Britain’s referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union or leave ended in a British exit (Brexit) by a slim margin, 51% to 48.1%, a difference of roughly 1.3 million votes out of some 33.5 million votes cast.
The result was a major blow to the country’s political establishments — Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned hard for Remain and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for Remain as well albeit half-assedly.
The result was also a ‘yooj’ victory for the nascent nativist hard right, Donald Trump’s equivalents in Britain — Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) and Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party. After touching down in Scotland to visit one of his golf courses, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party Trump hailed the vote as a “great thing” and went on to say:
“People are angry all over the world. They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over and nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things in the UK, the US and many other places.”
He’s right that people are angry and voters are rightly fed up with economies and political arrangements that don’t work for them. The Brexit referendum put internationalists and left-wing forces in the difficult position of defending an indefensible status quo alongside our opponents, British big business and Prime Minister Cameron. Given a choice between that status quo and change, voters narrowly chose change.
But which voters chose change (Leave) over the status quo (Remain) is revealing:
“The old swung it. There’s no mystery about why Exit triumphed; it had its core vote among the over 65s, among the generation who could remember Biggles and Baked Beans and when diversity on TV was the Black and White Minstrel Show. Of those young people who voted, three-quarters voted to remain but a greater proportion of the old actually voted and it is their greater turnout which explains why exit won.”
So not only did nationalism trump internationalism in the Brexit vote, the old defeated the young, meaning the past defeated the future.
What happens now?
Nobody knows. All the existing legal, political, and economic arrangements between Britain and the European Union have to be renegotiated. Businesses — particularly big businesses — have no idea what the new terms for trade and commerce will be. More ominously, 3 million European Union citizens residing in Britain have no idea what their legal status will be a few years from now. Mass deportations and expulsions may not be likely, but they can not be ruled out either.
Like a Trump presidency and a Trump administration, Brexit is a leap into the unknown. We won’t find the bottom of that unknown until we land there, so buckle up.