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EUROPEAN UNION

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 52 percent who voted Brexit.

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts
It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens who pushed it out of the European Union. Photo: AFP

It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens — angry at not having shared in the economic benefits of a new world order — who pushed it out of the European Union, in a vote that threatens elites, analysts say.

They are those who suffered the worst hangover from the economic crisis, and whose precarious economic position makes them most fearful of rising immigration — to the benefit of far right groups in the E.U. and Donald Trump in the United States.

“I see the same pattern everywhere I look,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Brookings Institution.

“The demographic splits within the U.K. are exactly the same category for category as the demographic splits within the American electorate in this presidential election.”

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 53.4 percent who voted Brexit.

Mr. Galston said this was the same demographic backing controversial Republican candidate Mr. Trump in the U.S., as well as eurosceptic and far-right parties enjoying a rise in support across Europe.

“They mistrust political elites because up until now they haven’t seen any political parties who appear to recognise their discontent and respond to it.”

Mr. Galston said while he did not expect these forces to prevail in the United States as they did in the Brexit vote, they were a “major warning signal to established parties throughout Europe”.

Fears are high of a domino effect, with eurosceptic, leftist and far right parties from France to the Netherlands crying victory after the shock Brexit result was announced and calling for similar votes in their own countries.

Political scientist Melanie Sully of the Vienna-based Go-Governance Institute warned Europe was facing a “crisis of democracy” that could be exploited by xenophobic, far right parties.

“If you don’t have any trust in politics, it’s exactly the sort of black hole populists can march into and capture the mood and build on it, to perpetuate their own falsehoods,” she told AFP.

At the root of this surge in anti-establishment sentiment is a feeling of fear, loss of control, and traditions and identity lost among those who are struggling economically, analysts say.

“Before we talk about populism, the anti-establishment, we have to talk about the social position of these people. What do they earn? How do they see their everyday lives?” said Tetiana Havlin, a sociologist at the University of Siegen in Germany.

“In everyday life nobody thinks about anti-globalisation, anti-establishment. They just see their challenges”, she said.

“This of course gives fertile ground for populism… but in the end this is about what people feel.”

Observers point to two main drivers of the surge in scorn for the elite: the hangover from the 2008/2009 economic crisis and the refugee crisis.

“You have a lot of people who took a big hit. These are people who feel economically vulnerable, and when you put demographic fears on top of economic vulnerability this is what you get,” said Mr. Galston.

“I don’t think it’s mysterious anymore, we may have been scratching our head a year ago but we should be in no doubt now.”

Many young people who voted ‘Remain’ are furious at the number of older British voters who backed ‘Leave’ — lumbering them, as they see it, with the consequences of their decision for decades to come.

Ms. Havlin said that many of these voters saw the E.U. as a source of security and stability when Britain joined in 1973, a time she refers to as “the prosperity years”.

Now older, these voters reeling from austerity and a sense of growing threats at Europe’s borders, feel “threatened and insecure”.

Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) said the Brexit earthquake was a dark moment in Europe’s history, comparing it unfavourably to the fall of communism.

“Remember Star Wars: there is the light side and the dark side of the force. The light side was the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dark side is Brexit.”

 

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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