The Brexit vote in UK was not as much against Europe as it was against mainstream politicians and against immigration. The Remain side had the leaders of all three main parties while the Exit side was led by a motley crew of cross party politicians. The Remain side had an economic argument as their main contention while the Exit side had Immigration. In the end, it was the fear from the growing immigration in UK that won the day.
A lot of problems the world faces today are because Western and the first world politicians fail to see a changed reality regarding immigration that is taking place throughout the western world. Afraid of labels, the politicians don’t make any make course corrections. Instead, they maintain status quo and hope things will work out.
Until the electorate can no longer take the same. The water crosses their threshold of tolerance.
And then you have a Brexit. Or even a Trump!!!
The singular force that turned Britain away from the European Union was the greatest mass migration since perhaps the Anglo-Saxon invasion. 630,000 foreign nationals settled in Britain in the single year 2015. Most of these were not means or skills tested migrants but came in because of UK being a part of the EU. Britain’s population has grown from 57 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2015, despite a native birth rate that’s now below replacement. On Britain’s present course, the population would top 70 million within another decade, more than half of that growth immigration-driven.
British population growth is not generally perceived to benefit British-born people. Migration stresses schools, hospitals, and above all, housing. The median house price in London already amounts to 12 times the median local salary. Rich migrants outbid British buyers for the best properties; poor migrants are willing to crowd more densely into a dwelling than British-born people are accustomed to tolerating.
This migration has been driven both by British membership in the European Union and by Britain’s own policy: The flow of immigration to the U.K. is almost exactly evenly divided between EU and non-EU immigration. Much of the huge surge of Middle Eastern and North African migrants to continental Europe since 2013 seems certain to arrive in Britain; as Prime Minister David Cameron likes to point out, Britain has created more jobs since 2010 than all the rest of the EU combined.
Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? During the 2010 general elections in UK, at the doorstep of her home sixty-five-year-old Gillian Duffy in middle England had challenged the incumbent Prime Minister Gordon Brown on immigration. As he got into his car, he was still wearing a broadcast microphone and was heard to say "that was a disaster and what a bigoted woman".
If the politicians had then listened to the Gillian Duffys and taken corrective action, then the British people may not have reacted the way they did regarding the EU referendum. For the mainstream politicians, immigration had become some sort of inviolable taboo in the modern, multicultural and Political Correctness-obsessed Britain
The June 23 vote represents a huge popular rebellion against a future in which British people feel increasingly crowded within—and even crowded out of—their own country. Being a first world country, the fight wasn’t for roti, kapda and makan but for jobs, health and education. They didn’t bother with the macro-economic arguments being thrown at them by the experts and the economists.
By uncanny coincidence, EU referendum day in the U.K. coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court decision that halts President Obama’s program of executive amnesty for young illegal immigrants and their parents, an estimated 5 million people. American policymakers—like their U.K. and EU counterparts—have taken for granted that an open global economy implies (and even requires) the mass migration of people. Yet this same mass migration is generating populist, nativist reactions that threaten that same open economy: The anti-EU vote in the U.K., the Donald Trump campaign for president in the United States.
Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? If they’re to save the open global economy, maybe they need to protect their populations better against globalization’s most unwelcome consequences—of which mass migration is the very least welcome of them all?
If any one person drove the United Kingdom out of the European Union, it was Angela Merkel, and her impulsive solo decision in the summer of 2015 to throw open Germany—and then all Europe—to 1.1 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants, with uncountable millions more to come. Merkel’s catastrophically negative example is one that perhaps should be avoided by U.S. politicians who seek to avert Trump-style populism in the United States.
Instead, the politician who most directly opposes Donald Trump—presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—is doubling down on Merkelism. Hillary Clinton’s first reaction to the Supreme Court decision on executive amnesty looks at the issue exclusively and entirely from the point of view of the migrants themselves: “Today’s heartbreaking #SCOTUS immigration ruling could tear apart 5 million families facing deportation. We must do better.”
The politicians need to smell the coffee. They must take care of the day to day lives of their electorate rather than becoming bleeding hearts for the larger globe.
Bhaskar Majumdar is a successful serial entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist investing in early stage businesses across India and the UK. With homes and businesses across London and Mumbai, he is a keen observer of politics in both democracies – the world’s oldest and the largest. Bhaskar is an Alumnus of IIT and did his AMP from Harvard.