The events of the past seventy-two hours have given me a grand opportunity to reboot my blog which has been idle for the past three years. It’s a string of events that I never thought would come about, something that numerous people have been campaigning for and dreaming about for more than forty years. I am, of course, talking about Brexit.
Over the past few months there’s been intense debate about the European Union and the United Kingdom’s place in it and it’s been brought about by the Prime Minister David Cameron. On February 20th he called for a referendum to ask the people of the UK whether they want to leave or stay in the EU, and this referendum is something that so many people on every walk of life have been wanting for years.
When the UK joined the European Economic Community, along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark in 1973, it was a loose grouping of countries who traded with each other in mutual friendship and trust. Nine nations could swap money, goods and workers with each other without the usual boundaries and restrictions. Over the next twenty years, however, the eurocrats in Brussels took more and more governing powers away from the member states.
By 1995 the European Union had swelled to fifteen states, and since the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Iron Curtain came down more and more states wanted to join. There were signs that the EU could evolve into a single federal state like the USA, but Europe was never meant to be anything like that. Whatever the top brass in Brussels wanted has failed to come true. Today the EU has become like a cross between the Hydra (the giant nine-headed serpent that Hercules fought) and Victor Frankenstein’s monster. It comprises twenty-eight states and twenty-eight economies moving at as many different speeds, some managing to stay afloat and others simply drowning in debt. And yet at least seven more states, including Turkey and Iceland, want to join.
The economic meltdown of 2007 and 2008 had a grave impact, not just on Europe and the USA but on the whole world, and it’s a meltdown from which the world has still not recovered. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, which had recently joined the EU in the hope of getting richer, suffered badly but not as badly as Greece. Greece’s woes were made worse in 2015 by a tidal wave of migrants fleeing the fighting in Syria. Italy’s problems were likewise worsened by waves of migrants fleeing the anarchy in Libya.
David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in February was welcomed by everybody for and against the EU. But he was doing deals with Brussels to get special status in the Union for the UK (whatever that means) and he was really seeking approval from the public and to appease his opponents within the Conservative Party.
As March, April and May went on, the campaigning intensified, with the Leave and the Remain camps blowing volumes of hot air about their respective causes. But people’s perspectives on the referendum were blurred by the constant sensational headlines that were splashed across the tabloid papers. The worst of them came from the Remain campaign with David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne adding to it. Unemployment will rise, prices will skyrocket, no more money for the NHS or other social services, Britain will lose vital foreign investment, Britain will lose its influence in the world…
Countless business leaders tried to sway the electorate to remain, but the majority of people could see these men had a vested interest in staying in the EU and didn’t care a bean about the ordinary folk. US President Barack Obama didn’t do much better in trying to influence voters to remain. He was told quite bluntly to mind his own business. Former Prime Ministers Sir John Major from the Conservative side and Labour’s Tony Blair united to tell the people that everybody of every political persuasion would be better off in the EU.
But their combined efforts (and by that I mean coercion, scaremongering and bullying) all came to nothing. In the early hours of Friday June 24th the final results were confirmed. 48.1% voted to remain in the EU, 51.9% voted to leave.
The greatest loser here is David Cameron. What started out as a ruse to get the whole of the Conservative Party on his side and silence the Euro-sceptics has blown up in his face and culminated in his resignation as Prime Minister. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, is also under pressure to step down for not backing the Remain campaign vigorously enough. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, is calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President François Hollande both say it’s a sad day for us all and the faceless brigade in Brussels say that the British had better make their exit from the EU fast. Oh, and Spain still wants Gibraltar back.
As for Northern Ireland, leaving the EU will impact on relations with the Irish Republic, but there won’t be a return to the stringent border controls that existed during the Troubles.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out, especially with the remaining twenty-seven member states of the EU. There are many elements in those countries, especially in Greece, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, who are calling for a referendum in their own countries.
As for me, it remains to be seen how Brexit will affect me. I’ve lived all my life in the United Kingdom and the only other EU member state I’ve ever visited is the Irish Republic. I have no contacts in any other EU state and I have no plans to go abroad. I’m as clueless as anyone about what the future outside the EU will hold. All I can do is keep living and hope for the best.
“Savoir se libérer n’est rien; l’ardu, c’est savoir être libre.”