EU Ironies

The UK has voted, by a slim majority, to leave the EU.

At the time of writing, the Prime Minister has announced his resignation, the Labour Party leader is facing calls for his resignation, much of the shadow cabinet have already resigned, Scotland is talking about a second independence referendum which may break up the union, the pound has plummeted to a thirty year low and far right parties across Europe are cheering our decision and using it to demand their own referendums. Today is Sunday, the results came through on Friday morning – even 24 hour rolling news is struggling to keep up.

I voted to remain and I was genuinely shocked when the result came through. I knew it would be close, but I was confident remain would win – why was I confident?

Well, the leave campaign seemed to be based on three main points:

  1. Immigration
  2. Sovereignty
  3. Expense

All of which didn’t seem to stand up to close examination. Most of the evidence showed that immigration had been a positive, and economically rewarding benefit to the country. Sovereignty is always being traded to be part of multi-national clubs like the EU, NATO, UN, etc. No-one seemed bothered about the others, so why should they be worried about the EU. It’s not as though we were living under occupation or a Stalinist regime. If anything our freedoms were more closely protected by Europe than they often were by our own governments. The expense, again, was something of a red herring once you factored in what we got back in return – there were problems, but it was actually quite a good deal, according to the majority of economists.

Then you add in all the other benefits we had from the EU like protection of workers’ rights, freedom to study, work, trade and live anywhere in the region and being part of a peaceful stable Europe. We should remember, that the initial idea for a European union was Winston Churchill’s. He saw it as the only way we could guarantee peace after the ravages of the second world war.

On top of that, the majority of business leaders, scientists, world leaders, economists and all the main party leaders were all united in supporting the remain cause, whereas the leave camp had Boris Johnson (who seemed to have changed sides to further his career), Nigel Farage and Keith Chegwin – how could we fail?

Well, as the dust settles it becomes apparent that many people don’t care about the arguments, or the logic, or the experts. Michael Gove said as much, and it appears he was right.

Vast swathes of the electorate simply made a gut decision on which way to vote and then only listened to anything that supported that initial choice, dismissing anything that went against it as false. I doubt any of my friends who voted leave will have read this far in fact, they’ll have realised that I’m not supporting Brexit and dismissed me as a sore loser or a whinger. They’ll point to democracy in action and tell me to get over it.

And that’s what causes the resentment, the anger and the bitterness. Not that we lost, that hurts obviously, but what beat us. It wasn’t a better argument, it wasn’t stronger logic and it wasn’t a genuine desire for a better solution. It was an impulsive, gut feeling, fuelled by emotion, fear, prejudice or insecurity. Watch the interviews with leave voters and listen to their reasons. What you hear isn’t a plan it’s catchphrases, ‘we’re taking back control’, ‘we feel British again’, ‘it’s our independence day’, you’d think it was VE Day.

In fairness, that’s what was fed to them by the Brexit campaign, but that’s all they wanted. They didn’t need or ask for any detail, which was good because it’s now apparent that there wasn’t any.

The ironies of what’s happened and what’s going to happen, are starting to come out:

Immigration – Boris has already said that he is pro-immigration and still wants us to be an active part of Europe. Most of our immigration is non-EU anyway, so it won’t be affected. The French are now saying that they don’t see why they should stop people at Calais anymore and we’ll have to deal with them on British soil. Ministers are already saying that we will probably have to accept some level of free movement to get the trade deals we need. It’s worth bearing in mind that no government has ever really been able to get a grip of immigration despite their various promises, being out of the EU is unlikely to change that.

So, for those of you that wanted tighter immigration control, it looks more likely that in a couple of years we’ll still see ministers having to explain why nothing has changed.

Sovereignty – taking back control. Who exactly is going to be getting this control? Well, in short, the elite. The next Prime Minister will be chosen by the Tories, not the British people. Even if the Tories don’t win the next general election, the chances are that Labour will have swapped Jeremy Corbyn for someone much more voter/business friendly, remember the gap between rich and poor got bigger during the last Labour government and that was before they bailed out the banks at our expense. So both ways, the top 1% wins.

Like turkeys voting for Christmas, we’ve just handed control of our future to the very people who have a vested interest in milking it for every penny. With union membership diminishing who’s going to stand up for ordinary people now – Boris?

Additional irony – many of the areas that voted to leave are also the areas that received the most EU support, what happens to them?

Expense – yes, we won’t have to send any money to the EU but if the economy suffers, then we won’t have it for anything else either. Even if the economy does bounce back, do you really think the government is going to spend it on education and the NHS? I’m not sure what you write on the side of a bus is legally binding. Boris and Michael Gove had both previously said that people should pay for treatment and hinted at an insurance model of healthcare, and Nigel Farage said on the day of the result that the promise was a mistake and he wouldn’t honour it (not that it’ll be up to him).

Great quote today from Ian Duncan Smith, “we just made a series of promises that were possibilities” – and so it begins.

Making Britain great again – well Nicola Sturgeon is already talking about a second independence referendum, and as Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, who can blame them. It was a pretty close verdict last time, so the chances are they’ll probably finally break free of us.

No Scotland, no Great Britain. No Great Britain, no Union Jack. All those people waving their red, white and blue flags and telling us how they’re proud to be British again, may have actually lit the fuse that will blow up the idea once and for all. You think we’ll stay GB without Scotland, well Wales also voted to stay in and Plaid Cymru have already talked about for a referendum of their own, as have people in Northern Ireland.

Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing in the long-term.

One of the interesting things that has come out of all this, is the division between young and old. Young people voted to stay in but as the age of the voters rose the more likely they were to vote leave – except for the oldest, who lived through the war and remembered what it was like to live in an unstable Europe, they voted to remain.

In an increasingly interconnected world, young people see themselves as global citizens. They’re not as weighed down with all the nationalism, history and misplaced patriotism. They play games with friends all over the world, they have relatives that they skype in different continents and they see the opportunity in free movement and the possibilities excite them.  But now they feel like the older generation have closed the door to those possibilities and they’re angry. They want to move into the future and the older voters just seem to want to take them back to the past. A past they don’t recognise or want.

There’s been lots of evidence of people living in the past recently, trading on old glories and selling the idea of returning to the good old days – whatever they were. Posting pictures of union jacks on Facebook, references to WWII and even pictures of spitfires flying over the white cliffs of Dover. Hey, I think the generation that lived through that period were the greatest generation, but I’m not sure it helps clarify anything about this debate. It was a different time and we live in a world they couldn’t have imagined back then.

It’s interesting that some of the most resurgent countries at the moment have come from difficult histories, whether it’s recovering from devastating wars or communist dictatorships, they have had to start from virtually nothing. Reinventing themselves anew for the modern age. Dealing with their past but not defined by it, moving forward – I saw this in Berlin where they were honest and contrite about their past but focussed on the future.

Like young people, young countries look to the future. They adapt to their circumstances and start afresh. We, on the other hand look backwards, and tell ourselves that we’re still great, expecting circumstances to adapt to us. We tell ourselves that foreigners can’t be trusted and we should rely on ourselves as we’re inherently superior because we’re British – it’s rubbish and I think it’s holding us back.

If the union does break up, maybe we’ll finally get the message that the days of empire are finally over. We’re not a superpower anymore and we should embrace it and move on. Not one ‘great’ nation but a group of separate, modern nations, in much the same way Scandinavia is. We don’t have to give up our history, but we don’t have to rest everything on it as well.

Instead of loving our country, why can’t we love our people. Instead of being proud of our history why don’t we build pride in our achievements and our future. Let’s put the flags down, get through the painful divorce period and start again with a new identity.

But please, let’s base it on rational thought and reasonable debate and not just blind impulse and prejudice. One tweet today said, that obviously, not all Brexit voters are racist, but now the racists think that 52% of the population agrees with them. Maybe that’s why there’s suddenly a rise in reports of attacks on minorities. It’s the idea that this kind of thinking has won the day that makes us remain voters feel sick and ashamed, and it’s this kind of thinking we need to fix if we’re ever really going to get back on our feet and dare to call ourselves ‘great’ again.

Chris

 

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