Out of my mind: Making history

The notion that joining a multi-country union is loss of independence is hard to credit. But ultimately that is the message the people have given.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: June 26, 2016 1:51 am
brexit, brexit referendum, european union, uk referendum, european union referendum, world news, indian express columns British students hold the UK Union flags and European Union flags in front of the European Parliament. Reuters

The world’s oldest democracy has stunned the world, even itself, by choosing to leave the European Union. For 43 years, the UK has been a semi-detached member of the EU. It has had its opt out from a single currency and from the borderless Europe on the other side of the Channel.

A referendum is a peculiar instrument for gauging public opinion. In an election, there are multiple parties and the crooked arithmetic of a First Past the Post system gives a party a large majority if it secures a third of the total vote. In a referendum, it is yes or no. There are no ambiguities. The margin at the end was fairly small, less than four per cent. But the decision is irreversible.

The debate divided the liberal, cosmopolitan people from those feeling disempowered and left out. While the remain group talked of the adverse economic costs of exit, the exiters expressed the fear that the UK had lost control over its own affairs and they wanted to reclaim independence.

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This is a strange idea for a country which is the oldest continuous polity in Europe. The notion that joining a multi-country union is loss of independence is hard to credit. But ultimately that is the message the people have given. They were worried about what they saw as mass immigration from within EU which could not be stopped as free movement of labour is a basic principle of the EU. The EU seemed remote with its technical jargon about institutions, policies and regulations.

Acronyms abounded. The European Parliament never engaged the British public as their own does. For a long time to come, questions will be asked. Is it a result of the long history of Great Britain, being always the top dog, which held the key to balance of power in Europe? Is it because an island country has its own unique sense of isolation and independence? Is it because the recent recession has left the poorer people behind while the rich have profited? It is being hailed as a ‘win for real people’. This is a hyperbole as the 48 per cent plus who voted against are hardly unreal people.

The consequences of this decision will affect British politics for a generation. The Conservative party was at the heart of the demand for a referendum as it has been split on the issue of Europe since Margaret Thatcher failed to win her leadership bid in 1990. It is most likely the party may split within a year or two. Cameron has already resigned. He will hand over to whoever is chosen as the new leader of the party. This will most probably be Boris Johnson. There will be a Cabinet reshuffle with a new leader.

A more serious problem will be about the unity of the UK itself. Since the late 1990s, there has been regional devolution. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved legislatures. England has decisively voted for out. Scotland has voted to remain. This will revive the demand for Scottish independence as Scotland wanted to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland also wanted to stay. As it shares a border with the Irish Republic, a movement to reunite the two Irelands may develop. That will be historic.

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Meghnad Desai
  1. B
    Jun 26, 2016 at 1:15 pm
    Worlds oldest democracy ? Someone who had colonies after colonies ? Has an unelected person represent the head of the state.
    1. K
      K SHESHU
      Jun 26, 2016 at 12:22 pm
      UK has given a split referendum. The country is divided on the issue. In this situation, more trouble for unity of the w nation is in store for the future economically and politically.
      1. A
        ak dev
        Jun 26, 2016 at 7:06 am
        UK will become more prosperous and powerfull out of EU. Britishers have given their verdict. Coming out of EU is the job of UK's politicians. The time of ifs and buts has gone for politicians to talk about.
        1. A
          Jun 26, 2016 at 6:44 am
          Time to stop the imperial Mcaullyism, Britian in not a democracy let alone the oldest one, it is a 'consutional monarchy', but guess the monkey has to sing the tune of the organ grinder, having taken it's ana. Britian was always an odd bed fellow to progressive democratic idealism of a federal Europe. Like white people, Britain wanted more than it's fair share, even when already at the high table. the plebs have fought back, given the first opportunity. Cameroon has like Nehru, never done a decent days labour, both attended self promoting second order insutions and then high on the smell of their own methane, decide that they will go and explain to the nation, so they did not 'get it'. In the case of the former it was Kashmir and the later exit frm Europe, the legacy of both will be long lasting and msetable for the people, but their families will be fine. I. The case of Cameron, his family already had plent, frm the repairatins fr slavery, whch in true white fashion was awarded to the snslaver. Rule Britannia.
          1. B
            Bhawesh Kumar
            Jun 26, 2016 at 12:04 pm
            Brexit is a setback for those Indians who were dreaming of Union India , Pak and Bangladesh.
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