFID tag the size of a grain of rice and insert it into your skin. Welcome to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or 2016.

If other countries take our lead and the EU collapses in on itself, amongst the rubble there could be ripe pickings for far right groups. It’s going to take us two years to get out of the EU and it could get very, very ugly indeed. We’ll likely see more of the racist and xenophobic rhetoric that Johnson, Farage et al peddled during the campaign. A recession is brewing in the US and is likely to blow over to Europe. New east-west battle lines are being drawn on the continent, with NATO bolstering itself and Putin angling for a new empire. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are becoming a giant militarised zone. Meanwhile everything and everyone that’s been bad for centuries will carry on as usual: arms dealers, stockbrokers, bankers, offshore tax plunder, political corruption…

Could this nasty confluence of conditions lead to war? The assassination of Franz Ferdinand wasn’t the main cause of World War I – the war that was supposed to end all wars. The key factor was intense economic, military and political competition between Europe’s major powers. There was no suggestion of European cooperation in those days because ‘all were imperialists and warmongers,’ writes the historian Neil Faulkner. ‘All were prepared to plunge the world into an industrialised war for the power and profit of a few.’

Capitalism may have evolved a bit since 1914 but, then as now, only an elite few run the show and they profit from war. 9/11 was a ‘Franz Ferdinand moment’, but the US had planned to invade Afghanistan long before the Twin Towers fell, and for hard-nosed economic reasons. Bluster about WMDs and exporting democracy aside, George W Bush and his apparatchiks have all freely admitted that the Iraq invasion was about securing oil.

There’s no doubt that the current showdown with Russia – which Brexit could inflame – is driven by Western economic, strategic and political interests. The United States is the world’s only remaining superpower, with 800 military bases in at least 74 countries around the world. It is currently involved in up to 134 wars, either overtly or covertly. It’s understandable why some Brexiteers would prefer to give their loyalties to the Americans and why the UK – the US’s foreign policy ‘poodle’ – resisted European integration for so long.

After the second time Europe was devastated by all-out war, Britain realised that its empire was finished and that its prestige in the world was nosediving. We snuggled up to the new superpower across the pond – importing jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, hamburgers and Coca-Cola –  while mainland European states like France and Germany got cosier with each other.

Historically Britain has thrown itself behind American aggression when our European neighbours have not (French and German opposition to the Iraq catastrophe being the most recent example). The callous brand of contemporary capitalism known as neoliberalism originated in the US. Western Europe, by contrast, invented social democracy: free healthcare, free education, welfare support and state-sponsored social mobility.

I think of American capitalism as like the hare and its European counterpart as like the tortoise. The Americans move fast, are in your face and don’t think before they leap. ‘Fuck yeah! Let’s bomb first, ask questions later. You want Pepsi? I’ll sell you 20,000 units yesterday!’

EU-managed capitalism is arguably more thoughtful and methodical. ‘How do we ensure the precise angle of these bananas?’ However, the bureaucracy and centralisation of the EU has caused the kind of angst that fuelled Brexit. Wider socio-economic reasons don’t help either.

The 52% who voted leave tended to be the poorly educated, the less well-off, members of the older generation and, of course, a certain number of right-wing nutjobs. A lot of these people were desperate for change, any kind of change to the social order that might make their lives less miserable. The poor need options because they’re not getting them from the job centre; how about enslaving yourself on one of these wonderful workfare programmes?

As for the ideologically-driven rightists who voted out, they want the world and they want it now, they always have and they always will. They act from the heart, not the head. They have no time for detail, discussion or debate. They want to take action. But action without thought is often disastrous. The EU is a complex cocktail of phenomena, not just a single issue at which to jerk your knee.

Like the poor, older people are prone to alienation, be it through loneliness and/or a sense of redundancy. Many, of course, are also poor. A good number of them were swayed by the Leave campaign’s own version of Project Fear. Make no mistake, Brexit will go down in history as the apogee of black propaganda and public manipulation in this country.

Empty promises were stuffed with greasy lie after greasy lie, then the whole poisonous mixture was cooked up on flames of alarmist bigotry. It was within this manic climate that some lunatic felt emboldened enough to shout ‘Britain first!’ and assassinate Jo Cox MP.

If there is war after Brexit – and let’s hope there isn’t – she may be remembered as the first casualty.