This post originates from 2016: written a few weeks after that referendum. See how it strikes you today, in July 2021.
Brexit is a form of divorce. I wonder how many of those ‘guiding’ us in these negotiations have actually experienced divorce? Or forgotten 1989’s moral fable, ‘War of the Roses’?
Divorce is Painful, Destructive, Angry & Absurd – and full of Attribution Errors
Brexit is full of attribution errors: according to the Brexit manual banning migration and kicking out people we identify as ‘non-nationals’ will release loads of jobs for excluded British people around the UK, who will rush to take up opportunities of work. They won’t mind zero-hours contracts, low wages, or the boring, repetitious nature of the work. They won’t mind moving across country, their commute, unsocial hours, or dealing with unappreciative bosses & distraught customers. No, they’ll feel great to be included again! “This is what I dreamed of when I voted Leave,” they’ll say. All is well!
For the social psychologists among you, the Leave vote may be a classic example of an ‘attribution error’. This is a tendency to place emphasis on an external agent, including assumptions about its characteristics & motivations, to explain a feeling or state of mind who’s origins may have little or nothing to do with that external agent.
In this case the external agent is the EU, [or ‘Brussels’ or ‘foreigners’ – all of these]. But the source of dissatisfaction, the de-industrialisation & abandonment of heartland Britain is not caused by the EU. Rather it is a natural result of progress, the rise of the digital economy and the globalisation of manufacturing to wherever goods or services were cheapest. So large is the problem that at the time of writing this post, 9 of the 10 poorest areas of Europe were to be found in the UK. It is the attribution error arising from the dissatisfaction in these former industrial heartlands as they struggle for relevance in the 21st Century that drives the Leave vote – much of which originates outside of the most successful metropolitan areas.
In fact the EU has done what it can in the form of Regional Development Funds to correct and compensate for the degrading of once great regional communities and their traditional industries. Linked below you can see 19 projects that the EU has funded in Wales:
And something similar from our Northern Powerhouse: EU funding to the North East
Very little acknowledgment of the EU is made in these places that receive development funding – aside from the odd plaque stuck on the rear wall of a former factory.
Yet all over Britain people are distressed by crumbling cities, anodyne high streets, the struggle to get by, to find prosperity, meaning or pride in work. Surely it can’t be our own fault?
Surely outsiders are to blame?
Our politicians, eager to avoid taking responsibility for failing their communities, point the finger at outsiders, specifically the EU, thus re-directing anger that should be directed at them to this external agent. Because the EU does not exist as a concrete phenomenon and it’s hard to hate an abstract idea, that anger quickly shifts onto people from EU countries, onto foreigners.
It was the Tories – not the EU – who boasted that their austerity policy would put Britain right – and you may have voted for it! Recent research proves that austerity has not benefitted the UK. There is more here:
Brexiteers’ recipe for our time is emerging: the theory that if we kick out the outsiders, then our natural state of grace will resume. A kind of exorcism – a primitive pathway to redemption. A bit like the Paradise offered to suicide bombers.
Unfortunately, it is our own suicide that we are engineering. It just seems that outsiders, once eliminated, will take the problems with them. We have projected the rivalry, prejudice & inequality between us onto outsiders, who now seem responsible for our ills. In 2021, inequality in Britain, hugely increased in the past ten years is revealing itself as the main de-stabiliser of our society.
Since the first draft of this post, the Tories have promised ‘levelling up’ as a programme for correcting these discrepancies. We’ll see how that goes…
The real reason for hard Brexit is vote grabbing by the Tories, attempting to sweep up disaffected Labour voters in the regions, together with the UKIP sympathisers who aren’t yet re-aligned. It remains to be seen whether this will mean more votes for the Conservatives. [Their majority of 80 in the 2019 general election suggests that it has worked. For the first time many Red Wall constituencies have Tory majorities.
Those outside the grip of these nationalistic wishes see things differently. Alone we will be less connected, less interdependent, less reciprocal, less supported by neighbourly donations. Do you believe that the Tories are going to replace the Regional Development Funds? Have you thought how dependent we’ve become on social media, the Internet, Facebook, Instagram, Google – all of these are Networks. And this is the time that we ‘choose’ to leave our biggest, most important network, the European Union.
If I am right, everything post Brexit will cost more or be worth less. Just watch our economy shrink.
There will be less resources to go round. The economy will shrink, the cost of Brexit will be enormous, the disruption to policies and programmes will be huge, and the new laws will be 99% the old laws. [At the time of writing we could not anticipate that Brexit would be accompanied by the CV-19 pandemic.This has created a double-whammy!]
The press, almost wholly pro Brexit, will attempt to distort and diminish these effects, by blaming others and whipping up hatred, soon to be directed at local councils, health authorities, teachers, transport workers, and whenever feasible, the EU. The Unions will come in for their share of blame, and most will forget – if they ever knew – that EU workers and BAME communities form a large proportion of front-line workers in key services.
As things get worse the government may attempt to convince us all is well by ‘investment in infrastructure’ which they have been resisting for years. Infrastructure is expensive and politically dangerous [what do the places you are not investing in feel about it?] and the EU has an evolved a sophisticated process for spreading the necessary investment across its member states (called the Regional Development Programme from which the UK does well). We have no such practice or national programme here, so the money will follow egos and be used to cover dissolution with vanity projects.
As we have learned, it is neither efficient nor value for money to invest in privatised industries for infrastructure projects. See the PFI contracts storm here for more:
[I’ve chosen the Telegraph to illustrate this dilemma for a view from the right. Sources like the New Statesman and the Guardian are more critical still of PFI.]
Add to this a few vanity projects like HS2, now estimated at more than £106 billion to cut nine minutes from the journey time to Birmingham
It is the norm that over-claiming for tricky, complex public works is used to promote the idea that we can do it better ourselves. Read any report on HS2 and you may change your mind.
Meanwhile, rising to the surface is a tide of resentments, fuelled by the permission created by politicians to see outsiders as the source of our woes. Just as the Nazis zeroed in on Jews and Slavs, we are now planning to list and shame the foreigners we can root out in our community. My wonderful European friends are already making plans to leave and take their energy, talents and wider perspectives with them. We will all be poorer. Not only are Europeans established here leaving, fewer are coming in:
I remain broken-hearted as I watch my country plunge towards a new darkness, heralding it as a new dawn!