Nearly three years after the June 2016 referendum, Britain’s mission to wrench itself out of the EU is finally coming to a head.
It’s been three years of political stasis and confusion. Meanwhile, every reputable forecast suggests the UK will be poorer once the mission is complete. The British government’s own forecast says that 15 years after Brexit the economy will have shrunk by between 2.5% and 9.3%. For context, the 2009 financial crisis shrunk the British economy by 6.25%.
Now, Theresa May’s failure to get her deal with the EU past parliament means Britain is weeks away from a chaotic ‘no deal’ exit: the kind that will push the country towards the economic worst case scenario. Think a sharp drop in the value of the pound, a spike in unemployment, and rocketing inflation. Searing economic pain, in other words.
But in a YouGov poll published on 22 March, 88% of those who voted Leave in June 2016 say they would do so again.
Mainstream economic theory says that should not happen. People shouldn’t choose to become materially worse off.
But those who are surprised by the resilience of support for Brexit are making a key analytical mistake. While the material conditions of the British people naturally played a key role in the Brexit vote, the underlying cause was something that runs even deeper. The vote was an angry, dysfunctional cry for the human dignity that so many in Britain feel has been denied them.
And underlying that cry is an idea at the heart of modernity. One that’s fundamental to the way we moderns relate to one another and the societies in which we live. That is, the idea that all human beings are of equal value.
The idea that all people are of equal value runs deep in contemporary liberal democracies. Indeed, the idea is now so commonplace that its easy to forget that it’s a relatively new one. Many in 19th-century slave-owning Britain thought that some human beings are inherently more valuable than others, and that idea has prevailed in almost every society in every place and…