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Sunday 09 April 2017

Brexit: The Sequel?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 18th November 2016

Several months after the British referendum decision to leave the European Union, things have not turned out the way that either Eurosceptics or Europhiles envisaged. What about LGBT Britons, however?

Politically, there has been surprising stability insofar as the post-Brexit parliamentary situation has gone. While David Cameron stepped down to enable the quick election of a new Conservative leader, Theresa May won that position within a month and since then, has very much governed as a Conservative "moderniser", much like her predecessor. She has promised LGBT Britons that despite Britain's departure from the European Union and European Court of Human Rights access in Brussels, and withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain's other assent to other international human rights treaties outside that framework will remain intact, and the European Convention will be replaced by a British Bill of Rights Act, akin to the one that exists in New Zealand. This will ground the Equalities Act and other instruments of LGBT human rights. In any case, the European Court of Human Rights is not perfect. True, it did preside over the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, but it also refused to accept the case against invasion of privacy in the context of several gay men into "heavy duty sadomasochism" during the nineties. Nor did it aid marriage equality advocates who wanted it recognised before the British Parliament ruled that was the case.

Theresa May's task has been assisted by the perennial instability of the primary Eurosceptic organisation, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) since June 23. After the Brexit vote, UKIP leader Nigel Farage stepped down, to be temporarily replaced by Margot James, who resigned in her turn after ten days. One of the party's core weaknesses is that although it made a breakthrough in Wales recently during local assembly elections, it remains stubbornly 'anglocentric' and largely impotent outside England, particularly in Scotland, which overwhelmingly voted to remain within the European Union, as did western Northern Ireland. This anglocentrism has resulted in substantial clashes with the Scottish Nationalist Party, which controls the devolved Scottish Parliament, which regards itself as having a mandate to challenge the referendum result. If Scotland cannot do this, a second independence referendum may be on the cards- and this time, might the SNP win?

Moreover, UKIP will lose its Member of the European Parliament funding when the United Kingdom finally leaves the European Union, although a court injunction has required parliamentary assessment and consent, much to the displeasure of Eurosceptics. The party also has a problematic attitude toward anti-immigrant racism and says that if it is in power, it will repeal or weaken much UK ethnicity-related anti-racist anti-discrimination legislation. The party is protectionist, also opposes marriage equality, is anti-green on fossil fuels, fracking and nuclear energy, supports climate change denialism and wants a referendum on the restoration of the death penalty in the United Kingdom. It is experiencing funding instability due to the reluctance of its primary source to do so in the context of the current leadership instability. The party's base is older, white, male, working class and largely undereducated. Younger people, women, ethnic minorities and LGBTI voters are resistant to the UKIP agenda, opinion poll research has found. London, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Brighton are no-go areas for the party. The party only has a single MP in the House of Commons, however.

Given UKIP's instability, new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has moved quickly to co-opt the Brexit vote and has proceeded quickly to undo the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Union, while maintaining a social liberal consensus on other public policy issues. UKIP is unable to threaten marriage equality given its absence of representation in the House of Commons or House of Lords and the May administration is about to introduce new legislation that pardons consensual historic gay 'offences' after the Cameron administration provided a similar posthumous pardon to Alan Turing, the master World War II cryptographer and out gay man. Disability groups are less enamoured of the new administration, given that it also intends to demonstrate continuity with the benefit-slashing attacks on Incapacity Benefit executed during Iain Duncan-Smith's tenure as Minister for Works and Pensions.

As for the Labour Party, it suffered upheaval and protracted difficulties after an abortive "Blairite" internal parliamentary coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The problem is that while Corbyn has broad support from the party organisation, it is not shared within the parliamentary Labour Party, and the dysfunctional 'primary' mode of leadership selection has only resulted in his cemented control over the party, despite his unpopularity amongst his caucus colleagues. The comparison with the stable Conservative incumbents has led to electoral freefall within British opinion polls. Whether Corbyn can salvage this situation is a moot point.

Any comparisons between Brexit and the election of Republican Donald Trump to the White House therefore break down on closer scrutiny.


Matthew Goodwin:UKIP: Inside the Campaign to Redraw the Map of British Politics: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2015.

Richard Seymour:Corbyn: The Crisis of British Politics:London: Verso: 2016.

Virginia Blackburn:Theresa May: The Downing Street Revolution:London: John Blake: 2016.

Rosa Prince:Theresa May: The Path to Power:London: Biteback: 2016

Rosa Prince:Comrade Jeremy: A Very Unlikely Coup:London: Biteback: 2016

Tom Unterrainer:Corbyn's Campaign:Nottingham: Spokesman; 2016.

Shawn Gude, Bhaskar Sunkara and Elizabeth Featherstone: "Scotland After Brexit"Jacobin: 25.07.2016

Craig Young - 18th November 2016

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