Jenny Saul has written a fantastic piece over at Huffington Post about the complexities of Brexit. Racism and xenophobia are, she agrees, a part of the explanation for the success of the Leave campaign, and was doubtless a major motivator for some (though not all) Leave voters. But, she argues, it would be far too simplistic to explain Brexit as simply a matter of racism. There are other, complicated factors involved, including especially public (mis)perception of the economic implications of a Leave vote:
Many of the people voting to leave the EU genuinely blamed immigration for the starving of social services, which was in fact caused by Cameron’s austerity policies. Many of the people leaving the EU genuinely believed that the UK economy would be thriving and we’d be on top of the world if not for the EU’s fetters. Many people were excited by the thought of saving £350 million per week, and putting this money into the NHS (the most widely reported promise of the Leave camp, a promise already renounced). These beliefs were manifestly false, and regularly debunked.
But this, Saul argues, is where things get really tricky – and where the issues become ones that need to be thought through carefully, rather than dismissed simply as ‘Leave voters are xenophobic/racist’:
But either [Leave voters] never came across these debunkings or they didn’t believe them when they did. This fact-insensitivity is something that we must urgently pay attention to. And a key cause of it is something also urgently in need of attention: poor and working-class people have been told for decades that the experts in charge will look out for them. They have been made promise after promise about how free trade will actually help them, and about how lowering taxes on the rich will improve life for everyone. These promises have been revealed as patently false and cynically manipulative. Given this, it is completely rational for them to distrust the elites, including the politicians, bankers, and economists who have been forecasting economic doom from Brexit. . .But total distrust of experts means a lack of access to one of the most important sources of facts that there could be. And democracy only makes any sense at all when the populace is able to base its decisions on facts. We are at a crisis point here: Lies are being told, immigrants are being scapegoated, and there is widespread distrust of those trying to get the truth out. Somehow, we need to find a way out of this.