During the early years of neoliberalism, politicians tended to find their justification in discourses about the demons of inflation and stagnation. The unconvinced were told There Is No Alternative. When populations grew weary of economic liberalism, a discourse of globalization and competitiveness was used to discredit alternative policies. Following the international economic crisis, the elite demand for people to live within their means achieved the same function. To make subordinate classes tow the line, the social construction of economic imperatives has been a vital strategy in limiting the scope of the possible.
Brexit could be utilized as an economic imperative by the ruling class in the UK. But there are several obstacles to the discourse having the necessary power of persuasion. Firstly, the establishment is divided about the wisdom of leaving the European Union. Secondly, there are contradictory visions about what a satisfactory Brexit would look like. Thirdly, the recent political and economic performance of the European Union has altered perceptions of multi-level governance. Fourthly, the volatile public opinion within the UK is not conducive to sustaining consensus behind the divisive project. Fifthly, it is difficult to frame nationalism as optimistic, future-oriented or progressive. Many citizens cannot or will not tolerate the huge sacrifices which may become linked to ‘real world’ Brexit.
Populations do put up with economic policies which favour the prosperous. This does not mean that people will passively accept just anything. The general election highlighted that austerity measures are becoming increasingly unpopular. It is unclear what kind of discourse can be employed to justify the current direction of the Government. If it wants to legitimize its economic management then it may have to develop an economic imperative with a narrative that is more powerful than the Brexit story.