Today the much-anticipated sequel to ‘90s blockbuster Independence Day opens in cinemas around the US, but the event will likely be overshadowed by an independence day of another kind, with the United Kingdom’s monumental decision to leave the European Union overnight.
As you would expect with a vote that was split almost right down the middle (51.9 per cent for Leave, 48.1 per cent Remain), the responses have seemingly been as divided as Great Britain itself. One UKIP-sympathising mate of mine texted me his glee on the way to a celebratory pint before work, while others are in despair, circulating desperate petitions to re-stage the vote and one I even saw to partition London from the rest of the union.
There are very few issues on which I don’t have a loud opinion – and anyone who has heard me rant (often) about Switzerland’s unforgivable cowardice in appeasing Nazism knows I’m not a big fan of neutrality as a concept – but when it comes to Brexit, I genuinely trust the people of Britain to make their own decision, and think some of the doomsday scenarios (while understandable) have been massively overstated.
On the one hand, I can completely empathise with the sadness with which half of the British people, and many onlookers, are viewing this decision. There may be significant implications for the economy, and therefore for jobs and households, and in the immediate aftermath it seems the currency and equities market are already tanking. For those Britons who see themselves as European and as a globally-minded culture, this is truly heartbreaking. Not to mention all of the continental Europeans living and working in the UK whose futures are now more uncertain. The UK may have reduced its standing as an international power, not increased it, and – according to Barack Obama – might have even hurt the “special relationship” (although that was probably one of those ‘heat of the moment’ type things).
On the other hand, self-determination is one of the most deeply held human desires. In that sense the Brexit vote is a win for localism and democracy. Initially intended as a trade forum and a mechanism for avoiding war between the European powers, the EU has grown to become a bloated bureaucracy, with somewhere between 14 and 75 per cent of laws affecting UK citizens stemming from the EU parliament, depending on whether you listen to the prime minister David Cameron or UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
While it may be based more on emotion than rationality, I respect the wishes of the British voting public (albeit only the majority by just a whisker) to manage their own affairs and not be subject to laws determined by unelected officials of other countries. There will be some short-term economic fallout for sure, but if the EU disintegrates, getting out early may prove to have been the smarter choice financially in the long-term.
Moreover, I know enough about the fall of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, to be inherently sceptical about these multi-national experiments devised by bureaucrats for policy purposes. While these unions may be well-intentioned, the great lesson of the past 24 hours is that in the 21st century, despite the wins of globalism in recent decades, nation states still matter to the people.
The same, of course, is true of the UK itself and those Englishmen and women who support Brexit but not the right of the Irish, Scottish or Welsh to govern themselves are guilty of gross hypocrisy.
No shortage of commentators have suggested that this is the beginning of the end for the EU, but truthfully that writing has been on the wall for some time. The more interesting trend is whether this will also result in a re-ignition of other separatist movements.
In fact, in the last few hours, David Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement has been vocal in supporting the Brits and calling yet again for the resurrection of the Texan republic.
Closer to the action, Northern Ireland voted heavily in favour of ‘Remain’ and may even be willing to heal some old wounds in order to stay in the EU. Should a unified Irish republic be an unintended consequence of this vote, we may all become Brexit supporters yet.
The vote also provides further evidence – in case you needed it – that nationalist populism is now alive and well in the Anglosphere.
Americans and Poms used to make snide remarks as Europe flirted with the extreme Right and Left of politics, but now it’s the moderate politicians in these two countries that aren’t being listened to.
Despite both of the two major UK political parties urging a ‘Remain’ vote, the majority of voters took Nigel Farage’s advice to stick “two fingers up” to the Establishment, just as the Trump supporters are doing here on the other side of the Atlantic.
Both Britain, and its emancipated child, the USA, are suffering from a fear of decline, evidenced by yesterday’s vote and Trump’s “make America great again” slogan. The UK’s is more advanced, having been a superpower long ago now, but many of its people still clearly mourn for the British Empire.
Before living in the UK, I underestimated the sense of loss many British people feel over their former national glory, particularly the elderly generations, who were crucial to the Leave campaign’s success in this referendum. But I saw first hand during the London Olympics how deep the emotion ran, as the nation stacked up a much higher medal tally than expected, as you may recall. Local boozers in the pub that was my home – grizzled old QPR fans that I’d never seen smile, let along sing – were literally standing on table tops crying and belting out ‘Rule Britannia’ as Mo Farah crossed the finish line.
That nostalgia is partly responsible for the vote’s results, along with the immigration panic that escalates whenever a terrorist attack of scale has recently taken place. Don’t forget the people of Britain are likely watching the Donald Trump show too.
Trump himself has warmly welcomed Brexit, claiming the British have “taken their country back” as America is about to. Anyone who still believes he cannot be President should take Brexit as a warning.
In the meantime at least we have Independence Day: Resurgence to distract us from the mess for a few hours.
Image source: The Guardian
Published on 24 June 2016