How Brexit changed us: the saga shattered a creaky socio-political system


When I first left Turkey for the UK, over 12 years ago, I thought to myself: ‘It’s amazing how the Brits can stay calm and collected when discussing Politics. I don’t think so anymore. The calm that characterized much of the public debate in this country has disappeared. How did we get to this point and what can we do to make sure such scenes never happen again?

The Brexit saga – with all of its vitriolic bickering and growing polarization, systemic disinformation campaigns, martial metaphors, growing feelings of mistrust and unbridled demagoguery – has shattered a creaky socio-political system.

That the pandemic occurred in this political and cultural context shows how fragile our democracy is at this time. A country sharply divided into echo chambers and epistemological tribes is fertile ground for populist, nationalist and nativist movements. There’s a reason all autocrats and demagogues around the world – from Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Jair Bolsonaro – like to upset their societies. They feed on constant tension and increasing polarization.

One thing is certain: in a post-Brexit UK, faced with the consequences of the pandemic, we must all become involved, engaged and connected citizens. We have seen enough to understand that a fairer and more inclusive world will be built not from top to bottom, but from bottom to top. The real impetus for change and the demand for equality comes from civil society, citizens and the marginalized.

Elif Shafak is a novelist and activist

This article is from our ‘How Brexit Changed Us’ series, marking five years since the referendum.

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