Everybody’s Talking At Me – Brexit     

brexitEMMET O’CUANA

I have been asked to do an Op Ed about the Brexit campaign in the UK.

Perhaps you have heard of it?

One thing that struck me was how there have been too many opinions expressed, but little concrete information, about what is a very complex question. Should Britain continue to remain as a member of a European economic community – or should it leave? It is not a simple proposal.

Both sides of the debate, the Brexit campaign represented by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, and the ‘Remain’ campaign led by the Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron, have resorted to fear in motivating voters to choose. Tomorrow members of the public in the UK will decide what generations of politicians have been feuding about since 1 January 1973.

This is a referendum founded on a failure of political leadership. In the absense of facts – of discussion about what it means to be a part of the EU – sloganeering, fear-mongering and a disturbing slide back to far-right English nationalism have taken centre-stage.

I suppose I was asked to write this because I have been a European all my life. So what did that mean to me growing up? Well it meant ease of movement throughout Europe. When I was a teenager I traveled to Rome, Prague, Warsaw, Krakow, Paris, Brussels – I worked, I used languages I had been taught in school, I broadened my horizons.

I also grew up knowing that the peace process in Northern Ireland had been facilitated and helped by money from Europe. The EU has been a vital proponent of the transition from civil conflict north of the Republic to a peaceful, multicultural society since 1989. Brexit means a reinstitution of a border between the Republic and the British territory of Northern Ireland. It also casts the Scottish Referendum from last year in doubt, and given the tenor of the campaign – particularly Nigel Farage’s hints at violence in the streets  if Remain succeeds – seems largely concerned with a false nostalgia. This is being framed as a referendum about Englishness.

But what about the many people who are British, have been for centuries, but do not meet the UKIP poster-child standard of white Anglo-Saxon stock? This is not simply a referendum spitting in the eye of migrants traveling to work in the UK – disturbingly conflated with refugees – it is a nativist dog whistle founded on a sense of failed Empire.

Is the EU a pluralist, well-regulated, 21st century utopia? No. It is a bureaucratic nightmare, a clubhouse for corporate lobbyists and recalcitrant MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who fail to even attend meetings. The Lisbon Treaty of the mid-2000s attempted to force a shared constitution on the European Union, a disaster which encouraged British Eurosceptics. But the arrogance of Lisbon can easily be traced to the EU’s frustration at member states blaming unpopular rulings surrounding fisheries and farming on Brussels, fitting the narrative of a centralised dictatorship.

The failure of these states to lead their own countries outside of cynical political maneuveres to ensure continued power has led to this point. Hence the growing resentment at Europe, the slide back into nationalism, the myopia about what it means to be British (and if this drive to leave spreads – French, German, Polish etc.). If the EU disintegrates, it will be because elected representatives could not cooperate in the spirit of community and reform. It will make toxic the nation-building and peace efforts of the past four decades.

And it is left to the people of Britain to make this decision. This is a stunningly unfair referendum.

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