“Anybody who’s studying the detail of this knows that the moment you leave on the 31st January you then go into the next Brexit negotiation which, by the way, is going to be much tougher than the last one.” – Tony Blair
The U.K. A positive example for the world…
The U.K. has been a model in terms of efficient and elegant democracy, however, “the British Islands” also have been a group of nations dubious of its European identity. This is as ancient as the moment in which William the Conqueror set foot back in 1066. Three years ago, a majority of British citizens expressed the desire to leave the European Union, however, this time giving Europe the cold shoulder has proven traumatic.
Misinformation, ignorance and an unexpected outcome
On June 23th, 2016, a narrow majority voted to leave the E.U. According to Thomas Kielinger, on the morning of June 24th, 2016, the most asked question on Google in the U.K. was “Who is the E.U.?”1 So, a question remains: giving that that “majority” didn’t even know what the E.U. was, did the U.K. wanted to ignore the continent and continue on its own? Timothy Garton Ash (Oxford University) thinks that: “…this is just a continuation of British schizophrenia about Europe, because Britain will remain in Europe; where else otherwise?”2
History… Against or for the membership?
Since the Battle of Britain started on July of 1940, and which outcome was the death of over 40,000 British citizens, the perception of risk in regard to closeness with the continent, makes a part of the collective British psyche, however, almost ironically, one of the first politicians to invoke the idea of “joining Europe”, as a peace enterprise, was Winston Churchill during the Congress of Europe, on May of 1948.
The 1960s stagnation of the British economy, sudden interest and first referendum
In the early 1960s, the economy of the E.E.C. (European Economic Community) members had grown; not so the British one. This was the trigger for the U.K. to become interested in becoming a “member”. In 1961, the U.K. applied. France vetoed. In 1967, they tried again. France vetoed again. The British approached the Germans for help. During the 1970s, the British economy continued suffering. The British people perceived the prospect of joining ONLY in commercial terms (an economic union), not in political (security) ones. In 1972, Britain was admitted in the E.E.C. In 1975, the first referendum on membership was carried out in Britain; 67% of the population voted to stay in.
A Super-state and the immigrants’ issue
One of the problems is that back in 1975, the people of Britain were not told that membership to the E.E.C. was more than commercial. Loosing sovereignty was never mentioned. Britain kept its Pound as a symbol of that sovereignty, however, Britain was one of the first members to push for the opening of its labour market and it was precisely this immigration that started the misperceptions of the British; immigrants were “taking” away their jobs and traditions. Then David Cameron became Prime Minister (2010) and pushed for the infamous 2016 referendum. On that 23rdof June, 72% of people allowed to vote did so; 52% voted to leave; 48% voted to stay.
No way out
Clear complications have proved insurmountable issues. With British elections approaching, while visiting north east Wales, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, recently declared: “The question people have to ask themselves is: do you want a Conservative Party led by Boris Johnson – who in my view is unreliable – ending up able to do what they want on Brexit, including no-deal.” Then, speaking there to the BBC, Mr. Blair said: “I think the British people are being told… that if you vote Conservative on the 12th of December then the Brexit nightmare ends, and it obviously doesn’t.” And finally added: “I think when people find this out, they are going to be shocked and angry, and this is reality.” Apparently, in this British Saga, the difference between nightmare and reality is blurry.
What back in 2016 was supposed to be a referendum to confirm the permanence of the U.K. within the European Union (a commercial and progressist agreement between its members, according to the perception of British citizens), turned out to be one of the deepest political crisis in modern British history; a nightmare of unimagined proportions and an important matter of security for the government.
Why does it matter?
There is no such thing as a good way to leave the E.U. for Britain. Either a Deal Brexit, a Hard Brexit or a No Deal Brexit will bring negative effects in the short and medium terms for the U.K., the European countries, the U.S., Canada and the other members of the Commonwealth. Even before Brexit has been enforced, it slowed the economy of the U.K. in 1.3% in 2018. The implications in social, security and economic terms are multiple and complex. I believe some of them are unpredictable at this point.
- Kielinger, Thomas (2019). “A Nation on the Outside Looking in”. DocFilm, DW, aired on the 27th of March 2019.
- Ash, Timothy G. (2019). “A Nation on the Outside Looking in”. DocFilm, DW, aired on the 27th of March 2019.
- APA (2019). “What Is Schizophrenia?”. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/schizophrenia/what-is-schizophrenia, consulted on March the 31st, 2019.
- CVCE (2019). “Address given by Winston Churchill at the Congress of Europe in The Hague (7 May 1948)”. https://www.cvce.eu/en/obj/address_given_by_winston_churchill_at_the_congress_of_europe_in_the_hague_7_may_1948-en-58118da1-af22-48c0-bc88-93cda974f42c.html, consulted on March the 31st, 2019.