Some Thoughts and Readings on Brexit

There is plenty being written about Brexit at the moment, with columnists and pundits rushing to pontificate on why people voted the way they did, what will happen now, who is to blame. It seems, at times, like they are hoping that volume and certainty will cover up their embarrassment at getting it wrong, at being frightened and confused and unsure.

Here I’ve collected some links to readings that I’ve found better than the rest. Some were written before the result was announced in the bleary-eyed hours of Friday mornings, some have come in the days that followed. I’ve interspersed some of my own thoughts, though these are very much of the “thinking out loud” variety.

If you’ve come across anything good I’ve missed, do let me know!

To begin, you can never go wrong with having a read of what Mary Robinson thinks about everything –

American magazine N+1 has a nice collection of reflections/responses here –
On the law

In the course of your pub arguments about what Brexit means, you’ll definitely hear people bringing up Article 50. These two articles do a good job of explaining it. The Jack of Kent blog is from after the vote, Gavin Barrett’s is from before. It is worth trying to bear in mind the power (and inclination) of the EU to lean towards flexibility when it wants to. The doctrine of muddling through may yet rear it’s head, should it become in the interest of key powers in the EU.

On the voters/referendum campaign

An article embedded in the academic literature, that at least seeks to capture the nuances of the leave vote? Well worth a look –

“There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove” On the anti-fact campaign of some prominent Leavers.

On the economy

Philippe Legrain is usually a good read on the EU, walking the line between naive Europhile and enraged Eurosceptic. Here he talks about the economic impacts, and on that it is a good article. It does fall into the trap of subsuming everything else to the economy, though he’s hardly the only one to do that –

Not explicitly Brexit related, but I don’t think any understand of either the vote or the repercussions would be complete without thinking about the background of modern capitalism, so here’s a review of some recent books on the questions of capitalism, democracy and crisis –

On gender

….well. There has been little enough written about gender since the result (that I’ve seen). There is also a clear male over-representation in the op-eds and panels around Europe and wider. (Manels live on).

Some great work was done on the gender and the referendum itself:

The potential for the result to impact on people living in Ireland seeking to travel to the UK to access an abortion has been written about both before – – and after the result –

On race

Richard over at Cunning Hired Knaves has a good piece on the racism of the Leave campaign, but also the racism of the British (and European) establishment more generally.

My social media feeds have been filled with horrific stories of racist abuse and violence since the result. Aditya Chakrabortty writes in the guardian about how the leave vote enabled this sort of racism, and how things are only going to get worse –

A collection of stories from Eastern Europeans living around the UK –

On migration

“Even when it is touted by all the propaganda in the world, a cage remains a cage, and a cage is unbearable to a human being in love with freedom.The European Union has become a prison of peoples” – That Marine Le Pen can talk about a Europe of cages and prisons, and not be referring to the barbed war, militerised borders, and violently patrolled refugee camps and the suffering and death caused by the European migration/refugee policy shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the rising right. But her piece is worth reading to gain some insight into the positioning of these groups in the coming months.

Vivian Schmidt is an excellent scholar of the EU, democracy and neoliberalism. Here she discusses how immigration came to blamed for ills that would be more appropriately assigned to neoliberal policies (written before the result)

On Ireland

While the Irish papers might be focusing on the economic impact (whether positive or negative) to the Republic, and the English papers mostly ignoring Ireland entirely, this angry piece by Fintan O’Toole on the impact on Northern Ireland is definitely worth a read.

On the EU 

Another Fintan O’Toole piece, this time with a list of recommendations to EU leaders. If they seem a bit obvious, well yes, they are. That doesn’t make them any more likely to be implemented.


Shortlist of worst “hot takes”

Really this section could just have been based on a search for any articles using the phrase “turkeys voting for Christmas”. A big problem with so much of the post-result analysis has been a refusal to consider voter motivations in anything but economic terms. This is not unique to the UK or Brexit, it is a constant in elite level rhetoric that seeks to undermine the agency of voters. If voters don’t vote according to economic self interest they must be duped, fools. Never mind that economic self interest is actually quite difficult to define and predict. But plenty of people vote in spite of the risks to economic well being, some of the reasons are abhorrent, like racist motivation, some are “irrational” like a desire to reject the establishment, and some are based in emotional commitment to certain ideas (like sovereignty, but also occasionally like equality or empathy). Anyway, I am thoroughly fed up with articles that refuse to engage with analysis of non-economic motivations.
As a representative example –

And the other key contender, is, almost inevitably, Zizek




Thanks for reading, let me know if you liked the collection, hated it, want to add something etc. on twitter @mergito


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