I watched the returns on the British vote over whether to remain or stay in the European Union on the BBC last night until the Leave Vote took the lead by over a million votes. I shut of the television and went to bed. Had I been a betting man I would have put my money on the Brits having enough sense to stay in the union.
That I would have bet that way made me realize I had overlooked what makes the average Brit tick. I know the mentality of British people so I should not have underestimated their nativism. After all they marched off to fight the Boers in South Africa because a few thousand British miners were being deprived of the vote. To remedy this lack of franchise three times as many British soldiers died than miners got to vote.
It did not matter to those who were still alive. It showed no one could disrespect a Brit. In the context of the time the whole matter was quite odd. The Brits were willing to fight and die because some Brits could not vote in a foreign country. At the same time they were depriving people in their own countries like Ireland and India the right to vote.
Yesterdays vote is reported as being 52% for leave to 48% for stay. If you consider that 62% of Scottish voters; 60% of London voters most of whom are new to England; and 56% of Northern Ireland voters wanted to remain in the EU then the real figures for Britain (England and Wales) is 55% leave to 45% stay.
I wildly underestimated the British xenophobia.
Prior to falling off to sleep I chastised myself for doing this because if there is anything that should be more apparent to me it is the British self-love for things British. Isn’t that why they keep the idea of the royalty alive so that they can always have a Brit in charge rather than some newcomer?
I thought of how the British people live in the past dreaming of their long gone days of glory. They are brought up on the idea: “the sun never sets on the British Empire” and the songs like Rule Britannia that tells how Britain rules the waves and its people will never be slaves and the poems like “The Soldier” – “If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign filed That is for ever England. There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.”
I realized that the British blokes out in the countryside resented the idea that they were subject to rules by foreigners. That was the underlying current of the vote – “Britain for the British.” As the leader of the opposition said the people who voted to exit were the “decent” folk. Or as the man accused of the murder of Jo Cox said in court: “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
What won in Britain was the voice of fear of the others. It is what Donald Trump in America is basing his campaign on. The big difference between America and Britain is here we are mostly others.
Who lost? I believe Angela Merkel hinted at it when she said: “never forget that the idea of European unity was an idea of peace.” Peace did take a beating. Europe which has had one war piled on another for centuries has experience peaceful coexistence among the European Union members for over seventy years. As we see the quasi-European nation of Russia which is outside the EU has felt no qualms about warring on its neighbors. If the British exit leads to more disintegration of the EU so will peace suffer.
Who lost? The British people. They have just complicated their ability to have an influence as part of the world’s largest trading block. Their status as a trading center and banking center for Europe will be greatly diminished. Their ability to travel freely throughout the EU nations will be lessened. They can expect as they exit the EU the Scottish people will exit the United Kingdom.
Who lost? The Irish people. With Britain as its largest trading partner it will now be bound by the EU trade agreements with England; its border with Northern Ireland will no longer be open. Will that cause the old Troubles to rear their ugly head? Despite what you may have been told the reason peace came to Ireland was its economic miracles that gave everyone hope. With the hope of being able to make a decent living the urge to murder or hate others disappears.
Yeats would remind us how when: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
Who won? The Russians who seek anarchy and have been trying to disrupt the unity of Europe. They seek to weaken it and make other nations walk away as Britain has done. It is much easier to pick off the weak and the stragglers than to take on the whole herd.
Who won? Natavists and people preaching their doctrine. People who want to close their doors and live as if there are no others in the world. The far right anti-immigration parties of Europe will also be cheered by the result. Hate has a smile on its face.
No one should be happy about Britain wandering off into the great unknown. It is a step backwards lamented by most leaders of the world. One would be leader, more of a crank, said: “The UK had taken back control. It is a great thing.” It was Donald Trump who said that.
What about us in America? We lose because we see the world starting to splinter again and move backwards. A divided Europe is not in our interest as we learned in the past. Britain leaving the EU is like a death in that family. The great English poet reminded us: “Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.”
The death of unity brings about disunity. Disunity leads to distrust. Distrust leads to destruction. The bells are tolling.