Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Brexit Vote One Year On

Everyone else seems to have had their turn at saying something about the Brexit vote one year on, so this is my offering.
Looking back, and we need to look back to when we joined what was then called The Common Market in 1972 at least, if not earlier, it appears to me that there has been misunderstanding and misleading messages all along.
Probably enough has already been said and written to the effect of Is this really happening?  How can a country do such a destructive thing to itself?  I have been over it in my head many times in the hope that some answer will emerge.  I have tried to do this without making it a blaming exercise, great though the temptation be, because I regard the peaceful integration of Europe to be the most difficult excercise (so far, anyway) in human history.  Never mind sending a rocket to the moon and back with human passengers; that's pure engineering.  Get the maths right and follow up the calculations with an accurate mechanical job, and it will work.  The machine will perform to spec; job done.  Attempts to unite Europe by force have been shown not to work when tried (Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler…) and yet, just as we were starting to actually get somewhere by mutual consent, some {person/group} [insert blame-object here] — goes and clobbers the precious project towards destruction.  Why?
I'm not old enough to remember the post-World-War-II clean-up that gave us Churchill's We must build a United States of Europe…and people will proudly say “I am a European” speech and the European Coal and Steel Treaty between France and Germany, but that's my starting point.  Opinions are divided as to whether Churchill implied that the UK was part of his vision or not. Methinks probably not; otherwise he would have added …and it is Britain's destiny to be a leading light in it.
I am, however, old enough to remember the tail end of the 1960's, when six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were the only EEC members, UK was knocking at the door and Charles de Gaulle was saying Non!
I remember the Non!-s continuing for what seemed like forever at the time, but was actually only just into the nineteen-seventies. Britain was then called “The sick man of Europe”, and for good reason. We had the three-day week as then Prime Minister Edward Heath called the time when the economy was in such bad shape that – yes, really – we couldn't afford to run factories full time.  Do we need to go through with Brexit until our country is in that bad a state again before we see sense?  Because there was not enough electricity being generated, we had a rota by local area of scheduled three hour power cuts.  I remember, in the weeks before my first son was born and my wife wanting a home birth, soldering up a circuit with a car battery and a headlamp bulb lest she were to go into labour during one of the dark hours. Do we, I say again, need to go through with Brexit until our country is in that bad a state again before we see sense?
Between then and now, we've seen the EU be so successful at promoting peace, prosperity and mutual help through just about every aspect of life that others have said “I want to be part of that” and joined.  That's not only We've been Western all along countries; not only former Iron Curtain countries; but also states that were once part of the Soviet Union itself.  I still have my old school atlas labelling, for example the Latvian SSR.  Within my lifetime, we were spending £shed-loads on maintaining spy networks and missile targeting on them.  Thanks to the EU we don't need to any more.  I don't recall any accounting figures about that written on a bus anywhere, partly because the exact figures are a military secret, but mainly, it seems, because all that doesn't suit the mindset of the Brexiteers.  There are evidently fellow-countrymen of mine, going about their lives, breathing the same air as me, who actually think that having some of them living around us as neighbours (they come over here, harvesting our fruit & veg, staffing our hospitals, conducting our orchestras…) — somehow that's such a bad thing, it's worth ruining the nation's economy to stop it. I can't say I'm lost for words because, well you can see, but it takes some head-scratching to get to why 52% of those who voted a year ago voted Leave.  So why are we here?
My personal feeling [number 1] is that we have not shouted our praises loudly enough.  I really think that all the people involved in the actual business of the EU have failed to sell the whole idea to the UK public.  They have failed to do so because they have been so close to it themselves, so obvious are the benefits of EU membership, that they didn't think there was any point in bothering.

There's been big stuff such as incorporating all those former communist lands (no wonder Russia helped the Leave campaign).  There's been medium-sized things such as regenerating Liverpool City Centre and cleaning up beaches; and of course the small things that you need to look for the little EU flags on the tourist information boards for.  All those useful benefits must have seemed so obvious that not enough people shouted them from the proverbial rooftops. We honestly never imagined that the steady drip-nonsense that started with Bananas have to be straight back in the 1970's was worth bothering about because it was all … well, nonsense.  I don't know whose responsibility it was/should-have-been to make a self-praising public relations exercise, and I don't want to, because we're not into blame-culture politics in this blog. Anyway, what could have been done?  Films of happy children dancing round the flag to rousing music are not our style; we know we are joyful Europeans and leave such images with the soviets and Jehovah's Witnesses where they belong.

My personal feeling [number 2] is that we have failed in our use of language. By that I don't mean we haven't been talking in French often enough. What I mean is that we, led and prompted by the anti-EU brigade no doubt, have been talking as if Europe is somewhere else rather than something that's part of what we are: “We're going to Europe for holidays this year…”; that sort of thing.  It's very slight and very subtle, but that's the point.  It works by soft gentle pressure applied for a long time; like a child's dental brace that works when the spring presses gently on the tooth to move it.  If it presses too hard the tooth resists movement.  If a number of us had gone around saying “We're going to The Mainland for holidays this year” the reaction would depend on whether or not the hearer was familiar with the Shetland Island of that name.  A company which I worked for in the 80's sent a form round asking “Would you like to work in Europe?” [various questions and tick-boxes].  I answered mine by adding a box saying I am already working in Europe.

That, then, is why we have fallen off the edge of Churchill's United States of Europe vision.  Even with the ever closer union idea, it didn't look as close as the American states are to each other, (as if that was meant to be off-putting).  An interesting point to ponder is that, when the USA was a new idea still on its drawing board, a lot of discussion and argument took place on the subject of which aspects of life should best be administered at Federal level, and which by each individual State. The relics of this discussion can still be seen on a map, where a Stateline follows an unexpected path because it was worth insisting that you had a port on the sea or a major river, just in case this new-fangled United States idea fails and we need to be an independent country.  The corresponding questions for Europe have not had such public airing.  That's a pity, it could have saved an awful lot of grief.

1 comment:

  1. Completely agree with you. Devastated to see people rejecting what has been the best thing I have ever witnessed for global peace and prosperity, for lifting the lives of so many, from bringing better standards to many places, for giving us the capability to solve the really big problems we face together. Words cannot describe how sad and misguided Brexit is in my opinion. Shame the UK will have to see all the negative effects of it before people actually wake up and realise the mistake.