The Causes and Consequences of Brexit: Timothy Garton Ash

Some have called it the unravelling of Europe, while others claim it may signal the end of liberalism. Brexit both surprised and confounded experts who never thought it would happen. Sound familiar? Timothy Garton Ash is an historian, political writer and newspaper columnist. He teaches at Oxford and Stanford, and delivered this talk, the Donner Canadian Foundation Lecture, in Toronto on November 21, 2016.
A demonstrator takes part in a protest aimed at showing London's solidarity with the European Union following the EU referendum, in London's Trafalgar Square. June 28, 2016. (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)
Listen to the full episode54:00

Some have called it the unravelling of Europe, while others claim it may signal the end of liberalism. Brexit both surprised and confounded experts who never thought it would happen. Sound familiar? Timothy Garton Ash is an historian, political writer and newspaper columnist. He teaches at Oxford and Stanford, and delivered this talk, the Donner Canadian Foundation Lecture, in Toronto on November 21, 2016. **This episode originally aired January 26, 2017.

Acclaimed historian and political writer, Timothy Garton Ash believes that the political convulsions we're seeing mark a new and troubling epoch. 1:38


 

The election of Donald Trump. Brexit. The turn towards the hard right across Europe. We're in a new era, according to celebrated historian and political writer, Timothy Garton Ash. One in which populist, anger-fueled movements are gathering increasing momentum, not only in the West but throughout the world.

Understanding the causes and consequences of the UK's decision to leave the European Union may provide a case study in understanding this global phenomenon, and what can be done about it.


PERSONAL REACTION TO BREXIT:
"Let me immediately put my cards on the table, and tell you where I stand on this question of Brexit. I said the day after the referendum that the best day of my political life was the 9th of November 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. And the worst day of my political life was the 23rd of June 2016 [Brexit vote]."


POPULISM:
"Now, I used to be a skeptic about the label 'populism'... I now think it has quite a coherent analytical meaning. Populists speak in the name of the people. Donald Trump: "I am your voice".  And their claim is that the direct legitimation they get from the people trumps -- the verb acquires a new meaning -- trumps all other forms of legitimation. Forget your Constitutional Courts, your Supreme Court, your Parliaments. The people are supreme, and we speak for the people." 


READING HISTORY:
"I think there are wave patterns in history. We've seen a forward wave of liberalism over roughly the last 40 years. Now we're seeing the counter-tide of illiberalism and anti-liberalism. I have to say -- and I say this without any superficial flattery -- that Canada really stands out in this picture...  as does Germany. I would say that Canada and Germany are two points of light in a fairly dark picture."


ON THE FAILURE OF THE PRESS: 
"The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Times -- for some of its time -- constantly keeping up a barrage over more than 20 years of hostility to the European Union. Particularly The Daily Mail which is incredibly powerful. We now have studies that show that power. And this went in the campaign to the extent of saying, as you know, on the front page of The Sun, across an enormous picture of Her Majesty the Queen in full regalia: Queen Backs Brexit. A complete fabrication. Even the toothless regulator of the press said that it was so. Totally unabashed, The Sun did it again a few days before the referendum, quoting Her Majesty as saying, 'Give me three reasons why we should stay in the EU.'  And then under this front page -- because she had allegedly said this at a lunch in a private lunch, of course -- and under this it said, 'Ma'am we can't give you one.' It was relentless. It was extremely powerful."


POWER OF LYING:
"In this campaign, there was one, literally big lie -- namely on the battle bus of the Brexiteers, painted in huge letters: 'We send the E.U. 350 million pounds a week,' which is simply a lie. But it went on being repeated and repeated and repeated. And as we know from the history of propaganda, that's how lies become successful -- by sheer repetition."



Timothy Garton Ash (Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)
Timothy Garton Ash is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He directs the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St. Antony's College, Oxford. Time Magazine named him among the top 100 thinkers in the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Arts. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the George Orwell Prize, the Order of Merit from Germany, the Order of Merit from Poland, and the Order of Merit from the Czech Republic -- as well as honorary doctorates from St. Andrews University and Catholic University of Leuven. His most recent book is Free Speech: 10 Principles for a Connected World.


Related websites:

**This episode was produced by Greg Kelly

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.