Wednesday 29 June 2016

After the fall

A beach in Cornwall, a scene for Brexit
What does the future hold for our United Kingdom?
My goodness, what a pickle we are in! In less than a week, the United Kingdom has become distinctly un-United, blighted by an uptick in racism and angry insults hurled about on social media. I will say it now - I am a 'remain' voter and spent last Friday feeling both shocked and devastated that my country voted by a small margin to leave the European Union. For me, in the era of globalisation and the worldwide web, the decision to turn our backs on the European community felt like a step back into the past. 

I am also watching the political fall-out from the referendum with a mixture of fascination and dismay. Never have I felt so politically engaged. If our country's future didn't hang in the balance, I would almost be enjoying the soap opera that Westminster has become. As it is, I hope someone out there has a plan to shape this brave, new relationship with Europe, save our economy from going into freefall and heal the rifts in our riven society. Boris? Anybody?

In the months leading up to the referendum, before our politicians tried to dupe us with emotional and misleading arguments, the BBC's Newsnight programme took a dispassionate look at the Brexit debate. Evan Davis, with his habitual cheerfulness, told us it was ultimately a choice between sovereignty and the economy. If total self-rule was your priority, then you needed to vote to leave! On the other hand, if you felt the economy was more important, you were a 'remain' voter, he told us. As far as I remember, there was no mention of immigration - it was largely irrelevant.

Jobs versus self-rule

I was reminded of this simple distillation of the debate when I was talking to a Lithuanian friend yesterday. The Baltic state of Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the second world war and only managed to regain its independence in 1990 when it became the first Soviet republic to break free. For a start, my friend has been baffled by the clamouring for independence in this country - independence from what she asked? Secondly, she pointed out that independence means not a jot, if there are no jobs to be had. When her factory closed down in Lithuania, she was forced to leave home to seek gainful employment abroad.

The problem in the UK, we are told, is the ever-widening gulf between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. The reasons for the Brexit win are complex, but a disparity of wealth and opportunity in this country are partly to blame. Unfortunately, I don't believe that any greater sovereignty will provide an adequate solution. If anything, the crisis of economic confidence that comes hand-in-hand with Brexit will only make life more challenging for people on low incomes.

Of course I am not not opposed to sovereignty itself, but I am wary of its jingoistic twin. When people became too attached to national identity or ethnic purity, it never ends well. Give me cultural diversity over patriotic fervour any day. On an emotional level, I grieve for this setback to the European community. Peace and prosperity rest upon an interaction of ideas, trade and simple, human relationships. We can only stay friends if we continue to share our thoughts, politics and economic goals. The same could be said for people inside this country. Clearly we don't all agree on which path the UK should take going forward, but at the very least let's try to listen to each other's views and find a middle way. 

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