As Brexit crumbles, so does faith in democracy

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, July 23, 2018
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Brexit [Photo/Xinhua]

Britain's bid for independence is nearing its inevitable end, with Prime Minister Theresa May's government in open conflict over the country's exit from the European Union. Remainers who were never happy about Brexit, and who led the treasury department, didn't prepare for a "no deal" Brexit, thereby neutering Britain's response and negotiating power. If a country goes to a negotiation without being able to threaten to quit, the talks will end as predictably as possible – and that's precisely what happened. Now the big guns of Brexit are out of the government, and there are whispers of a second referendum.

Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary and one of the chief Brexiters, recently stated that global elites continue to see Britain as "a first rate military power," "a country whose royal weddings transfix the globe," and "by far the most innovative economy in Europe." That's all very good, but the reality is that the Brexiters and the hard right-wing leavers have essentially lost all power after quitting the government. They are now in a position where they can neither lead nor steer the government to a position of strength. Both the country and the opposition are divided, and there's total chaos. There are sections of Conservatives pushing for a second referendum, which the government has all but declined to comment on.

On the other hand, the EU has shown that they are formidable in negotiation and united in their approach. This is despite several states wanting to be part of post-Brexit trade with Britain; Italy and Poland are pro-British, for example, and are allied in their negotiations on the trade front. The bureaucracy of the European Union is packed with career diplomats, whereas Britain has been led by amateur politicians, who had no idea what they were getting into other than unbound optimism and nostalgia for a glorious past. 

Meanwhile, the U.K. is losing valuable EU manpower. According to the Office for National Statistics, total net migration from Poland, Lithuania and other countries in Eastern Europe –  which previously had people flocking to work in the U.K.'s massive service sector – has nearly ground to a halt, going from 42,000 in the year before the Brexit vote to about 6,000 last year. Migration from Germany and other long-term EU countries has also halved. This wasn't supposed to happen.

Brexit was a mass movement, and when the referendum campaign started I talked about it with average people, including those in the majority who supported leaving. Their support wasn't based on race or ethnicity, but on a simple desire to break free of laws that were not passed or controlled by the British parliament. It's the same sentiment that's fueling secessionist tendencies across the European continent. The unfortunate reality was that British elites never actually thought it would vote "leave," and they neither prepared nor wanted to exit the EU. The referendum was just for show, but it went horribly wrong. If matters of state are left in the hands of the public, the reaction will almost certainly go against elite interests. And the backlash has now begun. 

The idea of a second referendum is, of course, a gigantic betrayal of the people. Those who were told that their voices matter will essentially understand what they have suspected for a long time: That modern democracy is essentially a series of ritualistic parades, with elites making all the decisions regardless. Direct democracy is a meaningless phenomenon, as practically nothing changes no matter which party comes to power. Trust in institutions, media and academia remains low. This Brexit chaos will only increase public alienation further. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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