Posted in Opinions

Brexit is the product of personality politics

Simplified headlines and misinformation have resulted in a disappointing vote

Image Credits: Jeff Djevdet

As a former resident of Britain, my mother spent most of June 24 on the phone with her friends and relatives who still live in England, consoling them on what they felt was a severe injustice to their nation.

The British exit from the European Union (EU) — dubbed “Brexit” for short — caught many by surprise as 51.9 percent of voters chose to leave in the recent referendum.

The process by which the UK came to this conclusion was undoubtedly democratic. However, the results have left a huge amount of the population frustrated and unsatisfied. One of the problems underlying this conundrum is the oversimplification and personification of the EU debate by the media.

Hours after the polls closed, Google publicized that searches by British users for “What happens if we leave the EU” spiked, more than tripling the average amount. Considering the 71.8 percent voter turnout for the referendum, it seems likely that many voters went in unaware of the full scope of the topic.

Leading up to the election, an overwhelming amount of the content produced by media focused on personifying the ideological dichotomy between the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ factions: David Cameron versus Boris Johnson; millennial versus baby boomer; cowardly, unpatriotic progressive versus anti-immigration xenophobe.

It’s easy to understand why spinning the issue this way is so tempting: celebrity names and dramatic statements make for sexier headlines than long-winded policies and uncertain projections of how things may pan out. We’ve seen it done time and again with the US presidency, and even our elections here in Canada.

However, this trend actively works to convolute the democratic decision process and increase voters’ remorse in the long run. If you’ve been keeping up to date on the topic, you’ve probably seen interviews with UK citizens stating that they voted to leave, but didn’t expect it to go through, and now wish to repeal their vote.

For many people, the referendum became a channel to show their discontent with British elitism; a way to give the democratic middle finger to Prime Minister David Cameron — who has since resigned, and will officially leave office next October.

Data show that 3/4 of people aged 18 to 24 voted to remain in the EU. As the voting demographic that will have to live the longest with the consequences of this decision, their discontent with the outcome illustrates a civil fissure in beliefs.

Younger generations are also the ones who use the travel, work, and study benefits that are offered to members of the EU. They are the ones who grew up with the Internet, and likely see the world in a more global than nationalized sense. Additionally, many younger people with a vested interest in the decision who were too young to vote in the referendum feel they’ve been cheated by their older counterparts.

The campaign to leave has cited immigration as a staple issue for their cause. What was less talked about was the fact that Britain would still have to abide by EU policies for two years, in which they would not have a part in the discussions or votes, effectively making no difference to immigration in the immediate future.

It does mean, however, that people who wanted to stay in the EU and have a say in what is happening no longer have that option. There is still a small glimmer of hope for them, though.

A poll that went up following the referendum results calling for a re-vote gained over four million signatures in less than a week. With the current economic downturn and the drop in British currency, I have no doubt that it will quickly garner even more.

As for my mom’s friends and family across the pond, I hope that they are able to reach a settlement that appeases more of Britain’s population. If not, I hope they’re prepared for the long haul of economic and social turbulence.