An EU survey published today today shows that two-thirds of Europeans believe the EU should be tough with the UK during Brexit negotiations.
The Chatham House-Kantor EU survey – “The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes” – was conducted in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.
65% of non-U.K participants said that while EU should stay on good terms with Britain, it should not compromise on its core principles.
Brexit. 70% of Britons said the EU would suffer from the loss of the UK, a sentiment shared by 46% of the continental Europeans. Notably, only 7% of the elites saw Brexit as a threat to the EU.
10,000 members of the public and 2,000 ‘elites’ were involved in the survey.
It concluded in January 2017, before the Dutch and French elections.
The failures of far-right parties in Holland and France, Eurozone economic growth, and Britain’s muddling of its Brexit strategy have led to an increase in approval for the EU since the Brexit vote according to a recent Pew survey.
63% of Europeans now have view the Union in a positive light, a sharp increase from the last years’ figures.
There was consensus between the elites and the public in four areas.
– The commitment to financial solidarity between the states.
– A positive vision of democracy.
– A feeling of common European identity.
– The EU’s successes (peace, freedom of movement, the Schengen zone, the euro and the single market) and failures (bureaucracy, the refugee crisis, austerity, unemployment, massive immigration).
United States of Europe. And 47% of the elites and 41% of the public oppose the idea of the ‘United States of Europe,’ though 71% of the elites favour further integration in the long term.
In several other areas, participants were split.
EU membership. 71% of the elites felt they had benefitted from being part of the Union, an opinion shared by only one third of the public. Another third felt they hadn’t benefitted at all, the rest were undecided.
Immigration. The elites tended to view immigration in a positive light, whereas 51% of the public believed immigration had led to more crime, and 55% of them believed it was putting a strain on the welfare state.
Enlargement. Similarly, 47% of the public felt EU enlargement had gone too far, whereas 58% of the elites supported bringing new members on board.
49% of the elites and 62% of the public were opposed to Turkey becoming part of the EU.
Austerity. The elites were divided over the usefulness of EU austerity policies. 54% believe they had been inefficient, 28% disagreed.
Refugees. Equally, they were split over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. 59% agreed with it, 30% said it was the wrong decision.
The EU survey suggests that ‘a new societal divide along the libertarian-authoritarian political spectrum,’where authoritarianism is less a system of government, but more a ‘set of preferences.’
These people – often perceived as the ‘losers’ of globalisation – favour authority and are resistant to change.
The more authoritarian-minded are more likely to be middle-aged men with low levels of education living in in rural areas.
The traditional left-right dividing line on the European Union – traditionally about wealth redistribution and class – is now ‘between those with the qualifications, skills and outlook needed to thrive in the more economically and socially liberal environment and those who lack them.’
This divide ‘is pulling Europe in two very different directions,’ says the EU survey.
‘The political challenges facing the EU – particularly the appeal of populist-authoritarian leaders and parties – are likely to remain on the landscape for many years, even after economic growth has been restored and sustained.’
‘You’re just trying to grab on to a collective identity because you’re fucking alone, you’re busy all the time, you’ve got nothing. There’s no hope.’
The unexpected result of the Brexit referendum was a watershed moment in British history.
The decision to leave the EU has become the single biggest – and most polarising – political issue of our time.
After a wild election campaign, and the subsequent collapse of the ‘hard Brexit’ Conservative majority, even the government seems unsure of what Brexit really means, despite negotiations officially beginning today (19/06).
A year on, with uncertainty surrounding Britain’s future, the questions the referendum raised about what it means to be British remain unanswered.
Enter Timothy George Kelly, a London-based Australian filmmaker who travelled around the UK talking to people about being British in the months after the referendum.
The result, Brexitannia, is a beautifully crafted, sobering snapshot of a country in turmoil. ‘A portrait of democracy in all its ugly glory,’ says Kelly.
The first documentary about Brexit, Brexitannia challenges the caricatures often used to demonise Leave and Remain voters, and brings into focus several other dividing lines – the gulf between country and city, young and old, migration, automation, globalisation, and British identity.
It also crucially places the Brexit vote in its wider socio-economic context, and in doing so offers a way to move past Leave/Remain identity politics.
Brexitannia is divided into two parts. Interviews with ‘the people’ – ordinary voters who explain why they voted the way they did, and their view on what it means to be British – and interviews with ‘the experts,’ who include Noam Chomsky.
The questions the referendum raised about what it means to be British remain unanswered.
This approach sounds rather ungainly, but ‘the experts’ are able to frame the Brexit vote in its proper context – the collapse of neoliberalism – explaining how certain communities have been brought to their knees by privatisation and the free-market ideal.
‘The people’ are shot alone, from a distance – at home or at work – and given time to think aloud and express themselves openly.
Sat alone on their front drive, or standing in their back garden, there is an acute sense of ‘the people’s’ vulnerability, of the distance between them and Westminster.
By giving the interviewees a space to voice their opinions, the film shows the complexities and contradictions of collective democratic decision-making, challenging lazy narratives about what caused Brexit and why people voted Leave or Remain.
But the film never passes judgement.
‘It was never made to be an activist film for Leave or Remain,’ says Kelly. It’s a sociological portrait of a country.’
Shot in black and white, the documentary feels like a historical record. The interviews are interspersed with shots of the sea, soil, white cliffs, and British flags.
Gary points to his forearm and says ‘English is that colour.’
This “Rule, Britannia” imagery juxtaposed with the range of characters – from the dejected to the defiant – in the mundane setting of their everyday lives portrays a nation struggling to define itself.
Several of the interviewees in the film live up to the clichés about Leave/Remain voters.
Like Gary, who – sitting with a pint-sipping mate in the corner of a pub – points to his forearm and says ‘English is that colour,’ or the blustering man in a field wearing a Slazenger t-shirt who dreams of sending the Europeans home and forcing his employers to give him a payrise because there are no more polish workers to undercut him: ‘why should we help out? No one ever helps us.’
Such people yearn for an idealised Britain of old. A Britain that was once Great.
Similarly, there is the classic young, urban, Remain voter, who describes people who voted Leave as less educated – ‘coming to a pro-Remain position takes more reading.’
But others confound the stereotypes, such as the second generation British-Ghanaian woman whose parents voted Leave because they felt people had started to ‘take the mickey out of the [immigration] system.’ It’s too easy now, she says, for people to come to the UK ‘and go straight on benefits.’
Or the bald man from Plymouth, standing with his coffee in front of a lighthouse, who eloquently explains that the Brexit vote wasn’t all down to racism and xenophobia:
‘There are not 17.5 million racists in Britain.’
Then there is the fisherman who describes how the British fishing industry gets a rough deal from the EU:
‘Over 60% of the fish caught within Europe is caught within British water.’
There is the young white working-class woman from the North East who describes explaining to her Dad at the working men’s club why foreign labour is not to blame for job losses:
‘Who do you know that’s lost their house or their job to an immigrant?’
Or the old lady from Liverpool who describes her first reaction to the news of the referendum result:
‘A terrible shock when I got up in the morning and realised we were out. I just sat and cried.‘
And the Muslim woman, and Remain voter, who was subjected to racial abuse while sitting in her car the day after Brexit:
‘Simply because of the colour of our skin, all of a sudden we don’t belong,’ she says. ‘As a Muslim woman – and for my two daughters – I feel desperately unsafe, and desperately unhappy.’
It is unclear which way many of the other interviewees voted, which is telling.
It shows how futile the regressive – yet commonplace – practice of defining people by their Brexit stance (something many of us are guilty of) really is.
Besides, for many of the disenfranchised, predominantly working-class interviewees, nothing has changed since Brexit and they don’t expect it to.
‘The southeast of the country… is where all the work and everything is,’ says a grey-haired man sitting in a small front room. ‘Brexit doesn’t matter, because we’ve got nothing anyhow.’
Brexitannia portrays a downcast and deeply divided nation, humiliated by industrial decline and its waning global stature.
What attitude to adopt, then to move past these divisions, starting with the Leave-Remain dichotomy?
‘To put the burden of Brexit on a sort of mindless nationalism of those types of workers, families and cities, that have lost so much ground because of the financialising, the corporatising, and the internationalising of our national economies,’ argues sociologist Saskia Sassen, ‘is truly unfair. More importantly perhaps, that doesn’t get us anywhere.’
Pro-EU viewers will find some of the justifications for voting Leave featured in the film hard to stomach, and the frequent expression of borderline racist views is depressing.
But by the end of Brexitannia there is an overwhelming sense that ‘the people’ – all of them – are in fact victims. Victims of the failures of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism ‘undermines democracy by taking decisions from people and placing them in the hands of private power,’ says Noam Chomsky. ‘That in itself is anti-democratic, and it also turns out to be harmful to much of the population.’
There is an overwhelming sense that ‘the people’ – all of them – are in fact victims.
This, in turn, raises a difficult question. If you accept ‘the experts” premise and agree that the scapegoating of migrants and people of colour for the decline of the white working class is a diversionary tactic, then how much is Gary himself to blame for his racist views?
Besides posing probing questions about what it means to be British, Brexitannia also offers a glimpse into the lives of many frustrated working-class Leave voters, who feel the voting booth is the only place they can make their voices heard.
‘Brexit was one of these vary rare opportunities to say fuck off to the government.’
While Remainers who are still sore about Brexit may not agree with such rationale, they can certainly understand the pain of feeling let down by their own country.
Perhaps, in the most British way possible, recognition of this universal feeling of resentment could be the first step towards reconciling the divisions that Brexit has perpetuated.
‘Brexit is partly a cry of help, it’s a cry. There is pain in the success of Brexit. It represents pain, and that is the people who are left behind.’
Brexitannia will be screening for the first time in London on Friday 23rd, during the East End Film Festival. It will be followed by a Q&A with the director and a special panel. Click here for the Facebook event.
Theresa May’s snap election gamble has turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in British political history.
To the surprise of some (but not all) pollsters, Thursday’s (08/06) vote resulted in a hung parliament. The Conservatives ended up with the most seats, 318, followed by Labour on 262, which meant no single party won a majority in the House of Commons.
But what exactly does this mean for the Brexit process going forward?
According to CNN, there is frustration among EU leaders and officials that three months have passed since British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50, and no progress has been made on Brexit negotiations, with the snap election provoking yet more political turmoil.
Arlene Foster, the leader of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), suggested her party’s ‘confidence and supply’ agreement with the Tories was far from a settled:
“The Prime Minister has spoken with me this morning and we will enter discussions with the Conservatives to explore how it may be possible to bring stability to our nation at this time of great challenge.”
If an informal deal is done “Mrs May will face an almighty struggle to pursue the policies set out in the Conservative manifesto” according to The Telegraph.
The slim majority of Commons seats will leave to Tories vulnerable to defections, and it’s not clear what legislation the DUP will commit to support.
The government is now also more facing possible rejection of legislation by the House of Lords, with major amendments almost a guarantee.
And while the ‘Salisbury Convention’ means the House of Lords don’t normally block proposed legislation, minority governments’ have minimal authority. Peers may be another thorn in May’s side.
The current political climate has a significant effect on Brexit bills. The government plans to propose a “Great Repeal Bill” that would transpose 40 years of EU law into sovereign UK law, as well as other Brexit-related legislation. But in this new political environment, the opposition parties – possibly with the help of Conservative defectors – see an opportunity to block such bills and perhaps pass their own amendments.
Whilst there are not enough MPs willing to demand a second referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal, there could be enough in favour of forcing the government to pursue some form of interim participation in the European single market, pending negotiation of a subsequent post-Brexit trade deal.
Doubts have risen over the position of the Conservatives’ new bedfellow, the DUP, as the latter is keen on maintaining a ‘frictionless’ border with the Irish Republic. This would require some form of treaty with the EU that would have to be settled as part of the overall Brexit deal.
May – who yesterday parted ways with her controversial advisors, Fiona Hunt and Nick Timothy, the pair seen as the driving force behind her hard-line Brexit approach – has insisted that the Brexit negotiations will start in a week’s time, as planned.
This was confirmed yesterday (15/06) by EU Brexit coordinator Michel Barnier and British Brexit secretary David Davis despite widespread calls for a rethink on the drastic Brexit stance adopted by May’s government, with several tory backbenchers going public after the snap election result.
A ‘softer’ Brexit is now supported by a majority of the MPs in the House of Commons.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the “door remains open” for Britain to make a U-turn on Brexit, said The Independent.
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PARIS – Mr. Macron offered an ‘olive branch’ to British Prime Minister Theresa May in a joint press conference in Paris yesterday (13/06), stating that while exit negotiations should be launched “as soon as possible, the door remains open, always open” to reverse Brexit “until the negotiations come to an end.”
Ms May sidestepped a question about a change of tack on Brexit and instead insisted there was a “unity of purpose” in the UK about the decision to leave the European Union.
“I can confirm to President Macron,” she said, “that the timetable for the Brexit negotiation remains on course and will begin next week.”
However, they will ‘almost certainly not get underway next Monday as Ms May had promised repeatedly during the election campaign’ said The Independent.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble made comments similar to Mr. Macron’s just hours before the French President’s declaration.
If Britain wanted to reverse Brexit he said, “they would find open doors.”
Ms May didn’t respond to former Conservative PM John Major’s recent warning that striking a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could spell the return of ‘hard men’ to Northern Ireland and an escalation of violence.
Ms May said her commitment to the peace process was “absolutely steadfast. We continue to work with all parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in ensuring that we can continue to put in place those measures necessary to fulfil those agreements.”
She added that talks with the DUP would “give the stability to the UK Government that I think is necessary at this time.”
As kingmakers, the DUP are in a strong position to dictate terms to the Tories.
Aside from their much-criticised social conservatism – they are anti-abortion and anti same-sex marriage – they hope to maintain a “seamless and frictionless” border with the Republic of Ireland, despite having campaigned for Brexit.
All this talk of ‘open doors’ and a softer Brexit may be leaving some Eurosceptic backbench Tory MPs feeling rather uneasy.
British Prime Minister Theresa May says human rights laws will be changed “if they get in the way” of the country’s fight against terror.
In the aftermath of the London Bridge terrorist attack that left eight dead, May said she would seek to introduce longer prison terms for those convicted of terrorist offenses and make it easier to “deport foreign terrorist suspects.”
The British PM has previously called for closer regulation of the Internet to tackle extremism, and criticized social media firms for not doing enough to police their platforms.
According to CNN, “British security services already possess wide anti-terrorism powers that have been denounced by Amnesty International as among ‘the most draconian’ in Europe.”
However, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said Britain’s human rights law does not prevent the successful capture and prosecution of terrorists, warning that hard-won freedoms should not be traded unnecessarily.
Starmer – a former director of public prosecutions who oversaw numerous terror cases – considered May to be misguided when focusing on human rights law rather than police cuts.
May has been facing significant pressure over her record as Home Secretary, as well as questions over intelligence failures following terror attacks earlier this month in the London and Manchester.
The Independent reported that Starmer was not in favour of Britain introducing that state of emergency – similar to that in France – which has allowed the state new powers of detention for terror suspects and potential associates.
May could also attempt to increase the period for which terror suspects can be held without trial – currently 14 days – a move that proved unpopular with civil liberties campaigners when Tony Blair attempted it after the July 7th 2005 attacks.
One of the most vocal opponents to the change at the time was David Davis, now the Brexit secretary.
In the past, May has called for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and replace its human rights protections with a British “bill of rights.”
In the lead up to the snap general election, the Conservatives have promised not to withdraw from the ECHR during the next Parliament but they could begin to try to replace or amend parts of the Human Rights Act after Brexit.
Before becoming Prime Minister last summer, May spent six years as Britain’s home secretary, meaning she was responsible for law and order, immigration and security in England and Wales.
A recent YouGov poll shows that – 11 months after the referendum – growing numbers of Brits believe that the government is duty-bound to leave the European Union. The ‘pro-Brexit electorate’ reportedly now stands at roughly 68%.
And the two UK-wide parties campaigning for a referendum on the Brexit deal, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, are currently polling at 10% and 1% respectively.
So, with just over two weeks to go until Britain goes to the polls, is it time for remainers to let go of Brexit?
The Brexit Election. With the Lib Dems scoring poorly and the collapse of UKIP, two-party politics seems to have returned to Britain, and neither the Conservatives nor Labour are standing in the way of Brexit.
The Tories – unflinching in their belief that ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ – are currently polling at 43%. In recent weeks Prime Minister Theresa May, herself a former Remain campaigner, has struck a markedly more belligerent tone towards the European Union.
Labour, led by the (not-so) closet Euro-sceptic Jeremy Corbyn, have decided not to oppose the referendum result either, to the dismay of some of its MPs. Their Brexit plan – to retain access to the EU single market and the customs union while taking no further part in freedom of movement – looks completely unfeasible, especially given that European Parliament has made the indivisibility of the four freedoms (labour, movement, goods and services, and people) one of it’s ‘Red lines on Brexit.’
But that doesn’t seem to matter. Labour’s manifesto pledges – to scrap tuition fees, tax the rich, and nationalise industry – have proved very popular, and the party has climbed to 38% in recent polls.
Besides, Brexit is no longer headline news. Even before the terrorist attack in Manchester, the national conversation had turned away from our split with the European Union.
Understandably, Theresa May’s ‘dementia tax’ U-turn and Labour’s £48bn worth of spending promises feel far more relevant than something that’s been kicking around for almost a year.
The Brexit debate feels like old news – Labour MP Jess Phillips recently said that her constituents were more concerned about ‘gogglebox.’
The options. Apart from the SNP in Scotland, the only UK-wide parties campaigning to give the British public the final say on the Brexit deal, via a second referendum, are the Lib Dems and the Green Party.
The Greens – with joint-leader Caroline Lucas their lone MP – are polling at 1%. Lucas was impressive in the recent ITV ‘leaders debate,’ it’s just a shame no-one was watching.
The Lib Dems – who were hoping to corner the pro-EU market by putting their second referendum promise front and centre – aren’t doing particularly well either.
Polls have the so-called ‘Remain party’ on 10%, despite having cast themselves as the only party that would stand up to the Tories’ Brexit plans. Either the appetite’s not there, or traditional party loyalties are keeping people from voting Lib Dem.
The fact is, even the staunchest remainers may find it hard to vote for the Lib Dems. Their collusion with the Tories in the 2010 coalition government still hangs over the party, and potential voters may have been put off by the furore surrounding Tim Farron’s views on gay marriage.
It’s not hard to make a case for moving on from Brexit. Everyone else has, so let’s stop banging our heads against a wall, and save ourselves the headache.
Hoping for anything other than a hard Brexit – with Theresa May likely to strong and stable her way to victory – is altogether too painful.
But it’s not all as bleak is it seems.
For a start, YouGov has been criticised for the ambiguous wording in its ‘Re-leaver’ poll, casting doubt over statistics that have been widely used as evidence for the public’s acceptance of Brexit.
People that chose the following option were classified as ‘Re-leavers’:
‘I did not support Britain leaving the EU but now the British people have voted to leave the government have a duty to carry out their wishes and leave.’
‘Note the subtle “I did not” versus “I do not,”’ said Helen De Cruz, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford Brookes University. ‘What if people still do not support [Brexit] but think it’s inevitable?’
This feeling of inevitability breeds despondency, but it needn’t.
Even if reversing Brexit seems unlikely, several campaigns have sprung up to fight the so-called ‘hard Brexit’ pursued by the Tories, assuming Theresa May is still PM on June 9th.
Open Britain – a pro-EU campaign launched in the aftermath of the referendum – has drawn up a Brexit ‘attack list’ of 20 seats held mostly by pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in districts that voted Remain.
They are urging ‘anyone who opposes a hard Brexit’ to campaign for the candidates they have endorsed in these constituencies, in the hope of having as many pro-EU voices in Parliament as possible.
Set up by Gina Miller, who successfully challenged the government’s right to invoke Article 50 without Parliamentary consent, the campaign has set up a tactical voting platform to encourage people to vote strategically in their local constituencies.
So far, they have used crowd-funded money to back 16 candidates, including Nick Clegg and Caroline Lucas, and will be visiting marginal constituencies and advertising in seats where progressives may pip the Tory candidate.
Many of the candidates supported by Open Britain and Best for Britain are Labour politicians who have vowed not to tow the party leadership’s official line.
With candidates more likely to campaign according to what their constituency voted in the referendum, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s disunity should benefit remainers: a vote for a Labour candidate does not necessarily mean a vote for a Corbynite view of Brexit.
Remainers would do well to adopt the ethos of these campaigns and vote for the local candidate most likely to knock David Davis down a notch next time he airs his distain for the EU.
For some, this may mean moving beyond party allegiances, but if ever there’s a time to do so, it’s now. Every Remain MP in parliament will be another dissenting voice.
A vote for a Labour candidate does not necessarily mean a vote for a Corbynite view of Brexit.
Regardless of media narratives and polling figures, for the millions of people whose future will be dictated by the Brexit negotiations, this is still a one-issue election.
‘The wound is healing’ wrote Anne Perkins in a recent Guardian article, and in part she’s right – some remainers have chosen to move on. For sanity’s sake – if nothing else – that is, perhaps, the sensible thing to do.
But many others haven’t moved on: Brits who live on the continent – many of whom weren’t allowed to vote in the referendum – who are ashamed by the jingoism of the Brexit negotiating team, business owners who rely on trade with the EU, the of thousands of European nationals working in the NHS, the vast majority of young people who voted to remain and are worried about what U.K-EU relations will look like when the people who instigated all this are dead and gone.
To these people – who are directly in the firing line – there is one fundamental issue going into this election that frames everything else.
They are not over Brexit; they may never be.
That, more than anything, will determine who they vote for on June 8th. And so it should.