The Brexit vote in the UK is yet another reminder of the perils of direct democracy in today’s complex “post-industrial” age putting severe limits on the ability of average citizens to make informed choices about complicated economic and socio-political issues. But, thankfully, the British political system is based on representative democracy, which is why the legally non-binding referendum ought to be ignored by the British lawmakers, most of whom are in favor of remaining in the Union — for good reasons.
Faced with the problems of economic stagnation, terrorism, refugees, the deepening right/left cleavage, and so on, the European Union is facing uncertain future and maybe headed toward a bigger crisis of governability in case the Brexit vote translates into Britain’s actual departure from the Union, which in all likelihood would trigger a break-up of the British Union; Scotland Wales have opted to remain in EU and now there are calls for a fresh Scottish referendum on independence. Equally important, the Brexit vote has raised new concerns about the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the peace between them, which has been much helped by their EU membership. Neither economically nor in terms of their security, the British people are not served by the Brexit campaign, which has prophesied disaster of biblical proportion with the myth of an EU super-state and marauding masses of immigrants.
Concerning the latter, UK admits some 360,000 immigrants annually, many of them due to brain drain from the South, which is not a terribly huge number that can be negotiated down within the EU context, e.g., by a so-called new Luxembourg Compromise emulating the past concessions to France. Some minor revisions of the EU Treaty to accommodate UK might be necessary in order to stem the anti-EU tide in the island country that has much benefited, e.g., in terms of its environmental laws, from EU membership.
On a broader level, the Brexit vote represents a backlash against globalization and its side-effects in terms of (national) identity. The anti-EU right-wing politicians who exploit the refugee and immigration issues to the advantage of their identitarian politics of exclusion often conveniently ignore the plus sides of immigration, seeing how Germany’s labor shortage problems are somewhat remedied by the huge influx of fresh labor from Syria and elsewhere.
Not only that, the European far-right in particular is completely wedded to a sinister myth of a centralized EU depriving member states of their sovereignty, when in fact it is abundantly clear that the EU is not moving toward a “single state” and is fully governed by the “union method” of coordinated action by the national governments. In other words, there are structural limits on European integration, ignored by the far-right populists who demonize the EU and scapegoat it for problems that are national in character, such as uneven growth or stagnation.
On the other hand, the Brexit turmoil in UK is aided by the monumental miscalculations of Prime Minister David Cameron, who capitulated to the extremists in his own party and has now doomed his country to a disastrous course that, logically speaking, ought to be frozen and reversed in the House of Commons. Britain is too crucial a part of the continent to depart from the European Union, which would be exposed to potential German hegemony if indeed the exit vote culminates in an actual EU exit. Hopefully, the British people can learn from the major shocks of the referendum’s divisive results and can swing back to rationality, for there is only one word to describe the result, that is, the triumph of irrationality.