Brexit, as seen from the Southern Cone

The dis-United Kingdom, now lacking a veto in the EU, is alone and isolated in its failure to respect the 41 UN resolutions demanding a resumption of negotiations with Argentina. Español

Alicia Castro
30 June 2016

Dignitaries watch the remembrance service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Falkland Islands conflict in London. Alessia Pierdomenico / PA Archive/Press Association Images. All rights reserved

Brexit creates a very complex situation both for the UK and for Europe - with unpredictable challenges and conflicts. This is also a period of surprises and paradoxes in our own region: the suspension of Brazil’s president by a congress rife with corruption, a seditious right-wing in Venezuela attempting to impose its view at the OAS, the conservative revival in Argentina. A time of world disorder.

From the South, we view the Referendum, created and implemented by the Tories, as unleashing a struggle between two factions of the party: on one side Boris Johnson, ex-mayor of London bidding for the leadership, and on the other Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne defending the status quo; while the extreme right represented by UKIP, was seeking withdrawal.

Cameron launched the referendum at the worst moment, his popularity having sunk in the light of his involvement in the Panama Papers. Many voters who have suffered a reduction in their standard of living as a consequence of Tory austerity policies thought that they would benefit from leaving Europe. The ‘Leave’ campaign was riddled with lies: the £350 million a week sent to Brussels would be committed instead to the NHS, to pensions, to reducing taxes and increasing benefits. However, immediately following the Brexit victory, Boris Johnson - a politician who as a journalist had gained notoriety as a liar - stated that implementation was “uncertain”.

They promised an economic boom, and the day after the referendum the pound and the stock markets both plunged. Nigel Farage, the ultra right-wing UKIP leader who unashamedly stoked fear, racism and xenophobia against European immigrants, has already contradicted himself in media reports. On recognising the consequences, one of which is leaving the common market, thousands of ‘Leave’ voters are regretting their choice, and there is speculation about the possibility of a second referendum.

What is clear and very disturbing is that the ‘Leave’ campaign had no plan. In particular, its ideologues appear not to have considered the conflicts that would immediately erupt within the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted to remain in the EU, are now demanding a referendum on separation from an England that voted to take them out of Europe.

In this rebellious scenario - a spur for the British media to decorate its analyses with Shakespearean metaphors about daggers and treachery - the Labour opposition campaigned to remain in the EU while emphasising the need for reform (Remain and Reform), a position supported by almost all the trades unions as well as the TUC.

Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, argued unsuccessfully for the government to legislate equal working and salary conditions for both British and migrant workers in order to disarm the anti-immigrant campaign orchestrated by the extreme right and the tabloids. Corbyn’s election to the Labour Party leadership caused considerable surprise and commotion in UK politics, and hundreds of thousands joined Labour simply to support him. Since then, moderate Labour MPs, Blairites among them, have done their best to undermine and remove him. The victory of Brexit provides a new excuse for the Parliamentary Labour Party to raise doubts about Corbyn, and they are now conspiring to remove him as leader. They will probably have to confront Labour’s grass roots, the old idealistic Labour Party - the young, workers and unions - who see in Jeremy the only hope for progressive change.

Moreover, Corbyn is the only British political leader with knowledge of Latin America and who, instead of beating the old imperial drum against us, has lent his support to the region’s progressive governments; and he understands that the 33 member countries of the Community of Latin-American and Caribbean States (CELAC) constitute the world’s third largest economic bloc and that to ignore them would be economically stupid. From our viewpoint, it would be grotesque to blame Corbyn for the outcome of a referendum initiated and administered by the conservatives. The European Union is a collective construction that has lost prestige as a result of the economic sacrifices imposed on Greece, Portugal and Spain which have led to significant social and political crises. It needs to be reformed into a genuinely plural Europe, devoid of undesirable hegemonies, transparently independent of the financial system, and structured in such a way as to improve the lives of all the peoples of the member states.

In a televised conference in the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires on June 24, we heard Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s analysis of Brexit. “It was not racism,” he argued, “which led to the British vote to leave but rather the working class that felt like strangers in their own country, and believed they have no power to control events in the UK, so then decided to vote against the establishment and most of the political system". He talked about “a political civil war" in Britain in which two Conservative factions are at each other's throats: one “transatlantic” - Blairites among them - which favours close relations with the US,  and the other wishing to revive "the old British empire". He also pointed to another determining factor: the fact that big business and political leaders in the United States wanted Great Britain to remain in the Union.  It is clear that the military interventions of the US and its allies in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have provoked the huge refugee crisis in Europe, with millions of people fleeing war in those countries.

With respect to Argentina, the new scenario might, in principle, help President Macri to understand the nature of the United Kingdom. When he met Prime Minister David Cameron in January, the Argentinean president said that “…he was very happy to begin a new stage of relationships with England”. Now, perhaps, he will grasp that the UK consists of four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each with its own dynamic, culture and distinct interests. The picture is rather more complex than the one to which Macri referred in the meeting - which he subsequently characterised as “very nice”. Clearly we need rather more discernment and precision in the conduct of our international relationships.

I think this is an opportune moment to reinforce our call for dialogue and negotiation on The Malvinas (Falkland Islands) and to insist on the withdrawal of the British military base in this strategic enclave, and to demand an end to the illegal exploitation of natural resources on our southern continent.

On the day after the Brexit vote, Spain’s Chancellor, for example, proposed joint sovereignty over Gibraltar.

The dis-United Kingdom, now lacking a veto in the EU, is alone and isolated in its failure to respect  the 41 UN resolutions demanding a resumption of negotiations with Argentina.  Although President Macri has revealed a supine ignorance, and his Chancellor Malcorra has accorded a mere 20% significance to the Malvinas issue in terms of the bilateral relationship, interest in removing a colonial enclave from the south of our continent is a permanent objective of all those peoples of the world who repudiate imperialism and colonialism.

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