Well, here we are at long last! March 2019 has arrived, two years after the British government triggered Article 50 and thereby initiated the Brexit process. Although it is now highly probable that the UK shall not be departing on 29 March as initially anticipated.
Those of us who dabble in politics learned in 2016, via Brexit and the farcical US election, to never again to make sweeping political certitudes. Therefore, I will refrain from making any predictions – whether there shall be a ‘‘Deal’’ or ‘’No Deal.’’ On the contrary, this article will consist of the personal reflections of a young British citizen living in Provence.
To introduce myself, my name is Jack Treacher, I am currently undertaking a Service Civique in the Europe Direct Information Centre at Eurocircle. Obviously, one can’t but help but note the irony of a Brit trying to promote the European Union in another country!
Almost three years ago, I was a campaigner for the Remain campaign in the glorious Scottish Highlands – a remote, transitional region which has benefited from EU funding. While this remote corner of the UK voted to stay in the EU, I had a sinking feeling a month before the vote that the Leave campaign would emerge as victors. Having had many conversations with members of the public, I realised the depth of Euroscepticism and that our campaign was swimming against a strong populist tide when trying to explain the benefits of the EU. Therefore, when the BBC declared at 4.40am on 24 June 2016, that the Leave campaign had won, I was nevertheless shocked but not surprised.
Since this geo-political earthquake, many Europeans have asked why did Brexit come about? I would cite the following factors:
- The referendum was a tremendous opportunity for discontented members of the public to express their unhappiness. This sentiment was especially potent in peripheral and disadvantaged communities which had been the most impacted by the Conservative Government’s brutal austerity programme.
- During nearly 45 years of EU membership, successive Conservative and Labour Governments made no substantial effort to articulate the benefits of EU membership, or the complex nature of sharing sovereignty and its advantages, until it was too late.
- Many of Britain’s newspapers are often sensationalist and highly partisan, such as The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.
- The Leave campaign – decked out in revolutionary red and the catchy slogan “Take Back Control” – appealed to the emotions of those in forgotten towns and villages by aggressively playing on a national identity and making vague promises, most infamously wrongfully promising to use the UK’s EU budget contributions for the national health care system.
- On the contrary, the Remain campaign proved to be lacklustre and complacent, and it became known as ‘‘Project Fear’’ as it had emphasised the economic risks of Brexit in a desperate bid to counter the increasing support in the polls for Brexit.
- The major events and trends of the mid-2010s, such as the Eurozone crisis, the migrant crisis and the Paris terrorist attacks, created a sense of EU failure and benefited the Leave campaign.
- The UK, especially England, does have a palpable superiority complex – with many viewing the British Empire and the Second World War with nostalgic eyes. The Leave campaign successfully exploited nationalism and a fear of losing a national identity, and it used fear and hostility towards immigration and globalisation to win the referendum.
The subsequent withdrawal process has exposed the falsehoods of Brexit campaigners – namely that Brexit would be a straightforward process and that the UK could reinvent itself as a leading world power. While we now have the unprecedented scenario of a wealthy country discussing the possibility of food and medicine shortages.
However, there is some room for optimism. For example, the UK now has the largest and most active pro-EU movement in the whole of Europe. Above all, I have confidence in the youth of Britain, who are by and large a pretty tolerant bunch, and most of whom do not share the Euroscepticism felt amongst their elders. They are a mobile generation who spend long weekends in Nice or Dubrovnik, enjoy Scandinavian Netflix series, consume products such as Feta, Chorizo and Bordeaux, watch Bundesliga or Serie A football matches, and often have Eastern European friends and neighbours. Britain’s future with Europe rests with them.
The UK is, always has been, and always will be a European country. Take the rich English language – it was born amongst the Germanic dialects of northern Germany and southern Denmark, but as a result of the Norman invasion in 1066, almost 60 percent of its vocabulary comes directly from either French or Latin. A global language, certainly, yet one which remains fundamentally European.
Many of the UK’s greatest figures, regardless of their era, did not live in isolation to Europe. Shakespeare set some of his greatest plays in locations such as Verona, Athens, and Denmark. The philosophers, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Adam Smith, taught in French universities. Thomas Paine was even elected as an MP during the French Revolution despite not being able to speak French! The seminal 20th century writer, George Orwell, risked his life to fight fascism in Spain. The political colossus, Winston Churchill, spent five long, cigar and cognac-fuelled years, with the sole objective of liberating Europe. Let’s not forget that Liverpool’s iconic sons – Paul, John, Ringo and George, otherwise known as the Beatles, began their epic career in the nightclubs of Hamburg.
So for now, we British shall not be bidding ‘‘adieu’’ to Europe but rather ‘‘à bientôt’’ or ‘‘à tout à l’heure.’’ One can find inspiration in the still poignant words of Vera Lynn’s 1939, We’ll Meet Again.
Vera Lynn – We’ll Meet Again https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsM_VmN6ytk
Written by Jack Treacher