At some point in this debate–which seemed to have no beginning–but firmly ended about 5.45am on 24 June, divisions within Britain became evident. I spend my working life immersed in literature that argues Moldova and Ukraine are ‘divided societies’.
Well, the EU referendum seemed like a blue eye, brown eye experiment: creating a huge rift between those voting to stay and leave the EU, and the reasons behind this, and vilification of the Other. We transformed from a society with 40 years of open euroscepticism to a country of two competing echo chambers, fuelled by media polarisation.
This was no more evident than in the debates I attended, none of which included undecided voters. To attend the BBC’s Great Debate on Tuesday, you could only get tickets through one of the campaigns. How do you imagine a debate goes when you invite into a room 50:50 the most passionate zealots of each campaign and sit them side by side?
It goes something like this: team Remain clap, team Leave clap. And when Boris Johnson ended on the infamous–“24 of June will be our independence day”–after a debate where all the Leave side argued was “we need to take back control”, it was terrifying to see this met with a raucous standing applause.
How could BoJo, an Etonian, PPE Oxford-educated, Bullingdon club member of the establishment, who has no qualm with inventing a twenty year anti-fact diatribe about the EU (e.g. 1 million people were killed in Bosnia, a war he covered as a journalist), construct himself as a man of the people?
We now have to live with the consequences of a society that has voted to leave the EU because it is more scared about immigration than it is about the economy. As the economy goes in to free fall, as the pensions of the most vulnerable (many of whom voted to leave) are threatened, well at least we have “our country back” (whatever this means) and just have to pull up our sleeves and get on with it…right?
This is ironic because it is precisely the immigration that has been an engine of growth in the UK, particularly in places left behind by globalization. There would be no growth, in cities such as Hull, but for immigration.
We now have to live with the consequences, as a younger generation who voted overwhelmingly to stay. We now have to live with a post-EUropean Britain long after those who voted for it (i.e. the over 65s) have died.
We now have to live with the consequences, as academics and researchers, who are concerned about the future of a post-EUropean project for all that we invested, professionally, politically and personally, in Britain being in the EU.
The vilification of experts and facts makes me concerned about this future. Comments such as “of course you have this opinion because of what you do”, as a teacher and researcher, makes me concerned about this future. The effect on higher education, a sector dependent on and made better by migration, makes me concerned about this future.
So my reasoned questions about Britain’s post-EUropean future concern whether we can undergo a divisive process of separating from the EU while maintaining unity over bigger geopolitical questions such as sanctioning Russia? Can the UK end up with a better deal than say the Free Trade arrangements with Moldova and Ukraine?
My less reasoned questions include how do we, as rational staunch Europeanists, keep living on this island?
But perhaps my most significant question is what should I be worried about most? The future of Britain? (especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland) The future of British politics? (with a swing to the right and far right) The future of British international politics?
Or the wider impact Brexit will have on regional, if not global, politics? How will the EU create the leverage it needs against Russia, against Moldova and Ukraine, against Hungary and Poland, with one less member state?