ESC Book Workshop. What Next: Britain After Brexit

ESC Book Workshop. What Next: Britain After Brexit

Wednesday, 2 November 2016 - 12:30pm
Seminar Room, ESC
Anthony Barnett (co-founder of openDemocracy)
Kalypso Nicolaidis (St Antony’s College)
ESC Lunchtime Seminar

Brexit was a wake up call - but a wake up to what? A nightmare of Farage proportions that drags Britain further into an Atlantic of fear and chronic isolation? Or a wake up to mend our broken democracy and heal a profoundly torn society? If you agree we want a society where ‘taking control’ means our being capable of shaping a future with the rest of the world, not one where we are ‘controlled’ by our past like a straight-jacket, then we need to understand, I mean really understand, why Brexit happened, what it means and how we build a future we want.

On the night of 23rd June the country signalled a democratic intent to stop being a member of the European Union. It did not stop being European – and Europe’s positive ambitions of cooperation, civility, progress and enlightened hope lives on. As Europeans we can still keep this flame alive. If this is what you want – then this is a book for you.

As both a passionate European and a long time campaigner for democracy and liberty, I analysed the referendum in openDemocracy, writing a weekly overview, Blimey, it could be Brexit! Now, I’m building on this to write a forensic explanation of why Brexit happened and a call to action: WHAT NEXT.

I’ll show how the forces that lay behind Brexit, each explosive in its own way, shook the world and have started something like a democratic civil war here in Britain. I’ll argue this creates an extraordinary if painful opportunity. The forces include: the English question of voice and identity; the intensely unequal nature of the neoliberal economy and its mantra that ‘there is no alternative’; a venal political class personified by Blair and Cameron; the cartel character of the EU itself; the strange absentee weakness of the left and the rise of new, mass movements of all kinds.

The immediate result is paradoxical and contradictory. Immigration was attacked but England itself is now like an asylum seeker on the world stage looking for partners. EU regulation was spurned but ‘Take Back Control’, the slogan of the Leave campaign, is a call for more government not less. A fundamental pillar of the unwritten constitution - that our legislators decide what is best – is shattered. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe and may separate from the English and Welsh.

The last months of 2016 are likely to be the phoney war before the real battle over Brexit begins. Can the people of these European islands regroup to create an honest democracy, environmentally balanced, economically fair, institutionally inventive and politically free?