Josie Pagani: Leavers got more than they bargained for

I predicted in this paper on Thursday that working class voters were heading overwhelmingly for Brexit.

In the end, nearly everyone I went to school with in a very working class part of England voted for Leave. Everyone I went to university with voted to Remain.

Lord Ashcroft's polls show that people who think multiculturalism is good voted Remain. Those who think it's bad voted Leave. The same for social liberalism, greens, feminism, globalisation and immigration.

The referendum exposed a gulf between cosmopolitanism and nativism, a dividing line that has long run through the middle of England, through both major parties and between London and the rest of the UK.

The anger that activates these cultural divisions has economic roots. If you had a job you voted Remain, if you didn't you voted Leave. Brexit is a symptom of deep inequality and the breakdown of social cohesion.

When you have huge parts of the country left behind, left out and ignored, you can't be surprised if they break things.

There was no point telling people in the industrial north that a vote to leave would hurt the economy because they've been saying for years, "I am the economy and I'm already hurt".

The same week that the UK voted, we learned former chief executive of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, is being investigated over that company's cheating on emissions tests. The company endured its largest ever loss last year, but Winterkorn collected a performance bonus of around $12 million. Working class people who can't pay their power bills see a "heads they win/tails I lose" economy. Why wouldn't they take the opportunity to vote against that?

Few of the financiers and politicians promoting Leave care about working class people in the industrial north. Many are free traders, who oppose the EU for its protection of working people, its safeguards of human rights, its balance of free trade with social provisions.

They will now try to negotiate access to the EU without the quid pro quo of social protection. That will fail. A socialist MP in Spain's government told me recently that as a supporter of Europe's version of the TPPA, the TTIP with the United States, he knew that to win popular support, he had to fight just as hard for social protection, support for displaced workers and a plan for new jobs. Otherwise TTIP would trigger a "Spexit".

Free traders are ignoring the lesson from Brexit, that they won't get the social licence for trade deals without also delivering protections.

Individuals thinking New Zealand can gain from Brexit need to think again. Any increased access for disco-era exports like lamb and butter are probably a decade away. The UK will spend the next half decade focused on sorting out its divorce; new trade deals with Asia and the US will come before us - especially when it won't be part of a European TTIP with the US. The downturn in the global economy will be deeper for longer than it would have been, and New Zealanders as well as working people around the globe will be worse off because of that. As with everything about Leave, any gains would be small and far in the future, while the losses are near term and certain.

The United Kingdom will certainly now break up. Scotland will leave. Spain has asked for Gibraltar back. No one knows what will happen to Northern Ireland, where centuries of identity politics, violence and bigotry had been brilliantly transformed into a mundane peace, in which no border between North and South was necessary. Now destabilised.

No one knows what will happen to more than a million British citizens in Europe, nor whether a million Europeans in the UK will have to leave, or be allowed to stay. This will take years to sort out. Already the Leave campaign has conceded it can't keep its promise to spend 350 million a week more on the National Health instead of Europe. The UK continues to have the same responsibilities in international law towards refugees as it had last week.

There will probably be an early election. The Union is breaking up, immigration will continue, the promised benefits of Leave will never materialise, the pound has collapsed, Britain's credit rating has been downgraded, and the value of working people's pension funds has been smashed. That's not the Leave scenario that people voted for, and chances are they'll want another say.

- NZ Herald

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