A vote for Brexit? An expression of rebellion and patriotism


Fears of different people coming to Britain, fears of unemployment, the belief that Britain sacrificed its heavy industry because of the European Union or because of the influence of international capital – Britons in favor of leaving the EU had many different reasons for doing so. We can only understand them if we stop labeling people as left or right.

After more than a year, how can we better understand the different motivations that led people to vote for Brexit? The result was clearly influenced by societal changes throughout the world caused by globalization and the financial crisis towards the end of the first decade of the new millennium. An equally (if not more) important factor was the specific economic, demographic, and historical situation in the United Kingdom and its place within the European Union. All these questions are covered in director Timothy George Kelly’s documentary film Brexitannia, which shows the wide range of opinions the country’s inhabitants have on Brexit.

A vote for Brexit could be an expression of both rebellion and patriotism. It also showed that this nation of “shopkeepers” is still capable of proudly voting against the – perhaps subjectively felt – patronizing views of experts and political elites, including David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, who argued for remaining in the EU using logic, but not sufficiently with the heart, and so failed to convince more voters of their cause.

“It doesn’t matter that I don’t have an education. My opinion during voting has the same weight as anyone else’s, and that is the beauty and strength of democracy,” says one Briton in the film. The desire to resist the rational arguments of political elites and to head into the unknown with eyes shut may be one common characteristic for those who voted for Brexit. But Brexit supporters’ ideas of where their rebellion should take them often radically differ.

Paradoxically, this rebellion was often accompanied by a royalist-tinged desire to give the political elites (often against their will) the powers that they themselves had gradually given to institutions based in Brussels. While some people would be happy to return power to their national elected official, others also want to see personnel changes on the governmental level.

What should the new elite look like? Here, too, we encounter a wide range of visions. Some voters believe that society-wide debate should be less tied down by political correctness, while others want to return to the era before the neoliberalism of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in order to protect the country against transnational capital. The spectrum of viewpoints expressed in Brexitannia becomes complete when we hear the anarchistic argument that Brexit was a chance to get rid of one of the many “parasitical” layers of government.

But besides rebellion, all these viewpoints have one more thing in common – a strong emotional force that contrasts sharply with the rational arguments of those who voted to remain in the EU. Any emotions in favor of remaining are found in the country’s north, were Scottish voters celebrated with a rebellious sense of satisfaction that in this important question they once again voted their own way – 62% of voters in Scotland voted in favor of staying in the EU. Thus, if we want to better understand the influence of emotions on people’s political decision-making, even in today’s globalized era we cannot ignore specific regional and historical differences.

Kryštof Kruliš, analyst, Association for International Affairs (AMO). The text was originally written for the Respekt magazine.

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