Brexit offers insight into our own political problems

David Bordelon

The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last Thursday in a historic moment that has everybody wondering what will happen next. The populist movement in the U.K. that spurred the result is rooted in some legitimate complaints, but they leaned on largely anti-intellectual, factually misinformed and practically unfeasible arguments. In the U.S., we need to be wary of our own populist movement led by Donald Trump, as it proclaims many of the same misconceptions, fears and propaganda that the Brexit campaign offered in the U.K.

One issue the Brexit campaign strongly pushed for was the ability to restrict immigration. This desire largely stems from the current influx of immigrants from other parts of Europe and the Middle East. Unfortunately, immigration in the U.K. will not stop in the way that Brexit voters desired. Daniel Hannan, a European Parliament member and Brexit advocate, said the day after the referendum, “If people watching think there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” His view is backed by history — the EU has long demanded non-members who desire access to the single market to follow the “Four Freedoms,” one of which is free movement of workers. If the U.K. wants to keep its access to the EU market, it will have to follow countries like Norway and Iceland, who continue to allow a large amount of immigration. The push for little immigration shows to be largely unfeasible.

The campaign also misinformed the people on many issues. The £350 million the Brexit campaign said is sent to the EU weekly has been debunked. The campaign also led voters to believe that the U.K. sends so much money and receives little in return. This is far from the truth. The EU grants U.K. universities at least 15% additional funding, sustains around 3.1 million U.K. jobs and gives the U.K. large amounts of money through funds such as the EU Development Fund, the European Social Fund and others. Ironically, regions in the U.K. that voted most strongly for leaving are also the most dependent on EU money. Only through vast misinformation can such misconceptions occur.

Unfortunately, anti-intellectualism proved to play a key role in the Brexit campaign. Despite the near-universal agreement among economists about the dangers of a Brexit, campaigners argued leaving would be better for the country economically. One Brexit advocate, Michael Grove, even said that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” The anti-intellectualism that spurred aspects of the campaign has already started hurting the British economy. The immediate effects of this stance have already been seen, with the pound losing 10 percent of its value against the dollar and plunging to its lowest level since 1985.

America is currently under the grips of the same type of misinformed populism. Trump’s anti-immigration “Build the Wall!” is even less feasible than the U.K.’s plans to limit immigration. He contradicts, along with Sanders, expert opinion by bashing free trade, the undisputed economic staple of prosperous nations. And he has been consistently shown to lie and completely misrepresent the facts. In fact, Jeffrey Lord, a Reagan-era White House associate political director and Trump surrogate, recently called fact-checking “out of touch” and “elitist,” and said “I don’t think people out here in America care.”

The worsening political and economic situation in the U.K. has been an informational blessing to the U.S., as we can look at its consequences and realize that the populism driving it is harmful to a prosperous society. We should do the opposite of the British and counteract these movements with practically feasible, factually accurate and intellectually compelling arguments. Unfortunately, it seems as though we are heading down the same path as the U.K.

Bordelon is a philosophy junior from Houston.