Blog: The ‘insignificance’ of Brexit

Date 21.01.2019

Dr Federico Farini, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, has been observing the many comings and goings  in the saga of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union on March 29. He offers a critical, sociological ‘eye’ on this and why he feels Brexit is insignificant.


Leaving the European Union. Good, or bad?

Before even approaching the obvious follow-up question, ‘for whom?’, I would make the point that Brexit is fundamentally insignificant – albeit, quite a risky piece of insignificance.

To explain – modern society is a global society. Brexit will not change this reality. Rhetorical figures of speech such as ‘Anglosphere’ or ‘Commonwealth 2.0’ are nothing else but projections of an insularism that is alien to the global nature of modernity. From British science, our economy, families and affective relationships, art, mass media and politics – all the contexts of our lives are globalised and Brexit will not change this.

Disclosure – I could be seen as a global sociologist. I work in a country that I’d like to call my country, but I am not British born and bred. However, I do not have a vested interest in the ‘globalist’ project. Quite the contrary – I believe that the national dimension can and should mediate between global processes that can be ruthless and dehumanise the lives of individuals and communities.

For instance, nation-based trade unions can partially protect workers from the brutal logic of the global economy and the ‘rush to the bottom’ of labour conditions by pressuring employers and political decision-makers. However, whilst trade unions cannot change the global nature of economic processes.

Once Great Britain is ‘outside’ the European Union, British science, economy, families etc will all continue to be embedded in a global dimension – nothing will change. There will be no ‘return to what it used to be’, there is no way to return to some form of ‘national society’, be it limited to an island or extended to the size of an empire.

The impossibility for Brexit to change the reality of modern society gently pushes nationalistic narratives away, maybe into a purely emotional dimension. However, it does not answer the legitimate question whether Britain is more equipped to be in the global society within or outside the European Union.

The answer that a sociologist can offer must begin from the complexity of modern society, where different contexts, science, families, economy, politics and so on are interrelated but at the same time moved by different logics. So, the answer must be on a case-by-case basis.

Let’s take British science as an example – will science gain anything from leaving the European Union? Surely, its global reality will not change. In or out the European Union, the reality of science will be made of international conferences, publications distributed by few global publishers, competition to obtain funds from global enterprises, global movement of ideas and individuals. I would be happy to respond to anyone who will argue that being outside the European Union will better equip British Science to produce scientific truth.

On the opposite side of the spectrum – maybe – one could ask: will British families gain anything from leaving the European Union? In or out of the European Union, the reality of affective relationships will be made of international romance, expectations and dreams fuelled by cultural products distributed by a few global publishers, moral codes interpreted by global celebrities and their love stories. I am happy to respond to anyone who will argue that being outside the European Union will better equip British families for a happier life.

A third and final example – will British politics gain anything from leaving the European Union (this is about sovereignty)? Will the British political system increase its ability to make binding decisions outside the European Union? This is the only question that matters for sociological scrutiny, because making binding decisions is the sole function of the political system. And the answer to this question is written in the most fundamental tenets of the British parliamentary principles and procedures. A casual visit to institutional sites such as will suffice to find that answer.

Brexit spectacularly fails not just in changing, but even in mounting a challenge to the conditions of modernity. The capability of British individuals and British organisations to deal with the conditions of modernity will not accrue following Brexit – hence, from my perspective, its insignificance.

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