Brexit and immigration: this surprising political lesson from the United Kingdom on the real nature of our identity anxiety

Boris Johnson will give a speech on immigration at Lydd Airport on 14 April 2022. Since Brexit, immigration to the UK has been on the rise.

Atlantico: Since Brexit, immigration to the UK has increased. And yet it is no longer seen as a major problem by UK citizens at all, according to data from the IPSOS Issues Index and the UK’s Office for National Statistics.United. Howexplain ?

Christopher Boutin: Several elements can explain this or contribute to it. It is revealing, for example, that the same journalist who authored this study, John Burn-Murdoch, also notes the very clear difference in perception among Britons between those who wanted to stay in the EU, the rest, and who would leave her, the abandoners. In fact, for 33% of the remaining in favor of immigration, the latter would have declined compared to 2016, which is wrong because it continues to grow and even a quarter of the other backward also believe that it has not increased. . On the contrary, 47% – and even 67% of those who oppose immigration – on the part of the leavers, this time very rightly believe that it has increased since 2016.

Another element of explanation, the face of this immigration has changed. In 2016, at the time of Brexit, a large part of the immigration that was under attack was labor immigration from EU countries – similar to, but in addition to the City, to our “Polish plumber”. In 2022, the picture of immigration is much more, for a large part of the British, of refugees trying to cross the canal on a dinghy – and we are very far, with these few crossings, from the impact of labor immigration from other EU citizens .

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So some do not want to realize the migration process, and the latter has changed. But in addition, among the British, as in other countries, other elements have emerged in the various polls the population has be very sensitive, and it is quite logical, to current topics. But since 2016, the health crisis has emerged at the forefront of this news, then the war in Ukraine and now the economic crisis. In the opinion polls on which this study is based, which are more recent opinion polls, it is therefore very logical to see immigration occupy second place. But if tomorrow we definitely turn the page on the health crisis, if the international crisis leads to stabilization, if the economic crisis disappears, and the numbers will be different – and all the more so if there was a terrorist attack on British soil.

But beyond these absolutely essential elements of caution, when we want to draw conclusions from a poll without forgetting the biases, we can actually believe that the Brexit phenomenon itself, and even if it did not lead, as we can see, to a fall in immigration, could have led to the latter being relativised, from the moment it is no longer considered an inevitable fact imposed on a population that ‘can do nothing else’ but as a political choice that the same population will be able to express themselvesand that she can change if she wants to.

Should we infer from this that identity concerns also (or above all) reflect the fear of losing control of one’s destiny in the face of globalization and the financialization of capitalism, which were also the other major drivers behind Brexit, whose supporters argued for the need for to take control back?

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Absolutely. If we place Brexit in the broader context of well-known populist movements in Europe, we can only conclude, as you very rightly do, that the question of this resumption of control over the lives of the affected sections of the population is in fact absolutely crucial. In this sense, populism, at least as it exists in Europe today, is essentially the political translation of a people’s desire to take their destiny into their own hands.

To do so in relation to the migration phenomenon, no doubt, but the phenomenon translates something much more general, because for this people it is a matter of confirming its autonomy (autos-nomos), that is, its ability to fix itself rules, which are essential in its territory, in short, to defend its sovereignty. Faced with a globalization that he sometimes feels he has been thrown into, and which he therefore goes through without being able to make his voice heard, a globalization that escapes him all the more, as its financialization that you travel , makes it even more difficult to master, these people want to be heard by their leaders.

In a very classic way, therefore, we see, and as in many other cases, that the opportunity a people is given to express themselves opens a kind of safety valve, lowers the tension in the given country, and reduces the radicalization of some. This is what John Stuart Mill explained perfectly when he mentioned the need for freedom of expression, and it is in fact essential at this level alone, but in addition, this freedom of expression must be able to lead to a free political choice.

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The effect of Brexit was thus undoubtedly to restore the British people’s confidence in how their democracy works and in their ability to regain control whenever and wherever they wish, putting into perspective the effects of certain policies – including migration – which are not longer perceived as voluntary and / or temporary. On the contrary, a system in which people are never asked for their opinion on the choices that the latter nevertheless consider significant, or better, where they cynically refuse to take into account the expressed choices, would maintain a pressure on their population it can only lead to radicalize elections, at the risk of seeing them expressed in the most brutal way. But would it still be a democracy?

“The rise of authoritarian populism is associated with the disappearance of quality jobs in the middle class,” Dani Rodrik of Le Monde recently declared. Is the economic and social explanation more decisive than the cultural explanation as he develops it?

The Turkish economist has for years developed this distinction between a political populism, which he condemns, at least in its form of “authoritarian populism” – what we sometimes call “illiberal democracies” – and an economic populism, which he seems to be in a way the antidote to the first. This “economic populism” aims first and foremost to give everyone the opportunity to find a job, but then to find a satisfying, rewarding job, in short, something completely different from the overly famous shit jobs that are more and more frequent. Let’s go beyond that: sometimes it’s not so much for themselves that these citizens want such improvements, but also, and perhaps above all, for their children, who hope that they can have a better life than theirs. . When the system breaks down by banning this “economic populism”, it disturbs the enormous sense of downgrading that follows, the very function of society, pushes either in the direction of anomie or radicalization and paves the way for this “populism”. authoritarian “, which therefore seems to some the only possible way.

Does this mean that we can summarize the dysfunctions of our society in an economic and social explanation and disregard the cultural aspect? Dani Rodrick, who does not hesitate to recall the importance that nations assume in the very context of globalization, does not go that far, and in fact one can feel a sense of cultural downgrading at the same time as a sense of economic downgrading. Admittedly, in this double loss of reference points, which becomes a permanent source of concern for the individual, one might think that the stability of one makes it possible to mitigate the effects of the other’s instability, but beyond that they often go hand in hand hand, they tend to follow each other as a major concern depending on events.

However,let’s not fool ourselves here more than by examining the British polls. If the conditions of material comfort, the possible access to rewarding work, the certainty that one’s children will have a chance to develop to the level that their abilities can bring them, can actually help to calm things down, one can not think that the fractures we currently know in France or in Europe are due to the only social fact, or that its only change will make it possible to resolve them. No philia, where an indispensable instrument for the city but in the city, seems today to gather the little white in the periphery of France, this red-neck as forgotten and despised as its counterpart from the other side of the Atlantic, and the representative of the newly arrived peoples , although their purchasing power would be identical for cultural reasons. Therefore, the approach of this left-wing populism, where the people are not a given, but a unit to be built, or Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s call for “creolization” of our society, are all these dreams of an undifferentiated people shared by totalitarian powers, technocratic utopians and representatives of globalized economic interests.

Do these underlying causes of the nature of identity anxiety explain in part why Marine Le Pen managed to win over Eric Zemmour?

This is part of the answer that can be put forward, provided it is done in a very specific way and without excessive generalization. From the moment that Éric Zemmour centered most of his speech during the presidential campaign on this concern raised by the loss of cultural identity, it is very logical that Marine Le Pen, seeing what was until then part of its themes – even this had for some time gone into the background – the forerunner of its rival, fell back on the second element, this social downgrade summed up with the question of purchasing power, but which extends far beyond.

It should be noted that this also changed the situation in relation to the media, because today it is much easier to express oneself on the second question than on the first, to complain about the decline in one’s purchasing power or to worry about his social downgrading, rather than to provoke not only the fight against immigration, which is always suspected of giving racism an honor, but even only cultural insecurity in a society broken and weakened by a wokism that permanently accuses Western culture and imposes permanent repentance on our citizens. Marine Le Pen’s speech, which had thus become less “divisive”, was able to make itself heard better before the campaign for the second round again called for it along pillars and antennae, and without much surprise, the “darkest hours in our history.

But it would no doubt be going too far to deduce from this already dated explanation the doctrine of any political superiority of the question of economic or social identity over cultural identity. As we have already said, in addition to the fact that the two often support each other more than they oppose each other, they simply follow each other in the classification of the original questions according to current events. Let’s wait. “Tomorrow is another day”, as Tara’s mistress used to say.

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