Where will stuff come from now the UK has voted to leave the EU? And at what cost? The future is always uncertain, but this is particularly uncharted territory: as we all know by now, no other country has previously left the EU. I’m clearly not the only person to have concerns both about the economic, social and environmental implications of the Leave vote, and the circumstances in which this has come about.
For most of my life I’ve been more interested in politics with a small ‘p’ than Politics with a big ‘P’ (if it’s meaningful to make such a distinction). On the other hand, I’ve always valued my democratic right to vote and made use of it. So I was disturbed by the nature of the debates. Arguments for and against Brexit were over-simplified and in significant respects misleadingly presented, making an informed vote extremely challenging if not impossible.
As a consequence my trust in our politicians, and in the media, has been profoundly eroded. I have far less faith in British democratic processes than I had before the referendum. How will I be able to take pronouncements from politicians at face value in the future when key election pledges were disowned so very quickly after the result was announced? It concerns me that there is no mechanism with which to hold accountable politicians who deliberately and unscrupulously misled the voting public, and no political will to do so. I wonder what the long-term implications are for political behaviour and for engagement by the electorate . . . ?
For me at least the impoverished nature of the information provided by both the Remain and Leave campaigns devalues the final result (and would have done so whichever way the vote had gone). We are repeatedly told that ‘Brexit is Brexit’, but what exactly that means remains unclear. Although what is increasingly clear is that key Brexit pledges may not be honoured despite some Leave campaigners now holding senior positions in the new government (a point made by many commentators including Rowena Mason in a recent article in The Guardian).
Future trade terms with the EU and those countries with which it has negotiated trade deals on behalf of the UK are uncertain. And what about countries outside the EU? Allan Hogarth, Amnesty’s Head of Advocacy and Programmes, has previously expressed concern about UK government pursuit of international trade relationships with countries with poor human rights records. Is it right that purely financial interests should override commitment to basic human rights around the world? And is this more likely in a Brexit environment?
As a member of the EU the UK is bound, in theory at least, by a shared policy promoting human rights and democracy in bilateral trade dealings.
Sustainable peace, development and prosperity are possible only when grounded upon respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Yet respect for human rights and democracy cannot be taken for granted. (EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy)
The EU is not, of course, the same thing as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). At the moment UK citizens are treated as equals under law regardless of gender, sexuality, race or age and so on. But Brexit could potentially mean that the UK also elects to opt out of the ECHR. If so, British citizens would lose the right to appeal UK court decisions on human rights in the European Court of Human Rights. (And, from an international perspective, this would send a negative signal to countries whose human rights records are much less exemplary than our own).
Overall, it’s not at all clear whether domestic regulations on matters ranging from employment rights to environmental protection will be strengthened or weakened; nor whether political decision-making following Brexit will be in line with the expectations of those who voted for Brexit given the mutually incompatible nature of promises made in the Leave campaign, and the inevitable u-turns which followed. Who will be the winners as UK policy, legislation and economic performance is re-shaped over the coming years? And who will be the losers?
Are there any reasons to be hopeful? Key themes during the referendum debate included cultural and regional identity and fairer distribution of wealth within our society. By making informed decisions about supporting sustainable businesses maybe we can all help maintain diverse cultural heritage whilst ensuring decent livelihoods for everyone in our country. (And, given the nature of a global economy, in other countries too. I wouldn’t want my personal standard of living to be dependent on, say, child labour or other forms of exploitation).
By paying a fair price for goods and services, rather than choosing cheaper options regardless of social and environmental impact, maybe we can all play a part in shaping the kind of society we want to live in; hopefully one where everyone has a reasonable standard of living, and a sense of belonging, in a sustainable economy. I’d like to think so. But it will take far more than consumer action alone to achieve this.
In her campaign launch speech our new Prime Minister Theresa May stated that: “we must make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every single one of us”. Would I like to believe this is truly the intention of our new government? Of course! Do I believe it? What do you think?