'Soft Brexit' the only answer to counter far-right extremism

Pro-Brexit demonstrators wearing yellow vests protest in Westminster, London, earlier this month....
Pro-Brexit demonstrators wearing yellow vests protest in Westminster, London, earlier this month. Demonstrators from both the left and the right wings of British politics have adopted the "Gilets Jaunes" or Yellow Vest form of protest that first became prominent in France last year. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Win or lose, a second referendum on Brexit will fuel the anger of British nationalists, writes Kieran Ford. The Prime Minister's only option is to negotiate with Labour. 

Aside from economic instability, and international humiliation, the biggest fallout of the Brexit crisis has been the rise of far-right nationalism. Both a no-deal Brexit, and a second referendum, pose a real possibility of making things worse. The only solution that could reduce the threat of the far-right is the give-and-take compromise of a "soft Brexit".

The threat of far-right extremism in Britain cannot be underestimated. A week before the 2016 referendum, a Labour MP was murdered by a member of the far-right.

The Leave campaign used hate-filled rhetoric and cynical imagery to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment, and people voted for it.

After the vote to leave the EU, hate crimes surged. Two years later, so-called "yellow vest" pro-Brexit protesters (with strong links to fascist organisations like the English Defence League) are harassing and threatening pro-EU politicians and journalists.

The UK Independence Party now employs former EDL leader Tommy Robinson as a political adviser. UKIP's former leader, Nigel Farage, has threatened to start a new political party, this time with the warning: "No more Mr Nice Guy".

Any path out of the current chaos and crisis cannot ignore this surge of division and hate. Many of the proposed Brexit solutions, including a second referendum, could instead make things much worse.

Let's take a look at the options.

Far-right nationalism cannot survive on political rhetoric alone. Growing economic inequality, and neglect of Britain's poorest regions, fuel the grievances felt by many that somebody else is taking what is rightfully theirs.

A "no-deal" Brexit is predicted to cause economic catastrophe. Transport services grinding to the halt, and food and fuel shortages, would only strengthen the right's sense of grievance and injustice.

The economic chaos of a "no deal" Brexit could swell the numbers of far-right nationalists on British streets to numbers not seen since Mosley's Fascists in the 1930s.

The other clear option is a second referendum. Campaigners for a People's Vote are naive to believe that this referendum would be easily won by the Remain campaign.

The Leave campaign won votes with a rhetoric of hate and anti-immigration. It worked, and they'll do it again. A second referendum gives the far-right a platform to shout their extremist ideas loud and clear.

A marginal victory for the Leave campaign is a likely fall-out of this risky strategy. The far-right will feel its anger legitimised, and its confidence will grow.

Yet, even if Remain won the second referendum, the far-right would still win. The narrative of "elites" serving their own interests, and ignoring the voice of the British people, is a strong one.

The injustice of having the first referendum ignored will be added to their grievances. Leave or Remain, Britain would come out of a second referendum even more divided than it is today.

A "soft Brexit" compromise offers the best opportunity to dampen the flames threatening Britain's streets.

In a soft Brexit, Britain leaves the EU but retains some rights and relationships in exchange for the freedom of movement. It's a political fudge, but it has some merit.

For those who voted to Leave, it does just that. For those who voted Remain, it keeps many of the advantages of EU membership. To the far-right it says that the result was respected.

Importantly, it doesn't bend to the racist, nationalist wishes of the far-right like a "no deal".

Instead, it opens up the opportunity to alter the conditions in which far-right nationalism prospers.

Aside from a no-deal calamity, a soft Brexit is politically the most achievable option. Getting a soft Brexit deal through Parliament is possible if May turns her back on the extremes of the Tory party, and instead looks to Labour.

Most importantly, it gets Brexit over with.

The social and economic fallout of Brexit cannot continue a moment longer, and a swift resolution to an already drawn-out process is vital. May needs to reach across the table and listen to Labour's call to widen the parameters of the negotiation.

If she doesn't, and a no-deal becomes a reality, the waves of far-right nationalism from the US, Brazil and elsewhere could engulf Britain's shores.

 - Kieran Ford is a PhD student at the University of Otago. His research concerns extremism and counter-extremism in Britain.


 

Comments

Let us not forget the are 2 extreme sides at war here. The European federalists always get left out of the argument. What was a trade zone that now has a parliament, judicial system, a president, its own currency, now its own army. In the 1970s the UK electorate did not vote to join a political project. At very strategic points in 1992 and 2008 the people should have been consulted via manifesto or referendum. The Far Right are exploiting the situation but the real villains are elsewhere.

Extremists are always villains. In the context of England, elements like the National Front, est 1930's by Mosley, have to be watched.

English patriotism yes,
British nationalism no.

why cant the people of Britain live in a safe country/ whats wrong when people speak out and say this//////////

Nothing at all.

But Right extremism has its own agenda: to make neo nazi practice and racism acceptable.

Left extremism wants to riot.

People align with either, but, yes, extremists are disruptive to society.

This isn't left v right. Its out v in and the majority (17.4 million) people voted out and they voted out on a number of issues such as trade, fishing, sovereignty and law to name but a few, not just immigration. They voted to leave the failing totalitarian project that is the EU. No Hard Brexit or Soft Brexit or 'deals' were on the ballot paper. The 'Remainer' British Parliament is failing to uphold the results of a democratic referendum because they have their snouts in the rancid trough of the EU coffers. On March 29th the UK will leave the European Union.

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