“Votes for Brexit and for Mr Trump were often cast as an expression of anger at a system that seems rigged. Unless policymakers grapple seriously with the problem of regional inequality, the fury of those voters will only increase.”
The Economist, 21 October 2017 (1)
The massive disparity between the rich and the poor in the UK, as so clearly demonstrated by this shameful chart, is partly driven by the mechanisms of globalisation. When countries with lots of low-wage workers begin trading with richer economies, pay for similarly skilled workers converges. Those in poor economies grow richer while in rich countries workers get poorer.
The forces that drive regional disparities are built into the mechanisms of globalisation, which makes them hard to resist, but even if globalisation were to stop in its tracks, the regions it has weakened, such as the UK, would not magically improve.
Votes for Brexit (and for Trump) may be seen as an expression of anger at a system that seems rigged against the poor. Unless policymakers grapple seriously with this problem of inequality, the fury of those voters will only increase.
According to Oxfam, Britain is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world and this contributed to the vote for Brexit. (2) The forces of globalisation driving such inequality will not be reduced by Brexit, if anything they will be multiplied. Brexit will not resolve inequality in the UK. Only sustained, coherent action by governments can address the genuine grievances of so many and Brexit is a hugely damaging distraction that simply compounds the problems and delays solutions.
Accepting the referendum results as ‘the will of the people’ is like accepting a miscarriage of justice when we know the accused is innocent, the prosecution lied to the jury, and the defence were asleep throughout the trial. Just because the jury found the accused guilty by a split majority does not make it the correct verdict or one that should be accepted.
The argument that the referendum result demonstrates the ‘will of the people’ does not stand up to scrutiny: 63% of the electorate did NOT vote to leave the EU (1); 16-18 year olds, those most affected by the referendum, and UK citizens living abroad were disenfranchised; the campaign was rife with lies and misinformation; the electorate certainly were not asked, and did not vote, to leave the single market or customs union.
Sixteen to eighteen year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum on the basis that they are the people who would have to live longest with the consequences of the referendum decision. In June 2015, the Scottish Parliament also raised the voting age to 16 for Scottish Parliament elections and Scottish local government elections. So why have we taken away from young people the future they were promised without allowing them a say?
There is also a ridiculous view currently being promulgated by David Davis, Brexit Secretary, and others, that at least 80 per cent of Britons voted for Brexit. (4) This is nonsense. The false logic they are applying is that eighty percent of people voted for pro-Brexit parties in the recent general election and therefore must support Brexit. This is clearly untrue as, for example, many people voted for Labour because of their anti-austerity position, not because they supported the triggering of Article 50.As pointed out by the fact checking platform The Ferret, David Davis’ attempt to use this an endorsement of the government’s Brexit position is misleading. (5)
The reality is that only 34.71% of the electorate voted to leave the EU and this percentage would have been much smaller had 16-18 year olds been allowed to vote. It is ridiculous that such a fundamental change to our future has such little support from the country.
It is also interesting that there is a strong correlation between level of eduction, and voting preference, with better educated voters strongly voting to remain.
So generally, the younger, better educated voters favoured remain, while older, less educated voters favoured leave.
This was a hugely divisive referendum cutting across part lines, age, and education and to claim that Brexit is the will of the people is undemocratic and is simply untrue. Recall that in May 2016, prior to the referendum, the prominent leave campaigner Nigel Farrage said:
“…in a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”
Well that’s exactly what we got, although not the way around that he was expecting.
As a society we do not accept miscarriages of justice where innocent people are locked up due to a flawed trial. Likewise, we cannot accept the results of a hugely flawed, advisory referendum, that will do untold damage to our country and the future of younger generations.