Immigration, neo-liberalism, and Brexit

Here are two very interesting articles on the results of New Labour’s successful effort to transform the UK into a multicultural society.  The result has been that the pro-EU Labour party, despite Corbyn’s reluctant and conditional support of Remain, have lost their British white working class across swathes of northern England.  The referendum results confirm the electoral changes that have led, for different reasons, to the annihalation of Labour in Scotland.

A number of observations are worth making.

First, the hypothesis that this referendum and its result is the product of inner-Tory party feuds between pro-Europeans and sceptics is only true to the extent that the Farage phenomenon was originally considered as right wing Tory. The results show conclusively that New Labour’s liberal élites, and their successors, the Cameroons, were both deluded.Both considered that sovereignty was a “myth”,(see this blog: my review of Robin Niblett’s “myth of sovereignty” pamphlet)  whereas the right to sanction your lawmakers is anchored in the hearts of millions of voters. Both considered that multiculturalism brings “vibrancy” to the UK. It certainly has,(as recorded in this blog: Corbyn’s Coda) as evidenced in the cultural gulf between new immigrants and the natives.

Second, the revolt of the masses, the title of the great Spanish philospher, Ortega y Gasset’s book  that appeared first in 1929, is directed against the “senoritos satisfechos” who believe they know it all, and preach their certitudes as “mass men” to their targets, the masses. Their modern counterparts are those who talk glibly about millions of voters as “populists”, who indeed can be led by various Pied Pipers to unattainable destinations. The question we have to ask is: why do these voters desert their old political homes for fresh pastures? The answer is simply that they do not feel themselves represented by traditional parties.

Third, nations and nationalism matter. The complex phenomenon of nationalism may be seen as a coin, with two sides: on one side of the coin is the beguiling poetry, and on the other side is constitutionalism. They are intimately associated: by downgrading the importance of constitutionalism, the liberal élites have inflamed the significance of the poetry. It was this cry for political independence which won the referendum: with large minorities in Scotland, northern Ireland, and London, and solid, sometimes massive majorities in the rest of England, Wales and Cornwall, who called out against the  “globalism” imposed on them by policy.

Fourth, the UK liberal élites in particular have been guilty of mixing the undoubted process we call globalisation, with the policies they implement to foster it. The purpose of this mixture is to hide as far as possible the policies that have furthered it. Here is a random list of policies applied to the EU: the Euro; free movement of labour becoming free movement of people; the sleight of hand which transformed the 2004 European Constitution into a Lisbon Treaty; New Labour’s mass immigration policy to transform the UK, and Merkel’s more recent open door policy to migrants. All of these were public policies with massive impacts on people. They were not predestined in any way whatsoever.

Fifth,the package of policies, variously composed and introduced in the diverse realities of Europe over the past decades, have fostered the political forces that are now described as “populisms”. The word itself is redolent of snobbery, class assumptions of inferiority, and straight hostility to the achievement of one person one vote. The most obvious example in Europe is the National Front in France, which is now in with a chance to win the French presidency.

This is unlikely, as the vehemently anti Le Pen vote will assuredly pool their resources to defeat her, especially if their man for the Presidency is Alain Juppé, a Gaullist and mayor of Bordeaux. Nonetheless,  her success is in no small way due to the combined efforts of the main centre left and centre right parties to pave the way via their policies on the Euro and on immigration, allowing for the ascent of a strong nationalist and viscerally anti EU movement. For them, the National Front is the epitomy of all that is wrong with France. But the fact of the matter is that Marine Le Pen has inherited the working class votes of those in the 1970s who voted for a pro-Moscow communist parties; those disillusioned with the champagne socialism of Mitterrand; and all those outraged by waves of immigration, high unemployment, the growing inequalities in education, despite the national education system, and much else besides.

Sixth, EU policies are increasingly the preferences of the powerful. There are more than 30,000 lobbyists in Brussels, who crawl all over the institutions. There is nothing new to this: I studied this in some detail in the passage of legislation in the “1992” internal market programme, where clauses were visibly there to promote the policies of  one corporation or another.  The Volkswagen catalyser scandal which broke in late 2015 is intimately associated with the dominant role of the German auto industry in relevant EU rules, regulations and policies. The same goes for interstate relations: in 2003, Germany and France lectured Ireland and Portugal for their budget imbalances, before suspending the same agreed-on rules in their own cases. In 2010, the German government imposed its will on France, Italy and the southern Mediterranean member states, engendering six years of deep economic depression. There is a reasonable case to make that in the EU, the rule of “law” in the EU is tenuous to say the least.

Seventh, the UK Remain/Leave referendum result is the latest crisis to hit the EU after: the six years of depression, mass unemployment, the Ukrainian embroglio, Turkey’s blackmail over the immigrant crisis, the low standing into which the institutions have fallen, and the EU’s near eclipse as an international actor that is taken seriously by the powers of the world. This eclipse was signalled at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change conference, which the European Commission had hoped would confirm the EU’s leadership on  climate change, but was in effect sandbagged by the US, China, South Africa,India and Brazil, who reached their own deal, minus the Commission representative-merely a bureaucrat from an international organisation. The Paris climate change talks ending 2015 ended on a more favourable note, but the commitments entered into have been criticised as non binding, and in any case were overwhelmed by the negative news flooding in on Europe.

Eighth, and finally, the EU has to re-root in the affections of its peoples. The simple point here must be that the project(of ever closer union, more centralisation, the 5 President’s report etc) has to take back seat to the welfare of the peoples of Europe.  The trouble is that  the present EU direction of travel has led to one impasse after another: sticking to the Euro means the absorption in France and southern Europe of continued very high levels of unemployment; sticking to the free movement of people principle means frankly national states taking their own measures to stop immigration; one particular impasse is that “Bruxelles” is not Europe. The provinces and nations of Europe are.

I return to a point made in previous posts: Europe has to move away from one size fits all thinking for its problems. There is plenty of material around to help recreate a Europe more at peace with itself. This material includes: using modern technologies to network across Europe, rather than to “integrate”; think first what is good the people of Europe rather than worrying about “the project”; recognize that diversity is the central feature of Europe, and that trying to imitate centralised states is un-European and bound to fail.

More crises will crowd in on this project: the re-emergence of German nationalism; the hostility in France and The Netherlands to the EU project; the state of the Italian banking system; the patent inability of the EU institutions to manage such a complex part of the world. The UK referendum result is one, important component of this mounting wave of challenges. On this, Chancellor Merkel is correct: any idea of  revenge on the UK to discourage similar movements in other parts of the EU have to be dropped. Another way of making the same point is that Europe has to be thought about by its representatives in all its complexity. That means charting the way through to a more sustainable European alliance of constitutional states.

See on German nationalism:

On French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian  disenchantment with the EU:

On the state of Italian banking:




About Jonathan Story, Professor Emeritus, INSEAD

Jonathan Story is Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at INSEAD. Prior to joining INSEAD in 1974, he worked in Brussels and Washington, where he obtained his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has held the Marusi Chair of Global Business at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Graduate Schoold of Business, Fordham University, New York. He is preparing a monograph on China’s impact on the world political economy, and another on a proposal for a contextual approach to business studies. He has a chapter forthcoming on the Euro crisis. His latest book is China UnCovered: What you need to know to do business in China, (FT/ Pearson’s, 2010) ( His previous books include “China: The Race to Market” (FT/Pearsons, 2003), The Frontiers of Fortune, (Pitman’s, 1999); and The Political Economy of Financial Integration in Europe : The Battle of the Systems,(MIT Press, 1998) on monetary union and financial markets in the EU, and co-authored with Ingo Walter of NYU. His books have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Arabic. He is also a co-author in the Oxford Handbook on Business and Government(2010), and has contributed numerous chapters in books and articles in professional journals. He is a regular contributor to newspapers, and has been four times winner of the European Case Clearing House “Best Case of the Year” award. His latest cases detail hotel investments in Egypt and Argentina, as well as a women’s garment manufacturer in Sri Lanka and a Chinese auto parts producer. He teaches courses on international business and the global political economy. At the INSEAD campus, in Fontainebleau and Singapore, he has taught European and world politics, markets, and business in the MBA, and PhD programs. He has taught on INSEAD’s flagship Advanced Management Programme for the last three decades, as well as on other Executive Development and Company Specific courses. Jonathan Story works with governments, international organisations and multinational corporations. He is married with four children, and, now, thirteen grandchildren. Besides English, he is fluent in French, German, Spanish, Italian, reads Portuguese and is learning Russian. He has a bass voice, and gives concerts, including Afro-American spirituals, Russian folk, classical opera and oratorio.
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