I woke up this morning dejected, feeling betrayed by, and ashamed of, what I believed to be an outward-looking, open-minded and tolerant country.
Some had at least reasoned motivations for voting Leave, such as abstract concerns about sovereignty, but the majority have seemingly been swept up by blind nationalism and vacuous rhetoric, by a fear and hatred of immigrants. This is despite the fact that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy. The average immigrant is younger, better educated and healthier than the average British citizen. In other words, for every immigrant we let in, the country is richer, more able to pay for its health, education and welfare needs, and less dependent on benefits. They are exactly the demographic the UK needs, particularly given the UK’s birth rate, which is so low that even a decade of migration at the record high level of 330,000 would see an overall drop in the population.
But we don’t do facts and experts, not anymore. No, we prefer Nigel Farage, a man who within hours of victory had, like Ian Duncan Smith later, already conceded that at least one major propaganda claim was a lie. It turns out, not only do we do not send £350m per week to the EU, but we will also not be spending this “recovered” sum on the NHS as promised. Our contribution was, in fact, £190m, and it bought us access to the free market. A free market to which Leavers such as Daniel Hannan have already said they would like to retain access. The trade off for such access? Cash payments to the EU and the acceptance of free movement of people. It sounds like the least bad outcome to me, although such a stitch-up over immigration would be a betrayal of those Leave voters who believed themselves to be “taking back control” of the borders in a campaign who primary focus was immigration. If you voted to reduce immigration, you’ll soon find yourself feeling as disillusioned as I do.
Vote Leave also criticised the EU’s subsidising of its poorer members, wholly missing the point that this was intentional. In living memory, many such countries were communist dictatorships shut off from the world behind the Iron Curtain. Today, in part thanks to the EU, these countries have parliamentary democracies and, enticed into our sphere of influence, they spend that money on our goods and services. Win-win, right? It was.
The truth is that we were the envy of Europe. We had a best-of-both-worlds deal that other European Union member states resented. Far from burdened by bureaucracy, we sat at the top table and were instrumental in making the rules. We reaped the full benefits of the free market – without being in the Eurozone, and without being subject to the borderless travel of the Schengen Agreement. But that’s gone now – we’ve blown it. We will continue to pay for access to the single market, and we will continue to accept the free movement of people. Only now, we’ve surrendered our voice in the making of the rules.
Yet, today, I’ve heard people celebrating the British people sticking it to Brussels, or to the French or the Germans. Seriously, are we not over that yet? They are – they moved on a long time ago. In fact, the EU’s predecessor was established in 1951 with the expressed aim of making war “not merely unthinkable but materially impossible”. After the deaths of around 100 million military personnel and civilians in the First and Second World Wars alone, a lasting peace in Europe has been achieved. The signatories of its establishing treaty would consider 65 years of peace alone to be proof of the success of European co-operation after centuries of war. And, even with this success to its name, the EU is a baby in historical terms at just 65 years old. But we’re going to walk away from it all, and for good, why? Because it’s not perfect. At least not right now. Not in our own all-important life times. That is short-sighted, naïve and selfish.
Moving forward, we’ve got four years of an unelected right-wing Tory government and a level of initial economic damage that could affect us for at least the next ten years. The UK will survive in that time, but it won’t thrive. Not only are we forfeiting our trade deal with the European Union, we’re also heading back to square one in surrendering the trade deals that the EU already has with over 50 non-EU countries. You know, the ones we’re apparently not trading with! And why, “to regain our sovereignty”? For leading Brexiteers, sovereignty seems to mean reducing this country to a franchise of corporate capital, governed from overseas. It is not that leaving the EU is in itself an inevitable catastrophe, but to hand carte blanche to this government to negotiate that departure is to invite some disturbing possibilities.
For example, leaving Europe and renegotiating our trade agreements should enable us to leave behind treaties such as TTIP and CETA, which, under the pretence of facilitating trade, would release multinational corporations from democratic control, force the privatisation of public services, and make a mockery of parliamentary sovereignty. Yet, there are already calls for Britain to join NAFTA, which, using similar international tribunals, has allowed corporations to sue governments, to reduce to the lowest common denominator the laws protecting against predatory finance, labour rights, food adulteration and environmental protections, as well as blocking the passing of more progressive laws, and greatly restricting legislative sovereignty. Joining NAFTA, or connecting to it through another such agreement, would gravely threaten our sovereignty.
Before that, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will have to be invoked. Make no mistake, it is a punitive piece of law intended to discourage member states from leaving. We cannot renegotiate it. The reason Cameron wouldn’t invoke it, and now Johnson and Hannan are asking for time is because it is terrible for the economy. Gove, Farage and Johnson were lying when they repeatedly told you that we would get a better deal out of the EU. We will have no choice but to accept whatever deal they offer us.
In all likelihood, these difficult economic times to come will be labelled a transition period, and will result in further crushing austerity, privatisation of the NHS, and slashing of workers’ rights. In Scotland, where every single counting area voted to remain in the EU, a second independence referendum is “highly likely”, sadly dividing our once ‘Great’ Britain further. And if that’s not enough, Sinn Fein is calling for a poll in both the north and south on a unified Ireland, a debate which may spark further potentially terrifying unrest. The implications of this decision, then, are huge, far-reaching and frightening.
Overall, I am struggling today to come to terms with the decision of many millions of English people, and I am ashamed of the picture it paints to the world, of a nation retreating from greatness to bury its head in the sand, pretending that the problems of the world have been left behind with it.
I won’t turn my back on Europe and its myriad opportunities, and I won’t blame somebody else for the shortcomings of my government simply because they were born on another piece of land, or because they have since chosen to cross an imaginary line onto a different piece of land. I’ve done it myself. I’ve lived abroad as an immigrant in the EU, and I was welcomed. It was the greatest experience of my life, and it is one that many people with similar aspirations will unfortunately now struggle to share.
On a brighter note, I am today headed to the European Championships. And when I get there, I’ll mix in the streets of Paris with my fellow Europeans and have a bloody great time with those people with whom we have far more in common than that which divides us. Winning a referendum is one thing; being on the right side of history is another. Europe, we truly were better together…