The notion that Brexit brakes were part of a wave of populism in the Western world has been widely highlighted. 2016 saw the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

Marine Le Pen leader of French National Front finished second in the first round of the election with 21.3% of the vote, receiving more than one-third of the vote in the run-off second round with Emanuel Macron of the new centrist party En Marche. (Her father had made it to the second round of the 2002 presidential election receiving 17.8% of the vote against the unpopular Jacques Chirac).

Victor Orban’s re-election in the 2018 parliamentary elections achieving a two-thirds majority was achieved on the basis of the issues of immigration and foreign interference. The Law and Justice party in Poland holds the presidency and parliamentary majority and is critical of immigration. Alternative for Deutschland had finished third in the 2017 German federal election making it the first right-wing populist party to enter the Bundestag under the post-war constitution.

Populists governments were elected in Austria in 2017 and in Italy in 2018. The Austrian Freedom Party candidate made the run-off 2016 general election. The party formed a coalition government with the Austrian People’s party in 2017, although it subsequently lost seats. In Italy, Lega formerly the Northern league won 17.4% of the vote in the 2018 general election becoming the largest party within the centre-right coalition.

The election of a so-called populist government is widely seen as a response to years of us 30 globalisation and other international economic forces by communities which it has disadvantaged and ‘left behind” comes. A less sympathetic view claims it to be nationalist racist and xenophobic and reactionary.

Viewed from this perspective, Brexit reflects and is a reaction to profound structural changes which are taking place in the world economic order. In many cases, the election of populist governments has followed years of austerity unemployment and low growth following the global financial crisis at the end of the first decade of the century.


Signs of British or English nationalism can be seen in the rise of UKIP over the last 20 years. Several writers have laid particular emphasis on the role of British or English nationalism in the Brexit vote. The rise of nationalism has coincided with increased immigration in areas of the UK where it had not traditionally occurred, increasing globalisation and latterly, following the financial crisis, prolonged austerity.

Just days before the Brexit vote Labour MP Joe Cox was killed by a mentally unstable individual who had shouted “this is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent” and Britain first” while committing the crime. It emerged at his trial that he believed individuals of liberal and left-wing political viewpoints, and the mainstream media, were the cause of the world’s problems.[1] He targeted Cox, a “passionate defender” of the European Union and immigration because he saw her as “one of ‘the collaborators’ [and] a traitor” to white people.

 Nationalist fervour has sometimes coincided with an apparent irrational preference for all things British and irrational prejudice against nonnationals and in some cases, xenophobia. There is significant survey and anecdotal evidence of an increase in racist and xenophobic material and incidents since the Brexit vote. There has been an increase in instances of racial abuse assault and even racially motivated murder. The issue has been raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as a cause of concern.

Share this article