How I changed my mind about the Leave Vote, for all the wrong reasons
Joining the clamour of opinion on the Brexit debate, here I am, an Irish-born European, an educator, a floater…
A recent interview in The Guardian with a young woman in Hull working on a zero-hours contract and planning to vote Leave acted as a stark reminder that British people simply don’t have a clue about the Europe they are in. Living in one of the most impoverished parts of Britain, this woman is about to cast a vote against her own future and interests. She is suspicious of the EU because she has had no exposure to it. Here, I feel, is the embodiment of the British voter, acting largely out of ignorance.
Not only have two generations of Britons squandered the opportunity to learn more about European politics or languages, but the whole nation seems to have lapsed into wartime rhetoric and isolationism. The sentiment is to slam the door shut on the free movement of people, a cornerstone of the EU project. It is also a broader rejection of everything European, its standards, languages, people. It’s a xenophobic panic.
It would be too easy to assign blame for the pickle Britain is currently in to key politicians. The Remain campaign’s scaremongering is disingenuous. But then again, so is the whole charade of referendum in a nation where two of the three branches of government are unelected. Tabloid reporting, from whichever camp, continues to portray Europe as a great unknown and Britain as a bastion of enlightenment. In short, the British public are misinformed and exploited at every turn, and the establishment is laughing its way into at least another half-century of secure position. The pipers are playing the tune, the children are marching behind unaware of the destination, promised land or slave port – but the procession, and the betrayal, is already too far gone to halt.
I am absolutely pro-EU. I have enjoyed many of its benefits, working and living in several states, and most of my students are in the Erasmus program. I have also seen first-hand how entire cities, like my hometown of Dublin, and societies, particularly former Soviet-bloc countries, have been positively transformed with EU investment and political inclusion. But now I have begun to see the Union’s chances for integrity and relevance as better in the long term without the UK, its least engaged and most dissenting member. Britain, simply, has been holding the EU back.
Britain severing its ties with the “lumbering machine” of 33,000 EU bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg will bring it face-to-face with its own outdated order of 135,000 bureaucrats in London. There will be no more scapegoating. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it will trigger a deep reassessment of the relationship with London, which will hopefully transmute into recalled moves for independence. For too long have these smaller countries been treated like colonial outposts. British trade unions will need a dramatic comeback to re-implement workers rights which will vanish virtually overnight.
The world will go on with or without the UK in the EU, albeit with a few bumps in the global markets. In the long term, Britain’s departure could compel the EU to make real reform, more meaningful treaties, and shake the corrupt chaff out of the system. It could also spark a fresh appreciation for, and protection of, the freedoms enshrined by the EU. Other member states might leave, but those that remain may offer new commitment.
The UK out of Europe will be bad for Britons. A diminished Britain, however, might not be a bad thing. Britain is a dinosaur, dreaming of its lost empire. Perhaps left alone with its demons, it could finally come to some realizations and unshackle itself from the old order of monarchy and aristocracy. Perhaps it could finally be forced to form a constitution and introduce changes to allow social mobility. Perhaps not. The EU could hardly be expected to initiate or enforce the level of reform which the UK needs to modernise. It needs to do it by itself.
My view might seem overly cynical. It has indeed drastically shifted lately, especially with the news of the Leave campaign’s lead in the polls. I shouldn’t need to express that I believe in the “European Dream,” because it’s real, I’m already living it. Seeing the old British order sinking like a ship gives me no particular pleasure, even though it has done my people no favours in the past. I sincerely hope it all works out well, and peacefully.
If the UK does, in fact, choose to remain this June 23rd, I expect the grumbling to stop, and proper cooperation and self-reflection to begin.
Creative Commons License, thanks to Oona Räisänen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/windytan/)