A Penny for your thoughts

Here’s the measured response of a British leftist, Laurie Penny, to the Brexit:

So, here’s the thing. This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world, and yesterday the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out, out, out, and today we’ve all woken up still strapped onto this ghost-train as it hurtles off the tracks.

Voting against “the modern world”! Why, that’s almost as bad as being “on the wrong side of history” — the ultimate question-begging insult favored by President Obama.

Reihan Salam, one of our favorite analysts, has a different take on what, primarily, the British voted against. They voted, he says, against mass immigration to Britain by Europeans.

Salam explains that recent years have seen Britain become a highly sought-after destination for less-skilled European immigrants. This is due to the structure of the U.K.’s economy — its lightly regulated labor markets tend not to price less-skilled workers out of jobs — and its public policies — unlike some EU countries, immigrants to Britain can begin drawing benefits fairly quickly regardless of their contribution.

Many Brits resent the mass influx of non-Brit Europeans who compete for jobs and gobble up welfare benefits. Surely, this is understandable.

And it isn’t racist, an epithet that arrogant, clueless leftists like Laurie Penny hurl with abandon. The immigrants in question are white. As Salam suggests, when the less-skilled immigrants at the heart of the immigration debate are Poles and Bulgarians rather than blacks and South Asians, it becomes clear that anti-immigration sentiment is driven by concerns about the fiscal and environmental impacts of immigration, not racial animus.

How do we know that immigration by Europeans is at the heart of the immigration debate raised by Brexit? Because EU membership does not preclude Britain from limiting immigration from South Asian and Caribbean nations. It does, however, preclude restricting immigration from member countries. A core principle of the EU holds that EU citizens have the right to live and work in any EU member state.

This means the only way Britain can curb European immigration is to make itself less attractive to European immigrants. But under EU rules, newcomers from EU member states are just as entitled to benefits as Brits. So the only way to make Britain less attractive to European immigrants is to impose labor market regulations and welfare reforms that would apply to everyone, including less-skilled British workers — options that are unappealing to many.

Prime Minister Cameron tried to persuade other member states to allow Britain to escape this straitjacket by changing the rules. But, says Salam, he met with implacable resistance from the leaders of newer member states in Central and Eastern Europe, who resented the suggestion that their citizens be treated any differently than Britons.

Under these circumstances, the “leave” sentiment is easily explained without reference to racism or “lizard brains.”

There is, of course, more to the Brexit than the desire to curb immigration by low-skilled Europeans. Many Brits wanted to wrest control of Britain’s destiny from EU bureaucrats. In other words, they wanted much more say than the EU will allow them in determining what the “modern world” will hold in store.

They shall have it. No wonder leftists like Penny are incensed.