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Real problems, not ignorance, led voters to vote for Brexit

Copies of the London daily newspaper the Evening

Copies of the London daily newspaper the Evening Standard show the Brexit story on its front page in London, on June 24, 2016. Credit: EPA / ANDY RAIN

The results of the United Kingdom referendum shouldn’t be “stunning,” “shocking” or “astonishing.” Perhaps, the majority of the British voters actually chosen to cast ballots in their best interests and in the only way available to them?

The dismissive attitudes toward “populist” or “anti-establishment” sentiments on both sides of the Atlantic is often patronizing, the voters are either ignorant racists or unable to understand the consequences of their choices.

But for this majority, those who voted to leave the European Union, not to grasp the horrible reality of what they have done either a lie or disenfranchisement must be involved.

The lie.

The origin of economic globalization has a starting date: 1986. Representatives from 123 countries met in Uruguay to redefine the rules for international trade, tariffs, labor and commerce among other things. The negotiation ended in 1994 and led to the creation of the World Trade Organization. The WTO offered a simple promise: a rising tide lifts all boats.

The pledge wasn’t true, at least not for the next few decades. In the West, the advantages of the global economy benefits a few. The vast majority of Europeans and Britons paid a high price. In a globalized world, it’s difficult for a low-skill worker, no matter how hard he works, to make a living because someone else, in some far corner of the world, can make the product more cheaply. Income has shrunk for working families — and the middle class.

There is little wonder then why there is such resentment against politicians who supported or were blind to the consequences of the trade policies. Wasn’t it their job to carefully evaluate the impact of the transformation and manage the transition smoothly by spreading the costs in a more equal way?

The disenfranchisement.

Preserving democracy in an interconnected word means global institutions must be capable of including more people in the democratic process. But for many Europeans, Brussels, the seat of government for the EU, is just a grey and bureaucratic capital somewhere in the middle of the Old Continent. As a unified political entity, Europe is still an unrealized project. Too many feel the absence of a direct link between the local and the super-national level amid the absence of common fiscal, defense and immigration policies. It’s difficult to explain the advantages of being part of a larger Europe to those who do not see direct membership benefits in their lives.

In the UK, the word bureaucrat is dubbed “Eurocrat” and in January a wave of resentment hit the kingdom when, in response to the immigration crisis in Greece, some EU leaders proposed a quota system that would have brought tens of thousands refugees to the island. It was perceived as a violation of the Britian’s sovereignty.

So dismissing the voter’s fears or anger leads to the results that are shook world markets. Voters cast ballots for those who seemed more willing to recognize their anxieties. Sermons and lectures will not prevent the populist tide from rising.

And, as we now should know, a rising tide actually sinks many boats. Especially political ones.

Roberto Capocelli is an intern in Newsday Opinion.