There are numerous good reasons to be disappointed by the outcome of the British vote on European Union membership. To be stripped of political rights, work and opportunities for friendship and love are very serious harms indeed. In the meantime, racist and xenophobic incidents in Britain are on the rise and Europe’s 50-plus year experiment in institutionalized cooperation has taken a major hit.
But the reasons frequently given for opposing the outcome of the British referendum have not all been so reasonable. Here are 3:
1) “The sheeple voted against their interests.”
This statement relies upon the assumption that we possess knowledge of people's objective interests. The point is not that this is an elitist, anti-democratic view (which it is), but that it is a view held without good reason. Also, don't imagine that those who voted to remain in the EU did so because they were more informed, reflective, intelligent and far-sighted.
2) “War, war, war, EU, no war.”
Invoking the threat of war as an obvious reason why people should have voted to remain in the EU isn't very convincing and, in my view, shouldn't be. The threat is slight.
3) “This was the result of anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist nationalism.”
There is evidence that this played a significant part. But there are also strong social democratic reasons for being wary about the EU’s commitment to “ever closer Union.” Not only is the EU’s market-making bias quite obvious, but there is good evidence that people are less willing to support redistributive measures when the beneficiaries are people from out-groups. If one is concerned about how policies benefit or burden the least advantaged in society, this fact of contemporary political psychology should be taken seriously. The decision by the German government and other creditor countries to impose misery on debtor countries like Greece in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis speaks to the way solidarity is only weakly multi-national.
My hope is that these 3 arguments will diminish in importance as people continue to envision what will make for a fairer and freer Britain … and Europe.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.
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