Now that the Brexit process is officially underway and emotions have settled to some degree, it’s time we take stock of Canadians’ collective outrage over the Brexit vote.
Canadians all but unanimously framed Brexit as a moral failure on the part of the mostly rural, British working class, labelling ‘yes voters’ racist, bigoted and xenophobic. The editorials of Canada’s newspapers were rife with moralizing smugness. And embarrassingly, Canadians mostly got it wrong.
The rise of nationalist populism and the Brexit vote was not a moral failure of the British people, but rather a failure of the political, corporate, and media elite of Britain and Europe to make a credible case, or any case for that matter, for how neoliberal economics and globalization benefit the working and middle classes in the open border, open immigration era of the European Union. And it was also a failure of the elites to address citizens’ growing concerns over mass immigration, and issues of cultural and religious accommodation. The sanctimonious reactions of Canadians to Brexit revealed just how disconnected and isolated we are from the pressures European states and European citizens face in the age of open borders, the migrant crisis, and globalized neoliberal economics.
As lower and middle-class wages have stagnated and jobs have disappeared over recent decades, the British working class has watched as big banks and big corporations have thrived, even after the 2008 recession. They have waited for the promises of integrated markets to come true; instead, Britain has witnessed a 33% increase in wealthy households between 1980 and 2010, and a 60% increase in poor households in the same period. To the working class of Britain, the E.U. parliament in Brussels seems more like a Kabal of financial overlords serving the interests of big corporations and big banks rather than representative politicians fighting for the British people. In contrast, Canada has largely been insulated from the negative forces of globalized neoliberal economics, mostly because of its sound banking regulations, robust natural resource base and proximity to the U.S.
Canada’s Syrian refugee experience has also been vastly different than Europe’s. When Brexit hit, Canadians were blushing red with Trudeau liberalism after accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees over just a few months. As the U.K. and the U.S. tilted toward nationalist populism, Canadians were fanning the peacock feathers of their own tolerance and diversity. But Canada vetted every Syrian refugee, each selected from camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. We accepted mostly families and rejected young, single men. In contrast, Germany accepted over one million refugees (or economic migrants, as it appears most of them are) last year, the majority of whom were young men lacking documentation who traveled through other democratic countries before arriving at Germany’s doorstep.
Establishment politicians and establishment media repeatedly told their audiences that this was an act of collective altruism and a testament to Europe’s liberal values, but they stubbornly refused to address (and labeled those who asked questions, bigots) the challenges of assimilating millions of young men who come from theocratic cultures into European society overnight. Even the altruistic Dalai Lama cautioned against the pace and scope of the migrant flood. And if recent polls and surveys about Canadian attitudes toward immigration are any indication, Canadians largely share the same concerns as their British cousins.
The citizens of Britain have also watched as the media and political classes of Europe have dismissed their concerns over religious accommodation and the possible growth of a fifth column within British society. While Canadians are only now seeing relatively mild cultural tensions with its Muslim population over religious accommodation in schools, the U.K. has been dealing with rising cultural friction for well over a decade. Consider for example the numbers returned by a 2016 ICS Survey of British Muslims that reported such concerning figures as only 34% of British Muslims would contact authorities if they knew someone involved in the jihadist movement. Or consider the growing backlash against Sharia Councils in Britain, which have recently been shown to often violate the rights of women under British law when they deal with divorce and other family matters.
It wasn’t long before the migrant crisis that both Angela Merkel and David Cameron declared multiculturalism in Germany and Britain an utter failure. As the British political commentator Douglas Murray continues to ask: How are Britons and Europeans now supposed to accept that the fix for decades of failed multicultural policies in Europe is to accept masses of undocumented men before ever developing a sound integration policy?
And all of this is before we even acknowledge the intermittent terrorist attacks that have become a staple in western Europe over recent years, the likes of which Canadians have never experienced.
I make no claims that Brexiters were justified in all their concerns, nor that they will get what they want by leaving the E.U., only that the media and political classes brought this on themselves. What they should have seen from a mile away, they crashed right into. Brexit may or may not be an ill-fated move–time will tell. But the yes vote was not a moral failure of the British working class, but rather a failure of the political, cultural and economic elites of Britain to address the concerns of citizens.
Canadians, in my estimation, owe the British working-class an apology.