By Zak Vescera
Well Britain, it was a good show.
After the referendum on June 23rd that decided Britain’s exit from the EU, the world has done anything but keep calm and carry on. And perhaps that’s for the better. In voting to leave the EU, Britain has declined to be an example and has instead chosen to become an example of what politics of division and disunity really look like.
Brexit comes at a time when the EU is facing the most significant challenges in its history. Between a sluggish economy, the attacks in France, the Greek debt crisis, and an inundating wave of migrants fleeing both war and poorer prospects back home, the going has gotten tough.
The first reaction to the going getting tough is to escape. A wave of nationalism and Euroscepticism has consequently swept the continent; from France’s Front National to the Swedish Democrats to Italy’s Five Star movement, many are questioning whether the EU is equipped to really guide Europe into the future. These are the groups that have applauded Britain’s UKIP and its constantly-smirking leader, Mr. Nigel Farage, and who have immediately called for their own “exits” after seeing the UK results.
The second reaction to the going getting tough is for the tough to get going.
The EU has already been remarkable in keeping the continent unified in the face of its greatest crisis this side of the century. Germany has become a symbol of generosity and tolerance for its acceptance of migrants, quality of life continues to expand in the Union’s less-developed countries, and the effects of the financial crisis are universally beginning to fade. Europe’s leaders– President Donald Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and France’s François Hollande, among others– have demonstrated a capacity for coordination and bilateral communication that indicates strength and patience more than it does weakness.
Britain has never been such a leading figure in the European Union. The UK does not use the Euro nor subscribe to the Schengen zone. It has preferred trade options over contributing to EU democracy. It has famously disengaged in Union affairs compared to its French, Dutch, and Irish neighbours. And its most populous party in the European Parliament is UKIP, who are so Eurosceptic that they essentially vote against the Union doing anything– while continuing to criticize the Union’s lack of action, of course.
Britain departed the EU for the promise of “retaking’ its country from a wicked Brussels administration, reviving British industry and independence in the process. Instead, within 48 hours the markets have crashed, France has overtaken Britain as the world’s 5th largest economy (something that is sure to sting), and Britain is a sitting duck in the face of the potentially taxing negotiations for it to re-enter the common market– negotiations that almost certainly will not be in Britain’s favour. At home, the United Kingdom is divided. Cameron has promised to resign as UKIP is already retracting on some of its claims. Northern Ireland and Scotland, who both voted in favour of remaining, are beginning their respective pushes for reunification and independence.
To Eurosceptics, this is painting a much clearer image of what “independence” really looks like. In trying to retake its sovereignty, Britain has lost its power to decide. In trying to make a statement, she has lost her relevance. In trying to unify her nation, she may instead have set into motion actions that will divide it permanently.
Brexit, then, is not the departure of a beloved ally and pillar of the Union. Nor is it a rallying cry for the far right. It is a sad and solemn reminder of what the politics of division that are being preached across Europe really look like. Euroscepticism isn’t something to scoff at; it’s right to be critical of the European Union and its clunky bureaucracy, its confusing exterior, and its perpetual sense of vagueness and misdirection.
The Brexit vote, if anything, is a rightful wake up call to this establishment. But it’s certainly not, as the far-right might have you believe, a death knell. If anything, this separation will make the EU stronger.
The Brexit vote is a scary reminder of what divisive politics, those which push people apart rather than bring them together, look like in reality. Brexit is a reminder that building walls is more destructive than building bridges.
And it’s a sad, sad day for Britain, a nation that prides itself on a stiff upper lip and an unfailing, unwavering perseverance in the face of undefeatable odds. It has surrendered not to a foreign invader nor hard times, but ultimately to its own fear and uncertainty.
Britain has ceased to be an example and has instead become a hard, hard lesson.