On Thursday the 23rd of June, my country, the United Kingdom, voted to leave the European Union, with leave gaining 51.89% of the vote. When I went to bed at 1 am on the Friday, it looked like the remain campaign had won, but when the seagulls woke me up at Six , to my shock, it had gone the other way.
In my last post, written on the 14th, I argued that Europhobia in the UK was based mostly on English ultra-nationalism and a sense of superiority over other Europeans. Sadly, both the referendum itself and the events since have only proved that.
In the days since the vote, there has been a wave of racist and xenophobic events reported across the country, reported on facebook such as anti-polish messages in Cambridgeshire and xenophobic remarks being directed to non-British nationals right across the country. Even in Hammersmith, where I am from and in which 70% voted to stay, the polish cultural center was defaced with anti-polish graffiti. The Leave campaign, clearly feeling that scaremongering about the European authoritarianism and lying about how much we pay to the EU was not enough, did use arguments on immigration, despite them initially promising to zoom away from that.
Before the referendum, many leave supporters on Facebook were condemning remainers for apparently using the murder of Labour MP and philanthropist Jo Cox to their advantage. I'm sorry, but anyone who is alarmed at the surge of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in the UK has every right to put her senseless murder into the wider context. It has been 26 years since an MP was last murdered; the Conservative Ian Gow being killed by the IRA in 1990. And what makes this particularly disturbing is the fact that Jo Cox's killer was not like the IRA, an enemy of Britain; rather Jo Cox's killer saw himself as a British patriot and saw her as a traitor . Once you have political narrative which states that your country has been betrayed, or 'stabbed in the back', by a political class, in this case by joining the European Union and through its policies on immigration, then the situation can only get ugly. It never occurred to me that such a murderous attack on our Democracy would happen in Britain of all countries. Clearly, such a narrative was not exactly discouraged by UKIP and the leave campaign, on the contrary, and we thus have every right to condemn them for their rhetoric.
It seems that the referendum will succeed in doing what neither Napoleon nor Hitler managed to do; to destroy the United Kingdom. Scotland, where 62% of voters voted to stay in the European Union is likely to succeed from its Union with England since Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that a Second Indendence Referendum is on the Table. Polls indicate that more than 50% of Scots now favour independence. Clearly, the Scots could see that both UKIP and the campaign to leave the European Union were English Nationalist movements and they were going to have nothing to do with it. And here is a distinction between English/Anglo-British and Scottish Nationalism. While the former largely argues that its nation is superior to other nations which is historically understandable, the latter argues that no, the Scots may not be better than the other European nations, but they are every bit as good, and while Anglo-British nationalists want to separate themselves from other Europeans, the Scots stated on Thursday that they want to become like their European neighbors.
The same however, did not happen in Wales, Wales voted to leave the EU, 52% voted that way, just 1% less than in England. The areas that voted remain were Monmouthshire, Cardiff, The Vale of Glamorgan, Ceredigion and Gwynedd. Cardiff, where 60% voted to remain was expected since it is a highly cosmopolitan city. Gwynedd, in which 58% voted to remain is very interesting. It is the only council area in which a majority of school children still speak Welsh as their main language at home and is naturally a Welsh Nationalist Heartland; it is no surprise that the people of Gwynedd feel the same way as the Scots in their resistance to English nationalism. Ceredigion, similarly, is a Welsh heartland and the presence of two universities there is naturally another reason why it was predicted to be the most Pro-EU place in Britain.
But its not just a divide between the constituent countries, it is within England, strikingly, a cultural and generational divide. 75% of voters under 24 voted to stay in and there is this sense on Facebook by many I know that the future of the young has been sacrificed by older voters. I find that view distasteful, since everybody in my family voted to stay and I'm sure all my grandparents would have done. More strikingly perhaps, the referendum showed how divided the more progressive and cosmopolitan areas, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff were from the areas which voted leave and I have read some articles which analyse the situation very astutely. What is a particularly profound shock is how separated the Labour party, being at its root an internationalist, cosmopolitan and pro-European party, is from much of its base in the north of England and South Wales.
The result of this referendum, is not just sad for all the reasons discussed, it is profoundly un-British. Consider how Britain, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 has been a country of tranquil evolution and reform rather than revolution, of pragmatic tweaks here and there rather than sudden and rash change. We are a country that is known for its stability and more importantly, tolerance, and everything that has happened has been an abrupt break to that tradition. I just hope that we come out of this crisis and that such a crisis only makes us more immune in the future.
Sunday, 26 June 2016
Tuesday, 14 June 2016
Why is it the United Kingdom that is the most uncomfortable member of the European Union? Why is it the United Kingdom that is having a referendum on the 23rd of this month and not other European countries? When I first asked this question to family members a year or two ago (before the referendum date was announced), the answer seemed obvious, 'Britain is an island, not part of Continental Europe, and therefore feels less European.' As I have had a good long thought about this question, particularly more recently, it has become more and more obvious that us being separated physically from the continent is perhaps not the most important answer. After all, Ireland is even further away from the Continent than Britain, and yet Ireland is a proud member of the European Union. The areas of the United Kingdom which are the most Eurospectic are not Scotland and Wales which are the furthest away from the continent geographically, but England. In fact, Ceredigion, on the west coast of Wales, where I am now a student, was found to be the most pro-European of all places within the United Kingdom. Clearly, something other than geographical distance is what makes the UK more Eurosceptic.
The United Kingdom, after all, is not on the periphery of Europe in any sense of the word. If you consider the real centre of Europe to not be the entire Continent in general, but the Franco-Germanic sphere of countries comprised of Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, and in particular the very prosperous central economic region where those countries all meet, which includes Strasbourg, Brussells, Lille, Paris and the Ruhr, then we British are in a very privileged position indeed; indeed we are within two hours of Brussells and Paris by train, and you wouldn't be very farfetched to suggest that such an economic region stretches across the Channel to include London. Most European capitals, even those on the continent, are not within 2 hours of such cities. Since 1066, England has been an integral part of Western Europe politically and culturally, with England and Britain being closely linked to France ever since. France has since 1066, arguably had a connection and relationship with England that it didn't or doesn't have with other Germanic countries. The English Language is of course, Germanic in origin but with heavy French influence, a mix of the two language families which are native to the Franco-Germanic lands Western Europe; the region which comprised the Franco-German Holy Roman Empire and the countries which first joined what would later become the European Union.
But that is not to mention, that in many ways, Britain is actually the epitome of what is to be European and is itself arguably, the centre of Europe. Europe's greatest financial centre is not on the Continent itself but on the island of Great Britain, in London. Europe is known for being an industrialised continent, more specifically for being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and it was the British who started it all. Europe is also known for having carved out colonial empires on other continents, and it was the British who built the biggest one (not something I am proud of at all). Linguistically, England is the centre of Europe, for English, having outrageously largely bumped off its neighbouring languages in the British Isles, has established itself as the De Facto Lingua Franca of the Continent; Continental Europeans on the whole have to learn our language; not the other way round. Europe, and the Western World in General, is closely associated with Democracy. And of course, we in Britain are associated with our democratic traditions; we are referred to as the mother of all Parliaments, despite the fact that two other Islands, Iceland and the Isle of Mann, have parliaments that pre-date ours, and that Poland-Lithuania and Sweden also had proto-Democratic institutions of government which pre-dated the French Revolution. Either way, we have an uninterrupted history of parliamentary rule going back to 1688, are noted for both the Bill of Rights and the Magna Carta and thus it is easy to feel that Parliamentary Democracy was an English invention. And of course, Britain preserved its system of Parliamentary Democracy during the Second World War when other European countries were either occupied by the Nazis or had, as in the case of Spain, become Dictatorships in their own right during the Twentieth Century. Thus in many ways, Britain, due to both its historical achievements at home and influence over other Countries, is both the epitome of what makes Europe distinct as a Continent and is in many ways itself, the Centre of Europe, respectively.
It is precisely because of this, not in spite of this, that Euroscepticism is so strong in the UK. In short, because there is this sense that Britain is superior in so many areas and that Britain is at the centre of everything, Britain doesn't need to be integrated with other countries. In his article in the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson, former Tory Mayor of London and key Brexit campaigner wrote 'We are the European, if not World, Leaders...', not that we weren't European, and referred to what Britain had given to the world. He also couldn't resist the urge to refer to the British Empire to argue that Britain could survive outside the EU. Daniel Hannan, when debating alongside Nigel Farage, in a debate hosted by Intelligence2, closed his opening speech by saying 'That which we are, we are' and went on to refer to Britain's power, linguistic, military and economic, and influence. Even the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to vote to stay in, stated that because of Britain's history and achievements such as Democracy, Britain's membership of the European Union should not be the same as that of other European countries.
Clearly what this shows is that the more power and influence any country gains over other countries, ironically, the less internationally minded and more inward looking that country becomes. An example is how because English has become the International Lingua Franca, foreign language learning in the Anglosphere is so low. Brexit campaigners are keen to emphasize that they want Britain to go global but what that means is more British influence over other countries across the Globe, not the other way around. Brexiters like the idea of Britain integrating itself more with the Commonwealth, since Britain is so obviously at the centre of it; our Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth, and English is its only official language, and it was Britain which founded it, and after all, it is based on the former British Empire. On the other hand, the same is not so true of the EU and so the EU is an institution they are not going to want Britain to be part of.
Were the United Kingdom genuinely remote from the Franco-German centre of Europe in cultural, political, historical and economic terms, and more importantly, less influential over the rest of Europe and the rest of the World, and hadn't been the cradle of so much that made Europe what it is today, then our level of pride would do less to prevent us from being more outward looking and we would most likely be a more loyal member of the EU and be less hostile to foreign influence and sharing sovereignty with other countries in Europe.