The anti-immigration rhetoric at the heart of the vote for Brexit has become symptomatic of a wider isolationist trend in British culture.
We live in an ever more globalised world. As any good economics student would tell you, while the boons of multiculturalism and free trade are many, globalisation has its fair share of disadvantages. It disrupts our labour markets with uncontrolled immigration and peddles a neoliberal agenda with the United States as its peacekeeper. It tightens competition to such a degree that developing countries end up caught in a loop of worsening working conditions, dangerously low pay, and subservience to the great economies of the world that buy their goods. Before being dismissed as a shy communist, there’s one more criticism to be made of globalisation: it has made us, unexpectedly, incredibly isolationist.
First, we must look at our attitude to supranational institutions such as the European Union. The EU is an institution designed to make everyone that is a part of it better off. Unfortunately, 52 per cent of the UK disagreed. One of the main reasons people objected to the European project was because they believed, however wrongly, that immigration from the continent was having a substantial enough negative impact on their wellbeing. These people, whilst potentially ill-informed, voted on a simple principle: “In my country, I am uniquely more deserving than these people.”
Many, according to the polls, believed that immigrants were responsible for a tougher job market. Moreover, it appears Brexit has made us more racist, more likely to look down and judge that which is indiscriminately “foreign”. The cruel irony is that much of the immigration the UK faces is due to a long-dead imperialist tendency. When we deny immigrants the same rights as us, then, we subjugate the people from countries that we ourselves subjugated in times gone by. This not only applies to the UK’s old colonies but to the “sick men of Europe”: countries such as Romania or Poland, which have suffered between a rock and a hard place of binary ideological warfare for centuries. If we are prepared to compensate for imperialist tendency on the UK’s part, we should be prepared to do the same when it comes to the countries we have forsaken within the EU itself.
This aside, it seems that the immigration brought on in the globalised era, where transnational travel is easy and free movement is a near given, has given rise to nationalist groups clamouring for a curtailing of these people’s rights. This is just the first way in which globalisation has made us think less about our fellow man, who realistically deserves our help more than ever.
Another reason why the United Kingdom rejected the European Union on June 23 lies with sovereignty. Now, again, the arguments made by those who wished for us to regain said sovereignty are very debatable, given that we are now likely to opt in to the majority of the EU’s regulations either way. The reasoning behind taking back control, as it were, was to do with a distinct disagreement with the way the EU is run, and further to that, a disagreement with the idea that it should have an impact on our laws. Many people hold this belief: that it is wrong for an external body to control British affairs. This comes despite the fact that multiple media organisations, and indeed, other countries, hold powerful stakes in British affairs. We only need look as far as Chilcot to see that the UK frequently found itself at the mercy of the United States in the context of Iraq. There is no referendum on the cards about the UK renegotiating its relationship with the US, however. Unlike with the EU, popular disdain for the United States does not exist – whether it would be founded or not.
It seems entirely possible, then, that whatever the EU’s agenda, the people who disagree with the control it has now would disagree with said control on a moral level, even if Brussels acted directly parallel with their own political beliefs. If the people begging us to take back control do not agree with this logic, then they only disagree with the EU on an ideological level, which is debatable at best. Regardless, the EU is more progressive than a Conservative government at this point, and even countries with governments arguably more progressive than the Commission do not simply leave on this basis. The real reason why some politicians want us to take back control from Brussels is because a) it sounds good and b) they have a very firm political agenda, most of which stems from the opportunity to be elected.
It is all too clear, then, that Brexit has made us more isolationist than ever, encouraging racist incidents both left and right. The sad truth is that, when kind of events are on the rise, we need global co-operation now to fight the risks that globalisation poses in an era where trade and wealth are growing, at the expense of community and solidarity. Our new government, then, should be the first to reject rhetoric that pins the blame on immigrants, and acknowledge that it is our own attitudes, to the supranational and, more generally, “the foreign”, that need to change. In a world dominated by big business, big government, and even bigger decisions, the notion of “Little England” should be put to bed for good.