I want to write the definitive text on Brexit that would convince the other half of the electorate why we should be in the EU. The one great banger that would resolve everything, convince everyone, reverse this awful decision and take us back to the productive era before we were spending our time and energy talking about Brexit.
But unfortunately, there is the real prospect of leaving the European Union in March 2019. It fills me with dismay and frustration that the “reality” is that, unlike me, some compatriots do not want to be in Europe.
Having attended a minor public school and thus in the liberal bourgeois half, I am already cut off from half the population. For the working class I am posh and for the upper-class not posh enough and so I can neither be in one club nor the other, thus firmly confined to the infamous middle-class.
This is perhaps the image of class Britain which remains, and which has worsened because of Brexit. I would have hoped otherwise, that “working people” would also see the benefits of being in the EU and it not just left to liberal intellectuals and business leaders. It is heartening then to find a plumber who started the slogan “Bollocks to Brexit.”
But as I continue my journey through the #Brexit tag on Twitter every day, I am heartened that it is often anti-Brexit and pro-remain. But there are also so many disappointments, people who still support Brexit based on the idea of independence and sovereignty and misplaced British pride. I do not understand this. Why can we not be proud to be British and proud to be European?
Proud to be European
Some people think that if we admit to being European, that we align with the Germans and the Germans are still Nazis. When will we grow up, get over it and why are these feelings still present? I feel somehow that this is the football hooligan element which loves to hate and be aggressive, controversial, provocative, who needs an enemy, someone to shout at and blame it all on, reads The Sun and The Mirror, the gutter press who stoke nationalist feeling, for their benefit.
Neither in nor out
I do understand that for so long Britain has been on the borderline: Thatcher negotiated the rebate, not being in Schengen, not entirely being in Europe and still referring to Europe as “the continent.”
So, Brexit fits the image of a Britain apart: not quite in, not entirely out. And somehow this contributes to British pride as if this were a good thing, somehow doing them over, being in for the benefits and avoiding the cost. Good old Britain you got a good deal there. And our silly European cousins continue to play the game because they’re on the continent. We are an island as if somehow that means that we don’t need Europe.
Misplaced British identity
I hear the BNP and others going on about the war, that we fought to gain our independence. We avoided invasion by the Nazis, but the Nazis have gone. The Europe of today is about business; it’s about people, it’s about cultural exchange, the mixing of cultures. And of course, this makes the Nationalists frightened as if cultures disappear when they mix with others. But they don’t.
When have you ever decided to become a Muslim because your neighbour is one or a Christian or a Hare Krishna? Never. You learn from them and respect their existence. And if Fascism were to return to Europe as it appears to be doing in some quarters, surely it is better to be in the decision-making structures to legislate against such subversives.
Do you feel less British because you hear Polish people walking down the street? Does that remove your Britishness? Or does it just make you proud to be British and to share your values with the people living around you?
What does it mean to be British? Anti-European? Is that the cultural identity that we want to foster these days? Stiff upper lip? Football hooligan? Good in finance? Living in Britain? Able to trace back your family to 1742 and speak with a posh accent? It is all these things.
The future relationship with Europe
I fear for our future relationship with Europe. Project Fear they say is just invention, that there is nothing to worry about. We are British, we can get over it, nothing is unsolvable. That may be a good mantra for bolstering our confidence, but the practicalities are, I think, different. Once outside the EU, we will no longer be part of the decision-making process. We will have to put up with the decisions made in Europe without having any say in shaping them.
If we complain about decisions in Europe today, we will surely only complain about it more once out. In the future, we will have to comply with European law but be unable to influence it. How do we expect to affect Europe when not part of the Union? By stamping our feet? We tried that from within the union, and it wasn’t always successful. We’re not good at accepting the consensus, but it certainly won’t be any more successful once out.
We will have to comply with European standards to export and yet be unable to shape those standards. Do we expect Europe to listen to us? No, they will forge ahead and expect us to comply.
And this will only serve to heighten anti-European feeling. Cynics will point to the new EU and say how uncompromising it is. We have already done this when looking to negotiations. We are surprised that they do not change their rules although we elected to leave the club. Can we not understand that to change the rules, we need to be a member. This is after all how it works in golf is it not?
Project Fear or prudent reality?
Brexiteers say Project Fear is about creating the fear of leaving. But it is not. It is about understanding the isolation that will be Britain in the world of clubs and the negative impact of leaving on our economy. Johnson and co. say that jolly old Great Britain will stand up to them.
We will be leaving the club, which will forge ahead without us and yet shout and complain about bloody Europeans. We will expect them to heed us but we will have thrown away our chance.
And so, we will turn to the rest of the world hoping and expecting them to do deals with us. They will, but all the while focused on their deals with the European Union. And yet they will tell us that we are getting a bargain while reserving their best prices for our neighbours.