At the time of writing, it’s Monday, October 14th. Later this week, Boris Johnson will meet with EU leaders in Brussels to define whether he will be able to take the UK out of the European Union before the October 31st deadline. When you read this you will already know what happened and what are the next steps moving forward, but the unpredictability of the ordeal makes it quite difficult to do any sort of accurate analysis of the events occurring at the moment. Beyond looking at the specific developments taking place around Brexit, I thought it would be much more interesting and intellectually enriching to analyse the broader implications that it has for democracy as a whole. The mixture of referendums, ideologies, business interests, and parliamentary responsibilities has generated a deep division in both the UK’s political class and normal families around the country. Such division was caused by a referendum, in a country in which referendums are not legally binding.
The main issue lies in the change of public sentiment that has taken place since the vote and the overly complicated and extensive process to Leave. Part of the change in sentiment has to do with the false promises, or flat out lies made during the campaign (see Boris Johnson’s red bus). Regardless of this fact, the people voted to Leave and any actions taken to reverse this decision would install serious precedents for the future. Imagine for example, that the Parliament agrees to a 2nd Referendum. What was the point of the 1st one then? Wouldn’t we then be able to second-guess every single outcome of every single vote we don’t agree with? I am aware that this happens anyway in many places, but it is a symptom of weak institutions and democratic values. It is important to work to avoid “intellectual elitism” when one side of the discussion claims an inherent superiority in their views, denigrating others’ opinions and delegitimizing the result of democratic processes that don’t follow their line of thinking.
Moreover, the success of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party raises some other questions. It seems that, at least when you divide the country into parliamentary constituencies Brexit counts with the support of the people, even though the majority of the urban centers and, particularly, Scotland, identify mostly as Remainers. In addition, polls put the Tories in the lead to obtain a majority in a hypothetical new election. The Conservative Party has also supported Brexit, albeit while unsuccessfully attempting to implement Article 50, which has resulted in criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. Who do you give legitimacy to in this scenario? Politicians are acting on behalf of their constituents, or so they say.
Perhaps the most worrying factor in this whole process is the presence of big money behind the scenes. The City of London has been the source of a substantial amount of monetary contributions not only to the Leave campaign, but also to Boris Johnson’s run for Prime Minister. Hedge Funds in the City have provided over half of donations to Johnson’s campaign, as well as over 2 million GBP for Leave in 2016. While there’s nothing illegal in donating funds for political candidates or causes, the City’s influence creates a big shadow over the Government’s entire effort to implement Brexit. This same group of companies connected to the Prime Minister also have aggregate short positions of over 8 BILLION GBP that would be profitable if the UK exits from the EU without a deal. If that is not an enormous reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s reasons for carrying Brexit out, then I don’t know what would be.
It has been a well-known fact that Johnson’s dream is to convert Great Britain into the “Singapore of the West” through pro-business measures, low taxes, and deregulation. The EU is seen as a restraining force that’s keeping the country down and preventing it to generate the wealth it is capable of producing. The EU has also recognized the danger of having an increasingly competitive UK right next to its borders. Whether Boris Johnson and his backers can successfully transform the country in this manner rests on plenty of variables, first of which is the Brexit outcome on October 31st. Two things are certain though, there will be no shortage of money, and democracy has been heavily eroded in Britain, the rest is yet to be seen.