ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Brexit and Other Harbingers of a Return to the Dangers of the 1930s

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In a national referendum on 23 June, Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU) by 52% to 48%. The EU is a borderless area for the movement of goods, services, investment, and labour across 28 European countries. Those who voted for Brexit, the catchphrase for Britain’s exit, were often described as angrily rejecting the national and international elites that were rolled out in support of Britain remaining. These elites responded that this was a vote of ignorance, laced with xenophobia that would have enormous negative economic consequences. Confirming everybody’s prejudices, Michael Gove, a leading Brexiter, said in the middle of the campaign, “people in this country have had enough of experts.” Despite that, misreading the vote in favour of Brexit as a vote of the ignorant and trying to blame the Labour party leader for the result is far more dangerous than leaving the EU. It is a denial of powerful forces that left unchecked, will plunge us into the same economic hole that Europe and the United States (US) fell into in the 1930s, which in turn led inextricably to the horrors of World War II. These forces are not uniquely British, but are worryingly international. Brexit, the rise of Trumpism in the US, and nationalism elsewhere are part of the same trend.

The referendum result can be broken down by Britain’s 418 local authorities. The census also records data on social class, education levels, age and much else by local authorities. It is, therefore, possible to draw empirical observations on who voted to leave without having to ask them, which can lead to biases. The data reveals that there was an unusually positive correlation (+0.60) between the percentage of those who voted to leave in a local autho­rity and the percentage of non-graduates in that local authority. The much-touted correlation between age and the Brexit vote was also positive but more modestly so at +0.15. Young graduates voted heavily to remaining and elder workers who did not go to university voted heavily to leave.

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