Brexit, the hill I refuse to die on
The morning after the Brexit vote in 2016 I woke up and felt the world shift in a way I had not seen since September 11th 2001. I am an avid European, someone who considers that part of my identity more profound that my Britishness. I love the freedom it brings, the protections I have enjoyed, and the sense of belonging to something born out of centuries of turmoil and profound history. That shift I felt was a wrench away from an old order of things, that order of things, that suddenly everything I cherished was being dragged in the opposite direction. I am old enough to have watched the fall of the Berlin wall live on television, to see Thatcher leave office in tears, and the USSR’s last chaotic days. While Brexit is not as fast paced as those events, I feel a profound sense of whiplash as the slow car crash finally catches up with inertia.
19 years ago, none of us could have guessed that 9/11 would be an epoch-making moment, that Osama Bin Laden’s stated aims to bankrupt the West would come to pass. Brexit directly stems from 9/11 by way of the decisions the US and UK governments made to invade Iraq without a clear vision for the future. By destabilising the region, pouring millions of refugees into Syria and then Turkey and beyond it put political strain on all European nations. Britain, rather than following Germany’s lead, took a panicked vote on EU membership that was more an attempt to calm nervous conservatives than any real political policy, and all those immigration issues that had festered for so long wrenched enough voters from common sense to cause a narrow victory.
In such small margins, as with the election of Donald Trump, the world turns. September 2020, in this Covid age, presages far more uncertainty that four years ago. Incrementally, small decisions have stacked up to the point where the current UK government is bating the world with a declaration it intends to break international law. Brexit was never about electing into power a government that would ride roughshod over the rule of law, it was never meant to turn Britain into a kleptocracy fit for the rich to hunker down with their wealth. Or maybe it was. Maybe the whole point of this grubby malafactored enterprise was to ring fence all the world’s loot within our jurisdictional boarders. There were murmurs back in 2016 that the major donors of the leave campaign wanted out of EU finance regulations, and a hard Brexit in 2020 will certainly deliver that.
It is easy for me to rage against Brexit, to see the shift to the fringes of the right within British and American politics as some inevitable force that all the fist shaking will not break. Doubtless I will be called a remoaner, someone who seeks to subvert the will of the British people. That I should simply accept it and shut. I dearly wish that Brexit, and the UK government would prove me wrong, but nothing I have seen over the last four years convinces me that my position is wrong, morally or ethically. Democracy is as much about admitting mistakes and seeking the best solution as it is about a direct vote. People can and do change their minds, and I sincerely doubt that 50%+1 of the UK population would vote for Brexit in its current form (or lack thereof). Four years ago the world was a different place, and in this Covid age, without a firm idea of what the government actually wants, average Britains have no clue about what is in store come January 1st 2021. I certainly don’t, and nor does most of the British government based on current events.
After 9/11 we squandered vast amounts of treasure and political capital tilting at windmills, engaging in wars that both morally bankrupted and isolated Britain. Brexit has already squandered far more than two wars, and now, in a post-Covid economy, Britain risks being a failed state within which the only people who care enough are the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish who will vote to leave little England behind. Hyperbole, maybe, but if the Northern Irish border is an sticking point now, a hard border between England and Scotland would be immeasurably worse. So much energy and effort wasted on such a futile, petty exercise in nationalism, without any reward or intrinsic benefit.
The UK government wants us to die on this Brexit hill, wants us to ascend to the heights of national pride to soar on the backs of Spitfires and the ghost of Vera Lynn. Plaster the towns with bunting, and hold street parties to rapture in these hallowed days, Covid be damned. They seek to dignify the grubby, the turgid, and maladapted. They see Britain’s, England’s, future as the good ship Britannia full of rosy cheeked working class who will slave away for pittance in the name of what ever trade deal comes our way. Rule Britannia, well, one rule for Britannia and damn the rest. The sun only sets when the flag comes down, and for many at the heart of the Brexit establishment they want to rage long and hard against the dying of the light.
No nation has the right to exist indefinitely, no great power retains their position for long. All empires fall, some gracefully, others by the sword. Brexit is more akin to an awkward aunt who does not quite know the steps to the latest dance, and bumbles through the wedding reception sherry in hand. Brexit Britain is drunk on her own superiority, the idea that everyone needs us more than we need them, and if her citizens cannot get behind that idea then they are being anti-democratic and unpatriotic, reality or otherwise. I sincerely hope that my European identity sees a renaissance once the true reality of Brexit hits, and maybe in a decade or two we once more fly the Blue and Yellow next to the Union Flag. My hill is across the water, and with it many of the ideals I genuinely hope Britain has the sense to retain. I rage not, but my sense of sorrow sits deep. Hope is a fickle thing, but time has a habit of surprising us all, and so hope is worth clinging to.
So yes, I will not climb even a step onto Brexit’s crumbling mound, I will not stake a plot in that miasma of misinformation and lies. I will watch, and hope for the best outcome for my country, but in my heart hope that in the near future my fellow country people will see fit to once more become part of the EU so that we all benefit, not just the kleptocratic few.