Brexit: The Issue Is The Issue

The NYT has an interesting article showing how Brexit has split British society right down the middle, as people lose their best friends and stop speaking to family members:

“It’s definitely visceral, it’s definitely nasty, and there are certainly people who won’t accept the core of the other person’s position,” added Mr. Fraser, who thinks that his support for Brexit in London, which generally voted the other way, cost him friends.

At one level this is kind of surprising, as Brexit is not a very important issue in substantive terms. I believe it will lower Britain’s RGDP a couple percent and Brexit supports think it will raise GDP by a few percent. But lots of other issues also impact the economy without stirring this sort of passion. Yes, Brexit might affect immigration, but I doubt it. The UK already has the ability to control immigration from non-EU countries and nonetheless decided on a high immigration policy. The next government will likely be Labour, and they certainly won’t sharply restrict immigration.

As far as cultural change, the only immigrants affected are from other EU countries, whereas it is immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean that have the bigger impact on British culture.

While I opposed Brexit, it’s just not that important. For God’s sake, even Norway and Switzerland are not EU members!

Just as it’s a mistake to look for American explanations for Trumpism, it’s a mistake to look for British explanations of the Brexit civil war. The NYT story would apply just as well to the governorship of Scott Walker in Wisconsin, which split apart the good people of that formerly “nice” state. A few months ago I did a post on Poland, which noted a similar phenomenon. There are dozens of other examples.

Earlier in American history, the issues were far more important but people did not take them so personally. You might object that Vietnam and civil rights tore the country apart during the 1960s. Not really. At a certain level, the political right knew that the left were the good guys (albeit a bit too idealistic). The right might not have wanted blacks moving into their neighborhood and they might not have wanted a defeat in Vietnam, but they understood that protestors had a point. Everyone knew that blacks had been treated shamefully and the Vietnam War was a misguided adventure. Lots of Republicans participated in forcing Nixon from office. Things were nowhere near as polarized as today. (The old TV show “All in the Family” accurately captured the mood.)

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