I’m not allowed to vote on the Brexit referendum as it’s been over fifteen years since I’ve lived in the UK. I can understand why I might be excluded from local elections, even general elections, given I don’t live there anymore. But I find it pretty scandalous that I can’t express my view on a referendum which will have significant repercussions for the country of my birth and the continent I have lived in for all but six years of my life.
While I’m prone to a rant, I’m not one for political activism. There’s enough of that already in my day job and the other side of my family. But on this issue- and with no vote – I feel compelled to speak out against the blinkered small-mindedness of what seems to be a growing number of my compatriots.
This will be my one and only political stand, I hope, unless we are forced into another referendum on the same subject, which is not at all out of the question. If only a small majority vote for Britain to remain in the EU, we may face a Neverendum as we now potentially face with Scotland.
If you’re already planning to vote to stay in the EU then please feel free to stop reading here. If you’re planning on voting to leave or not vote at all, then please read on…
The UK is no longer and will never again be a global superpower, much to the chagrin of those who wish to leave the EU and remain in denial about the status and prospects of our small, windswept isle in the North Atlantic.
As the Economist put it this time last year, “for a country that has long been respected for the skills of its diplomats, the professionalism and dash of its armed forces, the global outlook of its political leaders and its ability to punch above its weight, the decline has been unmistakable.”
Look around you and by definition those campaigning for Brexit are “Little Englanders.” Nostalgia and nationalism drive their creed. Nostalgia is a romantic yearning for what has passed. Nationalism is the single biggest obstacle to human progress. Our future in a globalised world must be built on collaboration with our neighbours.
The global superpowers today are the US and China. One day, India may enter that league but possibly not in our lifetimes. The EU has the capacity to be a powerful moderating force in a world which is increasingly turbulent, dangerous and polarised.
I don’t believe Donald Trump will take the Oval Office but just that prospect demonstrates the predicament our planet finds itself in. Imagine a world dictated by the extremes of Trump, Xi Jinping, Putin and Erdogan? Brexit would be redundant as, quite literally, civilisation would be at risk.
Armageddon scenario aside, climate change, cybercrime, civil wars on Europe’s borders, migrant flows and global terrorism are very real and are here to stay. There are no immediate solutions to any of the world’s most intractable problems. The only way any of these issues can be addressed is by countries operating together.
The UK needs to be a strong voice in a strong European Union. It will otherwise be irrelevant. Pretending we can cut ourselves off from the world’s problems through our geographic and self-imposed mental insularity is no long-term solution. Ironically, what the Brexit campaigners are calling for is for the UK to be more irrelevant in an increasingly globalised world.
“Every witness to our committee, from Henry Kissinger to Madeleine Albright, says these are the most tumultuous times they have seen in their lives,” said John McCain, former chairman of the armed services committee in America’s Senate. Yet Britain is cutting back on defence—something that, he says, “diminishes Britain’s ability to influence events.”
Under Cameron, the defence budget has been slashed; we don’t even meet the 2% of GDP spending on defence than NATO members are supposed to and which Cameron himself insisted upon. Now we’re talking about reduced cooperation with those countries with whom we share borders. It’s scandalously irresponsible to think we’re safer, as some scaremongers suggest, outside the EU. Brexit will not make our children safer: it will put them more at risk.
Brexit would cause crushing precedents. The prospect of the exit of Europe’s second biggest economy may deal a fatal blow to the Union at a time where nationalism and populism are rife across the EU. But things would start at home.
It is more than probable that the UK leaving the EU would lead to an immediate referendum on Scottish independence and then for Northern Ireland. Who is to say Wales wouldn’t follow suit in order to remain part of the EU? The UK in its current form would not survive Brexit. We’d reverse over 300 years of history since the Act of Union and be left with jolly little England. And our Pound. Is that what the Brexit campaigners are nostalgic for?
The precedent abroad is more concerning. The prospect of Catalan independence is very real. About a quarter of the members of the European Parliament can be described as Eurosceptic or “anti-European.” Kneejerk populism has been fuelled by the global financial crisis, the Euro crisis, austerity and now the influx of migrants.
Marine Le Pen’s Front National leads a far right bloc of anti-European MEPs who believe the Holocaust was “a detail of history,” that Muslims should be barred from Europe and that homosexuality be deemed illegal (sounds like Donald Trump’s manifesto!?). MEPs who make up the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Party are known for their Euroscepticism but also their anti-semitic, homophobic and more recently anti-Islamic rhetoric. This is the party that Tory MEPs belong to and that David Cameron formed in 2005 (he was more or less forced into leaving the European People’s Party, the most powerful bloc within the European Parliament by the same Eurosceptics calling for Brexit today).
My point is that Europe is in a fragile situation. Brexit could lead to a series of events that result in Europe splitting at the seams and splintering into different factions. The rise of populist parties like UKIP, Podemos in Spain, Greece’s Syriza and many significantly less palatable parties across Eastern Europe extolling increasingly vitriolic policies raises the prospect of other countries leaving the EU and a return to inward looking, sovereign politics.
No one needs reminding of the last time Europe was seriously fragmented and divided. It was precisely the reason France, Germany and others formed a union of sorts in the first place; so that Europe would never again be torn apart by war. Vladimir Putin has long sponsored anti-European parties because he would like to see the EU dismantled. George Soros believes Putin to be a greater threat to the EU than ISIS. I happen to think he’s right. Do we really want the same as Vladimir Putin?
Brexit campaigners talk about UK being more prosperous outside the EU. Given that 50% of UK exports go to the EU and almost 60% of our exports come from it, it is preposterous to make such a claim.
We would have two choices; we’d have to sign separate trade deals with anyone we wanted to trade with which would involve an incredible amount of red tape, bureaucracy and time. Or we go the way of Norway and Switzerland which means we have to sign up to all EU rules anyway, pay for the privilege but have no say in how it is run.
We would choose the second option because it’s the only feasible one. But no one explains the reality of what that would mean. As for the rest, we’d have to sign separate deals with the US, China, etc. The US has flatly rejected this. China has intimated the same. They want one deal with the EU. Wouldn’t you? We’re just not important or big enough on our own.
The EU is the world’s largest trading bloc. Why is the Confederation of British Industries calling for us to stay in the EU? Because economically, we’re much better off as part of the EU. They’ve done the maths and this is a fact. Even the referendum is clouding the economic outlook as uncertainty over our status puts a halt on foreign investment.
In an uncertain, globalised world, the UK is better off as part of a strong EU. Rather than leave it, we should work to strengthen it. And that doesn’t mean greater integration. It means greater dialogue, collaboration and, dare I say it, leadership to deal with the most pressing problems we face over migrants and terrorism.
Retreating to our little island won’t work in a digital, ultra-connected, globalised world. This is not 1940. The world’s a very different place but just as menacing and problematic.
Looking deeply into ourselves, we know the only sentiment that fuels a desire to leave the EU is pride. And when was pride ever the right basis for sound judgment? Worse still, it’s nationalistic pride, the same sentiment that fuels hooliganism, xenophobia, racism, ethnic cleansing, war….
Brexit is a madness borne of insularity, blind nationalism and arrogance. It is peddled by those yearning for an imagined past and delusional future. Their case is expressed in escapist terms, built on lies not facts.
The greatest fault of the “in” campaign has been not to paint what a world would look like for the UK outside the EU. If it did, it would depict an isolated, risky and unpredictable future.
The status quo is rarely sexy. But fluctuating markets, global economic uncertainty and a clash of civilisations (not just ISIS and Syria but what is likely to come in the South China Sea) is the reality we all face during our lifetimes, whether we like it or not.
Of course the EU is far from perfect. Cobbling together 28 member states and agreeing a coherent strategy was never going to be easy. I’ve spent fifteen years counting its faults and lamenting its many failings.
But in a world which will seem increasingly senseless, the EU stands for an ambition and institution that does makes sense. Let’s just hope common sense prevails.
By Wil Gilroy – his original Facebook post is here.