A Brexiteer's Celebration

A Conversation with Kwasi Kwarteng

Kwasi Kwarteng

  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Title: Member of Parliament
  • Education: Cambridge

“A rising star on the right,” as the BBC has called him, Kwasi Kwarteng was elected to the British Parliament in 2010 as a member of the Conservative Party. The son of Ghanaian immigrants, he received a Ph.D. in economic history from Cambridge University and worked as an investment banker before entering politics. Kwarteng, a supporter of the United Kingdom’s leaving the EU, spoke with Foreign Affairs deputy managing editor Stuart Reid in London on July 6.

Why did the people vote for Brexit? 

The first issue, obviously, was immigration—and immigration as it's perceived, not so much in London or the southeast, but particularly in northern areas and agricultural areas. People feel that having 150,000 eastern Europeans coming in every single year, who can just come by mere virtue of the fact that they have EU citizenship, drove down wages. These are lower-paid people. And I always thought, Why would they vote to be in a system where, essentially, you're forcing people to compete with 150,000 extra workers every year, essentially driving wages down and diminishing the quality of life for a lot of these people? That's the perception. A lot of clever people talk about the “lump of labor fallacy” and all the rest of it, but there are lots of different economic theories involved. But the perception was what drove the politics, not the economic theory. In large parts of rural England—a town like Boston, which your own town of Boston is named after—the perception was that things were changing, life wasn't getting better for quote-unquote indigenous people, and they voted against that.

The second thing was there's also a nationalistic spirit to a lot of people in England. They felt that they wanted to get their country back. They wanted to take control. That was the phrase that the Vote Leave campaign used, and it was a highly effective one. They didn't like these foreigners in Brussels bossing them around. They have a sense of British exceptionalism,

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