I believe that when you talk about economics — and much more so when you practise them — what you say and what you do must conform to realities, because without that you can get into impasses and, sometimes, you even head for ruin.
– Charles de Gaulle, 14 January 1963
If EU nations are a stream of dominoes, Britain is the first brick to fall. Less than an hour after the verdict, Dutch politician Geert Wilders called for a similar vote in the Netherlands. The National Front’s Marine Le Pen floated the idea of ‘Frexit’. Sinn Féin proposed a poll on Irish unity. And Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a second independence referendum because Scotland was firmly ‘remain’ at 62% to 38%.
Former French president Charles de Gaulle vetoed British membership of the EEC twice before its eventual accession in 1973. His words from 1963 have a chilling resonance today. The UK electorate has become the first to vote to exit. But will Britain finally conform to economic “realities”? It seems unlikely given that Britain’s main trading partner is the EU. And despite hysterical rhetoric over EU immigration, most immigrants are non-EU.
Over the past weeks, months, and years, Britons have been bombarded with ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ decrying the dismal effects of EU membership on domestic industries and services. Democracy has been perverted by propaganda. While the media is crucial for accessible information on trade and economics, it is often manipulative or plain wrong.
A fine example of confusion created by the media is discussion of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Many Britons are opposed to the treaty because it calls for voting rights for prisoners. But exiting the EU will not abolish the convention since it is not EU protocol. It is an international agreement.
Perhaps more indicative – scarily so – was pub chain JD Wetherspoon’s beermat campaign. It advocated leaving the EU because of the influence of the IMF. That is, the New York-based International Monetary Fund – an institution entirely separate to the EU. Unfortunately, the financial crisis allowed acronyms like EU, ECB, ECJ and IMF to be merged under public perceptions. The pub chain took advantage of this ignorance.
The Extreme right
Far right politicians like Nigel Farage have also successfully stoked insular nationalism. In its campaign for the 2015 general election, the UK Independence Party did a stellar job in creating British hostility towards the EU. But Farage’s party failed to reap the rewards. Instead, Tory leader David Cameron swooped in to promise a referendum on EU membership, which he never believed he would lose.
Cameron is now set to vacate the role of prime minister, with ex-London mayor Boris Johnson, and his fabulous hair, expected to take up the position. This scenario was unimaginable for Cameron, and his snide sidekick chancellor George Osborne, only a year ago. The twists and turns of political wrangling can lead a country anywhere.
What will rile young Britons most is that they were voted out of the EU by their grandparents. Figures show 75% of 18 to 24-year-olds wanted to remain, compared to only 39% of over-65s. Britain’s population is ageing rapidly, so any negative economic consequences of Brexit will make it increasingly difficult for the young to prop up their elderly’s pensions.
Still, the older generation remembers the ‘glory days’ of the Second World War. A period when the UK could boast of its military might. Some 70 years later it is not surprising that the horrors of war have been forgotten. And that the triumphs have been so amplified as to deafen an entire generation to the appalling side effects. Divide and conquer was Britain’s approach to colonization, and it was marvelously successful. Unfortunately, Brexit is evocative of that same mindset.
Fuck it all
My late father, an admirer of de Gaulle, told me Britain would be the first country to leave the EU, and that this would spell the end of the bloc. That was about 15 years ago. I fear he was right. There is a strong possibility of a return to a Europe of nation states – a continent that defines itself in terms of small differences rather than large commonalities. Is the EU undemocratic? Does it even matter?
Our individual nation states are pretty undemocratic anyway – left and right have become blurred. Electorates’ opinions are so malleable we have to ask ourselves if we really have the capacity to make decisions anymore. Democracy was a hard won gift, but we have pissed all over ourselves with apathy. Figures are not facts.
As European unity looks set to crumble, old enemies will be watching with gleeful eyes. Fuck economics. Forget prosperity. Division is now our destiny.
And we all know that united we stand, divided we fall.