THINK TANK
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Lord John Alderdice
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The Psychology Behind Brexit: Implications for National Security Practitioners
18 Jun 2019

At a seminar on 18 June 2019, Lord John Alderdice, Director of Oxford University’s Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, examined the psychological drivers that continue to influence the United Kingdom’s ongoing and increasingly polarised debate on “Brexit”, Britain’s plan to leave the European Union. The National Security Studies Programme, RSIS, organised the seminar with support of the National Security Coordination Secretariat, Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore. It brought together academics, professionals, p ... more

At a seminar on 18 June 2019, Lord John Alderdice, Director of Oxford University’s Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, examined the psychological drivers that continue to influence the United Kingdom’s ongoing and increasingly polarised debate on “Brexit”, Britain’s plan to leave the European Union. The National Security Studies Programme, RSIS, organised the seminar with support of the National Security Coordination Secretariat, Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore. It brought together academics, professionals, public officials and students from various domains, including national security and defence.

Lord Alderdice spoke about how a collective mindset that felt significantly threatened had emerged and contributed to the “leave Campaign”. He observed that wider demographic, political, security and geopolitical challenges had also contributed to this large-group anxiety.

Applying the lessons of Brexit to the national security domain, Lord Alderdice observed that both public and private institutions needed to better understand how a complex web of social, economic and political factors can influence a population’s psychology. He emphasised that such an understanding was crucial in managing the fear and anxiety observed in the Brexit case, which often can cause individuals to behave in unexpected ways that may adversely affect national security.

With regard to Britain’s future, Lord Alderdice argued that the United Kingdom would have to collaborate more effectively with its global allies to develop a systemic approach that mitigates the challenges brought about by Brexit. Such an approach will have to adapt to the changing psychological dynamics of the United Kingdom’s populace, he said.

The seminar culminated in an engaging question-and-answer session which addressed varied themes such as governments’ role in mitigating social inequities, the fourth industrial revolution, extremism and inclusivism.

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