Brexit: Mad Dogs and Englishmen

The recent referendum in the UK reminds me of this classic Noël Coward song, cheerfully sung also by Danny Kaye ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ [1].

Mad dogs and Englishmen [2]
Go out in the midday sun…
It’s such a surprise for the Eastern eyes to see
That though the English are effete
They’re quite impervious to heat

On June 23rd, the English voted to leave the European Union. The Scots did not. Neither did the northern Irish. So while the numbers suggest that the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU, it was the weight of the votes of the mad English that tipped the scale.

Media reports suggest that this was a result of the fear of the English about immigration from the EU…from countries like Poland, etc. There were other reasons as well, but the media has not really explained them. It is not clear if it was the mad dogs that were protesting immigration, or the Englishmen, in their typical, indirect, stiff upper lip manner, saying something else. Was it simply a clash of generations, with the young favouring staying in the EU, and the elderly saying Nay? In the end, did the protest shown the result have a good reason?

So what can we here, with our Eastern eyes, make of this?

That the EU has become a monster is clear to many, besides the mad English and mad dogs. While it was originally seen as a coming together of neighbouring nations that had fought disastrous wars, to both avoid future wars and also to prosper together, it was made possible by the military alliance against the Soviet Union that the US created through NATO. Under this nuclear umbrella, three nations first formed a customs union [Benelux], then enlarged it into a wider common market, and kept on adding items to common policies. The fall of the USSR led to a spate of new entrants from Eastern Europe. The UK was not originally a member. It joined the common market in 1973—after a referendum—but it limited its commitments. It did not join the Schengen Treaty that led to fortress Europe—free movement of people with the EU, and a fierce control of those who, like us Indians, were from outside. It is quite easy to argue that there were racial aspects to this, but that is not the point here. The UK stayed out of this. It also stayed out of the common currency, the Euro, which was adopted in 1997.

In the meantime, the EU has morphed into a bureaucratic supra state.Gradually, under the influence of large corporations, it adopted policies that limited the power of the member state governments. All governments within the EU, for example, had to maintain a budget deficit of at most 3%. Borrowing had to be limited to 60% of GDP.

Monetary policy was handed over to the European Central Bank, which would set interest rates for the whole of the EU. In 2005, q draft EU constitution, drafted by a commission headed by a former French President, Valery Giscard D’estaing, was rejected, in a referendum, by the French people. It was also rejected by the Dutch. It was rejected by the Irish, but they were made to hold a second referendum to get the ‘correct’ result. The main [rejected] features of this draft constitution were then incorporated into the Lisbon treaty, which has not been democratically ratified.

EU wide regulations were developed by the European Commission, based in Brussels, which is today a huge bureaucracy. These regulations, for example environmental standards, were binding on all member states.

The result is that governments of member states lost control over both fiscal and monetary policy. National governments, which are democratically elected, ceded sovereignty to European institutions. Deviations were punished strongly.

Look at the case of Greece. Whatever the reasons for its recent economic crisis, the Greek government could not use the tools available to sovereign states—public spending, interest rate setting, devaluation. They had no option but to follow the orders of the EU troica—the EU, The European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, which has traditionally been headed by a European. This troika imposed a policy of severe austerity. It was an accountant’s approach. The expenditure is more than the revenue. Cut expenditure—even on schools, hospitals and pensions. Increase taxes. The result. As any economist would have predicted, was deflation. The debt, which at the start of the crisis was 125% of GDP, rose to 175% after the EU medicine was administered. A Greek government elected on an anti austerity plank was forced to follow this policy.

If proof were needed that the EU is completely anti-democratic, it is here. The current Transatlantic Trade and Investment negotiations that the EU is engaged in with the US, include provisions that permit corporations to sue national governments that opt for ‘anti business’ policies.

The EU today is a supra State that is anti-democratic and under the control of corporations. It is far from the people of Europe. If it does not like the will of the people as expressed in democratic elections, it dumps them. The interests of corporations, especially banks that held the Greek debt, come first.

In voting for Brexit, the English did not behave like mad dogs. They certainly went out in the mid day sun, but they called the EU bluff. The message is clear: It is the EU that must go!



[2] This is not meant to imply that English women are not mad: they
are as mad as their men. Coward wrote before the era of political

Vinod Vyasulu
Board Member and Research Mentor, CBPS


[Disclaimer: Views presented above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CBPS]


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