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What have Eurosceptics learned from Brexit?



  A blue-tinted photo of demonstrators waving flags in front of the Place de la Republique, surrounded by 12 yellow stars with EU flag ring, one flashing.

Demonstrations of yellow vest demonstrations at the Place de la Republique in Paris for a 23rd week on Saturday.

Photo illustration of Slate. Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell / Getty Images.

This week in the doldrums: Theresa May and British MPs are back from their Easter holidays, but the Brexit front is still a bit quiet this week. Only by Brexit standards could a week be described as quiet after the prime minister had survived an attempt by senior members of their own party to oust them. Here are a few highlights:

• The 1922 Committee, representing Conservative MPs of the Backbench, voted against an attempt to change the party's rules to allow a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister May. Under current rules, the party can not decide on May until May next year, as it won a vote last December. May is still amazingly unpopular, but seemingly invincible.

• The ongoing talks between May and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, which seeks a bipartisan compromise to finalize the EU-negotiated withdrawal agreement, seem to have come to a standstill.

• Nicola Sturgeon, the first Scottish minister, talks about holding another referendum on Scotland's independence. The last time Scotland voted to leave the United Kingdom, the remaining inhabitants gained 55-45 per cent in 2014. But given the anger over Brexit – Scotland overwhelmingly chosen to stay in the EU – Scottish nationalists like Sturgeon want to make another attempt.

• Despite the fact that May still insists that this may not be the case, British political parties are beginning to prepare for participation in the EU elections next month. Last week I reported on the launch of Nigel Farage's stunningly popular Brexit Party. Another new party – the centrist, perpetual Change UK – has also established itself, albeit stony on criticism of its branding and four different candidates being scandalized for racist comments.

This Week in Europe: The 2016 Brexit Referendum was widely viewed as part of a wave of populist, nationalist sentiments pervading Western democracies. This wave reached its peak with the election of Donald Trump in the same year, but it certainly has not. This weekend, the ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist Vox party is likely to enter the Spanish parliament, giving the biggest gain to the right wing represents this country since the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron made a humble speech Thursday in which he pledged to cut taxes and austerity programs in response to months of sometimes violent protests from the Yellow Vest anti-establishment movement against what they argued for to hold out, to demand touching, elitist governance. The Yellow West will also present candidates for next month's elections.

Neither Vox nor the Yellow West has much of a taste for the bureaucrats in Brussels, but the groups are not hard-nosed eurosceptics and have not demanded that their countries leave the EU.

A new coalition of populist, Eurosceptic parties is expected to perform well next month.
Ironically, low-turnout EU voters and more voters have traditionally given impetus to the EU anti-party parties, but few actually demand that their parties leave the EU. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's right-wing national rally, has dropped the call for a "Frexit" and now says she wants to reform the EU from the inside.
The Lega Nord in Italy has also downplayed the theme in recent campaigns.

The Brexit experience undoubtedly has a lot to do with it. Steven Bannon told the Washington Post no less than an authority of right-wing nationalism: "There has been a shift, definitely a shift. The agony of Britain in the last two years was clearly a subtext for "Let's try to get this thing up and running."

A recent analysis by the European Council on Foreign Relations based on YouGov surveys from 14 European countries provides a context for the shift. The authors argue: "The core gap is not to want either an open Europe or a closed nation-state, but between voters who think the system is broken and those who think that the status quo still works in principle." With some confusion The metaphors of Game of Thrones state that only 14 percent of EU voters are called "Free Folk". People who believe that their political systems work well but the EU does not. Much more common – 38 percent – are those who "have lost confidence in the European and national political systems".

In other words, sparrows like the yellow west and Vox are not mad at the EU. They are angry with the whole system, including their own leaders.

Whatever you think of this position or those who are committed to it, given the experience of the past three years, is more logical than Euroscepticism in the textbook. The real lesson of Brexit is not that it's really hard to leave the EU – though that's certainly true. Leaving the EU is not a solution to a country's domestic political dysfunction.


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