Geography determines our neighbours, creating historical and cultural links too. Yet UK prime minister Theresa May seems to believe an exit from the EU will allow her country to quit the continent altogether. She also ignores that small neighbour to the west, which is firmly committed to the bloc. The UK is thus surrounded by Europe even if a large swathe of its population no longer identifies as European.
May’s attempt at setting the British identity apart from European is dishonest. Where does she think the term Anglo-Saxon came from? There are no authentic or pure identities. Europe is a melting pot of cultural idiosyncrasies and linguistic multiplicity. These are superficial differences that fail to deny the resounding truth that people are basically the same. But that is not an argument politicians want to accept since it dilutes their power.
A weak Europe
Brexit looks set to generate hostility across the continent. Leaders talk about balanced outcomes but that is impossible since a successful Brexit will spur other countries to leave. The Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat is right when he says the Brexit deal “necessarily needs to be inferior to membership”. The UK electorate may have voted leave to secure its borders but it must now accept the steps the EU is forced to take to protect its borders too.
Brexit is disappointing but the dissolution of the European bloc would be far more brutal for global stability. It would hand a Trump-led US even more power and responsibility. And while many Brexiters may think a diminished Europe would lead to the revival of the British Empire, that is a misguided and questionable ambition. Colonialism was not welcomed by its victims.
As Britain negotiates its exit, anti-EU rhetoric is set to soar. Media companies will use Brexit to sell ad space through news decrying the bloc as a vampire feeding off its members’ resources. There will be stories highlighting the domestic industries that have weakened under EU membership. But these stories deliberately overlook the net benefits driven by the strengthening of other domestic industries. In Britain, the Murdoch media played a huge role in Brexit by persistently publishing misleading content on the damaging effects of EU immigration. A similar phenomenon could occur across the rest of the continent as populism continues to take hold.
Brexiters should tread carefully in seeking to destabilize the EU. May argues the bloc ignored the diverse needs of its member nations. But Westminster has shown no regard for the needs of its own member nations. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain and are honest about being net beneficiaries. That goes beyond funding and grants since entry into the single market enabled these regional economies to grow. The loss of the EU market will result in larger English subsidies for the other UK nations. Brexit may simply lead to a debate on the validity of the UK since this is just another union. And a union may only be as strong as its weakest link.