The Brexit Mulligan
2016 was a surprising year in politics, even before the results of the American election in November. The decision of whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union was put to vote in June, and to the surprise of many, the Leave faction, led by MEP Nigel Farage, received more votes then the Remain faction, led by Prime Minister David Cameron. An effective line was that all the money that the United Kingdom supposedly sending the European Union 350 million Pounds every week, which the British would rather have funneled into their health system. That this claim was inaccurate didn’t lessen the amount it resonated. Also utilized by the Leave faction was xenophobia toward Syrian refugees and Polish plumbers.
After the results came in, an odd thing happened - Nigel Farage, champion of British sovereignty, stepped down from his position as a member of the European Parliament, claiming his work was done. This is odd because his work was certainly not done - there was a cavalcade of trade deals, residency statuses, education grants, and border agreements that would need to be renegotiated. The members of the Leave faction seemed to be under the illusion that they would give nothing to the European Union, but maintain all the benefits it held as a member of the European Union. That is not the case.
The need to work out a Brexit deal is the headache of current Prime Minister Theresa May. It’s particularly daunting because Brussels has much more leverage than London - it is a far bigger market with far more people. The UK has not officially left the European Union - it happens in 2019 - but if the UK does leave without making a deal with the European Union, there will be undiluted chaos across the British isles. Hundreds of thousands of people would lose their residency rights overnight, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would become a point of contention again, markets will plummet due to uncertainty, and the Scots might hold another referendum for independence from the United Kingdom.
Scotland voted on independence in 2014, but the No vote won by 10 percentage points. However, this vote happened in the context of a United Kingdom being a part of the European Union - if the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union, the context of independence changes. Scotland would be able to join the European Union on its own accord, which it would likely attempt to do - it overwhelmingly voted to Remain in the European Union, while England trended toward Leave.
But this is not the only vote where context has changed. In the aftermath of the 2016 American election, it has been discovered that Russia took active measures to influence the results of the election in their favor. While superficially promoting both sides, Russia took a clear preference for Donald Trump, who they likely have compromising material on, rather than Hillary Clinton, who took part in retaliating against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Cambridge Analytica, a research firm focusing on manipulating public opinion with social media, played a key part in Russian efforts to steer the American election in their favor.
Cambridge Analytica also happened to be involved in the Brexit vote, supporting a pro-Brexit group. So what, one may ask? Where’s Russia in that? In The Foundations of Geopolitics, a book by Alexandr Dugin which outlined a strategy for future Russian dominance. Utilized as a textbook for the General Staff Academy of the Russian military, it detailed what actions would benefit Russia’s geopolitical position. One action was stirring up racial hatred in America and encouraging polemic violence. Another action was splitting the United Kingdom from the European Union.
We know that Russia has been interfering in elections. And we know that the Brexit vote resulted in a geopolitical Russian victory by a slim margin. We also know that Nigel Farage, head cheerleader of Brexit, is tied to Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom. And we know the Remain argument to boost health spending by 350 million Pounds a week was a bold-faced lie.
If the arguments for Leave were not made in good faith; if the results of the election were altered by a foreign power; if the impact of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union has been made more apparent, wouldn’t a Brexit do-over be appropriate? There is the very reasonable concern for democratic tradition and integrity if the result of an election were reversed before its effects went into place. On the other hand, there is the matter of such a consequential and dire decision being decided by a bare majority in the first place, when such matters would generally be decided by a supermajority.
The chance of a reBrexit has gone up. The Labour Party has voted to demand a second referendum if a deal between Theresa May’s government and Brussels is not struck. This puts even more pressure on Theresa May to deliver on a deal which may very well be impossible; for her part, the Prime Minister has said that there will be no referendum held before the process of Brexit completes.
Will she maintain that stance? Perhaps. Perhaps there is a revolt among the MPs and she is ousted as Prime Minister. Perhaps the beliefs of sovereignty that propelled the Leave vote will be applied to sovereignty from foreign influence in elections. Perhaps not. Perhaps Russia’s long-term goal of fracturing the European Union has its first success. Perhaps sectarian conflict ignites in Ireland as a re-militarized border with Ulster revives memories of The Troubles.
Putin’s Russia has been making a concentrated effort to use our democratic traditions against us. We should not sleepwalk into the bear’s greedy paws.