Why the British said no to Europe

The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.

This was, in great part, a vote by those angered and demoralised by the sheer arrogance of the apologists for the “remain” campaign and the dismemberment of a socially just civil life in Britain. The last bastion of the historic reforms of 1945, the National Health Service, has been so subverted by Tory and Labour-supported privateers it is fighting for its life.

vote leave

A forewarning came when the Treasurer, George Osborne, the embodiment of both Britain’s ancient regime and the banking mafia in Europe, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services if people voted the wrong way; it was blackmail on a shocking scale.

Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top. The reason millions of refugees have fled the Middle East – irst Iraq, now Syria – are the invasions and imperial mayhem of Britain, the United States, France, the European Union and Nato. Before that, there was the wilful destruction of Yugoslavia. Before that, there was the theft of Palestine and the imposition of Israel.

The pith helmets may have long gone, but the blood has never dried. A nineteenth century contempt for countries and peoples, depending on their degree of colonial usefulness, remains a centrepiece of modern “globalisation”, with its perverse socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor: its freedom for capital and denial of freedom to labour; its perfidious politicians and politicised civil servants.

All this has now come home to Europe, enriching the likes of Tony Blair and impoverishing and disempowering millions. On 23 June, the British said no more.

The most effective propagandists of the “European ideal” have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even “cool”. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as “neoliberalism”.

The aim of this extremism is to install a permanent, capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor. In Britain today, 63 per cent of poor children grow up in families where one member is working. For them, the trap has closed. More than 600,000 residents of Britain’s second city, Greater Manchester, are, reports a study, “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and 1.6 million are slipping into penury.

Little of this social catastrophe is acknowledged in the bourgeois controlled media, notably the Oxbridge dominated BBC. During the referendum campaign, almost no insightful analysis was allowed to intrude upon the clichéd hysteria about “leaving Europe”, as if Britain was about to be towed in hostile currents somewhere north of Iceland.

On the morning after the vote, a BBC radio reporter welcomed politicians to his studio as old chums. “Well,” he said to “Lord” Peter Mandelson, the disgraced architect of Blairism, “why do these people want it so badly?” The “these people” are the majority of Britons.

The wealthy war criminal Tony Blair remains a hero of the Mandelson “European” class, though few will say so these days. The Guardian once described Blair as “mystical” and has been true to his “project” of rapacious war.  The day after the vote, the columnist Martin Kettle offered a Brechtian solution to the misuse of democracy by the masses. “Now surely we can agree referendums are bad for Britain”, said the headline over his full-page piece. The “we” was unexplained but understood – just as “these people” is understood. “The referendum has conferred less legitimacy on politics, not more,” wrote Kettle. ” … the verdict on referendums should be a ruthless one. Never again.”

The kind of ruthlessness Kettle longs for is found in Greece, a country now airbrushed. There, they had a referendum and the result was ignored.  Like the Labour Party in Britain, the leaders of the Syriza government in Athens are the products of an affluent, highly privileged, educated middle class, groomed in the fakery and political treachery of post-modernism. The Greek people courageously used the referendum to demand their government sought “better terms” with a venal status quo in Brussels that was crushing the life out of their country. They were betrayed, as the British would have been betrayed.

On Friday, the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was asked by the BBC if he would pay tribute to the departed Cameron, his comrade in the “remain” campaign. Corbyn fulsomely praised Cameron’s “dignity” and noted his backing for gay marriage and his apology to the Irish families of the dead of Bloody Sunday. He said nothing about Cameron’s divisiveness, his brutal austerity policies, his lies about “protecting” the Health Service. Neither did he remind people of the war mongering of the Cameron government: the dispatch of British special forces to Libya and British bomb aimers to Saudi Arabia and, above all, the beckoning of world war three.

In the week of the referendum vote, no British politician and, to my knowledge, no journalist referred to Vladimir Putin’s speech in St. Petersburg commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941. The Soviet victory – at a cost of 27 million Soviet lives and the majority of all German forces – won the Second World War.

Putin likened the current frenzied build up of Nato troops and war material on Russia’s western borders to the Third Reich’s Operation Barbarossa. Nato’s exercises in Poland were the biggest since the Nazi invasion; Operation Anaconda had simulated an attack on Russia, presumably with nuclear weapons. On the eve of the referendum, the quisling secretary-general of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, warned Britons they would be endangering “peace and security” if they voted to leave the EU. The millions who ignored him and Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, Obama and the man who runs the Bank of England may, just may, have struck a blow for real peace and democracy in Europe.

Originally published: John Pilger

Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger and on Facebook


  1. I have a great deal of respect for John Pilger but I’m afraid with this article he is way off the mark.

    Just over half of British voters chose to leave the EU because they were crazy enough to believe the lies that were told by the Faragists.

    For years they had been conditioned by the right wing media into building up a hatred of the EU and just like Pavlov’s dogs, they delivered when the Brexit bell was rung. This was a professional campaign, carried out with military precision to awake the innate selfishness of so many people who were told that if they voted Brexit they would be giving the establishment a kicking, nothing is further from the truth. It is notable that in Liverpool, where the SUN has been ostracised for 27 years since Hillsborough, the majority were for IN against the national trend.

    Contrary to John’s assertion, it was NOT a democratic decision. For democracy to function it requires that people are aware of all the facts upon which to reach that decision and not once did the BBC or others try to explain how the EU, one of THE most democratic institutions on the Planet, functions and reaches decisions. It left the way open for the lies of the Brexiters to mollify some of the anger that they have encouraged with their disgraceful attacks upon various sections of society, it was a classic Goebbels tactic of ‘convince people they have a problem and then tell them you have the solution’.

    Britain leaving the EU is the most outrageous example of constitutional vandalism we have ever seen, brought about by the fanatical jingoism of some and the obsessive personal ambition of others. It’s a far cry from their pretend motives, the results of which will be catastrophic for the UK to the regret of many of those who voted Leave.

  2. Its a big assumption Jack to say more than half of the leave votes were even influenced by Farage. To claim that people were unaware of the facts may have some merit – who really knows what will happen if we do ever invoke article 50 and actually leave.

    How is the EU one of the most democratic institutions on the planet? All the legislation this “European Parliament” debates originates not with its politicians, but with the “unelected bureaucrats” in the European Commission. The Parliament can vote to amend any proposed laws, but it cannot propose them itself.

    I don’t think it will be catastrophic for the UK to leave – in fact it will make zero difference economically. Why? Because economic growth and GDP is determined by factors at home rather than abroad – generally the credit created for productive parts of the economy – nothing to do with the EU

  3. Over half the voters voted Leave and it’s not too big an assumption to believe that they were influenced by the lies told by the Leave campaign.

    Second, you have obviously very little knowledge of how the EU works, which is not surprising as neither did many of the public. It is not the function of the EU Parliament to propose legislation, that is the job of the Commission which is composed of 28 commissioners, one representing and appointed by each member State, so they are not ‘unelected bureaucrats’ as you imply, they are appointed in exactly the same way we appoint the heads of the NHS or the Bank of England. Even then, they only propose legislation in line with the policy priorities decided by the Heads of State in the EU Council who ARE elected in their own countries. When legislation has been drafted it then has to be agreed by both the EU Parliament of ELECTED members AND the Council of Ministers which consists of twenty eight ministers specialising in the subject at hand, sent there by their respective Governments. Before legislation finally becomes law it has to pass extremely close scrutiny, which is why it often takes so long. It is democratic from start to finish as opposed to our Referendum where information was deliberately lied about, obscured, or twisted so that many of hose who voted hadn’t a clue what they were voting for, they just took a punt.

    Finally our leaving the EU WILL make a difference economically because Gove and others have said we will leave the Single Market. They often quote trade deals done by Switzerland etc as an example of how we could proceed but what they don’t say is the deal Switzerland did with China took years and China gets immediate access to Swiss markets whereas Switzerland has to wait 15 years for full access to Chinese markets. Even the EU had to give South Korea access to its markets immediately but doesn’t get full access to SK’s markets for 20 years! Trade deals take a long time and are not easy.

  4. Don’t know about you Jack but most of my friends and colleagues have long since given up on the corporate media and actively get their news elsewhere – from more credible and nuanced sources. I know who Farage is but I can’t remember hearing him speak in years. How you might wonder, when the BBC especially has been giving him more coverage than many consider he deserves? Its simple – I don’t watch TV or read the newspapers. So I still maintain that its a big assumption you’re making to suggest all the leave voters were influenced by the ‘lies told by the leave campaign’.

    It sounds like you agree with my second point – the people we vote as MEPs cannot propose legislation. This might be bearable if those who do were in some way representative of the people of Europe but they’re not – they represent their constituents; the big banks and multinationals, nothing more. Is it any wonder then that they continue with the false neoliberal assumptions that are directly responsible for falling living standards and increasing rates of suicide in Europe’s desperate southern states?

    That Swiss China deal doesn’t sound very fair does it? I suspect, however, that our trade deals needn’t be as one sided and certainly not as scary as you fear they will be. The EU has a massive trade surplus with the UK – its doubtful they would want to jeopardize this so I think we can expect similar tariffs as already exist between the EU and the USA – about 2% with some products having no tariffs at all. We might expect 10% on already expensive German cars but this would just re-energise the second hard car market here in the UK – not a bad idea. The EU is signed up to existing WTO rules and these would obviously be breached if there were overt discrimination so I don’t think we should take seriously the threats of Wolfgang Schäuble et al

    You obviously don’t agree with my claim that ‘economic growth and GDP is determined by factors at home rather than abroad’ but I doubt you even understand where money comes from. If you want growth while the government is determined to run a budget surplus to pay down public debt then additional money can only come from one other source – commercial banks when they make loans. Is this what we really need, another private debt fueled bubble in housing and stock markets? Is this the sign of a healthy economy or is this the precursor to the next meltdown? This is where commercial banks direct their credit – for its less risky and has higher short term returns than lending to the productive part of the economy.

    If we were to run a budget deficit or use government created debt free money we could easily fund all the infrastructure projects we so desperately need without households and small businesses having to go further in to debt. This is how you get demand back into the economy and is the polar opposite of the belt-tightening medicine prescribed by finance ministers in Brussels and London.

    In your original post you mention the ‘Faragists’ and the crazy British voters “conditioned by the right wing media into building up a hatred of the EU” (incidentally is there an identifiable left wing media to counter this right wing media you mention or is it all just corporate media?) but you’re ignoring the vast majority of leave voters who did not UKIP in the last election. So I think you’re being harsh to insinuate that the majority of those who voted in the referendum are stupid or racist or both. Of course there is racism in the country nowhere near as much as people might be led to believe (just watch any EDL march be outnumbered by anti-fascist protests) but as others have mentioned, even this is can be traced to the economic failures largely caused by the Neoliberal economic agenda that the EU has championed:

    “The central planners in Brussels and at the ECB in Frankfurt are not unaware that under their command, a historically unprecedented economic dislocation has taken place in the EU during the past ten years, including massive asset and property bubbles, banking crises and large-scale unemployment in all the periphery countries – with over 50% youth unemployment in Greece, Spain and Portugal, as well as the lack of any serious controls of the EU external borders to prevent an influx of unparalleled numbers of illegal immigrants and economic migrants.

    However, the EU central planners are in denial about the fact that these problems have been caused entirely by their own misguided and disastrous policies. As a result, they argue that the solution to such problems can only be further concentration of powers into their hands … This United States of Europe, an undemocratic leviathan that the European peoples never wanted, is the culmination of the much repeated mantra of “ever closer union”.”

    Let’s not forget the UK’s role in causing the recent refugee crisis either which has compounded a deliberately underfunded welfare system (can you say NHS privatisation?). The Cameron government ignored the warnings that its foreign policy would cause a human catastrophe with a huge influx of refugees fleeing into Europe from Africa and the Middle East and instead engaged in the illegal bombing of Libya and Syria causing death, mutilation, chaos and hardship on a scale unimaginable to most of us.

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