Brexit: epitaph for a national trajectory now lost – John Van Reenen

John Van Reenen, Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management

From the London School of Economics and Political Science Blog

As I write on 31 January 2020, Britain leaves the European Union (EU). The loss I feel is almost as much as when my father died, almost a quarter century ago. He was 16 when he came to Britain with my grandfather who was a South African political refugee. After completing his UK national service, he married the daughter of a Merseyside dockworker. They moved to Carlisle where I was born, to run a new community centre. Then later back to Liverpool where I started school.

My secondary education was in Kelsey Park Comprehensive School. When I started it had just converted from a Secondary Modern, schools for kids who failed their 11+ exams. It was in the late 1970s and early 1980s – a brutal place in a brutal time. I remember our class having a mock vote in the 1979 election. The most popular two parties for our boys were Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservatives and the National Front, an overtly racist party promising to send foreigners ‘back to where they came from’.

The lead up to and aftermath of the Brexit vote reminded me of the atmosphere of those times. Hate crimes boomed. Economic hardship meant that people wanted to find someone to blame. Many groups stoked up fear of immigrants ‘sponging’ on welfare – even though European migrants were young, educated and paid more in taxes than they used in public services, subsidising the British-born. If it is not immigrants, then it is all the fault of those foreign Brussels bureaucrats. Decades of anti-EU propaganda poured poison into English ears, leaving many people woefully uninformed on EU issues. A leader in the media tirade was the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Boris Johnson.

Read the full post at the London School of Economics and Political Science Blog.

John Van Reenen is the Gordon Y Billard Professor in Management and Economics and is jointly appointed as Professor of Applied Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management and in the Department of Economics.

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