Leaving the EU: Goodbye To All That?

Although the journalistic winds are beginning to shift a little after the hurricane of abuse that was initially unleashed on “stupid bigoted” Leave voters, there is still a steady breeze of lament from those who apparently see the EU as a bastion of human rights, liberalism and all that is decent and good in this world.

The view from SE Asia suggests that this may be a form of selective vision.

The EU has recently acquiesced to the demand of the newly elected “democratic” government of Myanmar for the word ‘Rohingya’ to be erased from polite discourse while Aung San Suu Kyi and the Generals find a (final?) solution to the problem of “the Muslim community in Rakhine province”, which is their preferred designation for the Rohingya.

The decision to support Suu Kyi’s call for the Rohingya to be denied the right of self-identification was announced one day after the UNHCHR, Zeid Hussein, reported on the possibility of crimes against humanity being committed against the Rohingya. The EU decision stands in sharp contrast to the American refusal to deny the Rohingya the right “to decide what they are going to be called“.

The EU, which has been threatening Thailand with a “red card” over its inadequate approach to the problems of human trafficking and slavery, has been negotiating on various fronts with Myanmar to open the floodgates of investment, which might go a long way toward explaining the EU’s decision to deny the Rohingya the right to self-identification.

Ironically, although not untypically, Thailand has recently graduated to Tier 2 in the annual TIP rankings while Myanmar has been relegated to Tier 3, along with North Korea and South Sudan. It will be interesting to see how the EU responds to Myanmar’s well-deserved placement at the bottom of this particular league table. Unlike Myanmar, which is a potential goldmine for new investment for EU corporations, Thailand’s economy is far more mature and therefore less attractive to a certain kind of investment.

The EU has also indefinitely suspended free trade talks with Thailand as a result of Thailand’s most recent coup. In what is apparently standard EU hypocritical style, around the same time that the Thais were slapped for their failure to be “democratic enough” the Egyptians were rewarded with opening of talks to expand free trade with the EU.

The military coup that saw the murderous Sisi regime installed in Egypt apparently somehow meets the EU’s definition of “democratic enough”,  not to mention the reticence  of the EU to “yellow card” Egypt for its failure to protect children from abusive labor practices in the industries involved in trade with the EU. There is no question that the Sisi-led junta is a far more violent and oppressive regime than the Thai equivalent.

The real question is why the EU would pretend its trade negotiations are contingent on democracy and human rights when this is just so obviously not the case.

The point here is not that the EU is hypocritical. All modern states, beginning with the very model of hypocrisy itself, the USA, and continuing down to petty despotisms like the Prayuth regime in Thailand with its blatantly false claim of being “99% democratic”, engage in this sort of hypocritical clinging to the “universal” values of democracy and human rights.

The point is that all the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over the perception that Brexit marks a definite UK shift toward illiberalism and bigotry, and over the Leave movement’s  leaders’ obvious hypocrisy, is itself shot through with falsehood and hypocrisy at best, and brainwashed ignorance at worst. There really is nothing to this image of the EU as a stalwart of liberalism and human rights, especially as it interacts with the wider world.

Just ask the Greeks. Or the people who supported Morsi’s democratically-elected government. Just ask the Rohingya.






4 thoughts on “Leaving the EU: Goodbye To All That?”

  1. Brexit is justified because EU is hypocritical? Gimme a break! The Rohingya are not the only minority being oppressed or denied a name, and some others ARE supported by the EU. Just because one group are not supported by my kind of bastard, does not make the other bastards any better. Just look at GB falling over itself to accommodate China, and then talk about Egypt. May I remind you of two things, one general, one specific:
    1) UK leaving the EU certainly gives it an opportunity to get rid of some neo-liberal, anti-social, anti-poor measures that the former has forced on the latter against its better judgement in the past just to push its own national agenda.
    2) UK being so nice to ‘democratic’ Myanmar and supportive of minorities? Oh yeah. Read some documents from the 60s and 70s when Britain pandered to Ne Win and warned Suu Kyi and minority leaders off political remarks and agitation in order not to upset the apple cart.
    So who wins the prize for hypocrisy?

  2. Thanks for the reply.

    You seem to have missed the last two paragraphs though, especially since I did say “The point here is not that the EU is hypocritical. All modern states…”

    My point is simply that “all the tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over the perception that Brexit marks a definite UK shift toward illiberalism and bigotry” is either rank hypocrisy itself or, and this is more likely, a species of ignorance.

    I don’t think this piece or any of my others on this general subject intend to “justify” Brexit. Brexit is the democratic choice of a sovereign people and hardly needs me to “justify” it.

    I am mainly about trying to throw some light on the twisted perception that there are only racism and xenophobia behind this move and that the EU is some sort of guarantor of liberal goodness.

    So from what you have said, I assume we are in perfect agreement!


    1. In parts! Brexit was as much about racism as about fear and uncertainty in an uncertain world. But what is really shocking are the report of nastys racist attacks in the English heartland on ‘foreigners’ of any description: Indians, Blacks, Germans (swastika on cars) and so on. That is definitely a result of Brexit, and I am glad to be rid of that sort of xenophobia (we have a different kind in Germany, alas!)

  3. Yes. I agree that a large number of Brexit voters were motivated by racism. As I said in my “Where was the Left?” piece I think the left failed by not having the courage to come out and make a better case for the Lexit but even more it is the media that made the racism/xenophobia into the biggest noise emanating from the UK.

    I have enough experience with Brits here in Thailand to know that they can be among the foulest racists around so have no illusions on that front. However, I doubt that they are in fact much different from many other European national groups who are still firmly in the EU or likely to join in the near future so Brexit will not rid you of that!

    I am also moderately suspicious of the reported “outbreak” of post-Brexit hate crimes etc. It may be a weakness on my part but I have watched the media for a long time and know that the honesty quotient is even lower than the intelligence in many many cases. So caveat lector is my motto.

    My main interest in this situation, as a non-European with very little if anything at all at stake, is in the rising conflict between democracy and liberalism that I think is only going to intensify as time goes on.

    The EU, from my perspective, is the perfect example of a contemporary triumph of elitist bureaucratic technocracy over the messy democratic order that I think is absolutely necessary to control and limit the excesses and indifference of “experts” and elite bureaucrats, just as liberal constitutionalism is equally necessary to control the excesses and whims of the majority.

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