The Church fete. A quaintly British institution seems a fitting context in which to write about Brexit and add even more words on a divisive a subject already weighed down by words, some smart and others not so smart.
As I sit in a shaded corner of the expansive manse gardens that are hosting this community event there is a hard to ignore sound competing with the wonderful brass band enthusiastically entertaining everyone. It is the jarring sound of crashing porcelain. One of the stores invites you, for the princely sum of £1, to throw 3 balls at an impressive array of porcelain displayed across multiple shelves. It is practically impossible to miss (unlike the cocoanut shy which reminded me that my throwing arm is not what it used to be!) and dare I say it, somewhat therapeutic. The sounds of plates, cups, saucers, bowls and all manner of crockeries being reduced to tiny fragments, reminds me of something I read recently concerning the vote to leave the EU. The leave vote it was said was like that of “crashing porcelain”. Witnessing the sound, it is a disturbing analogy!
When it comes to Brexit time will shed perspective on this unexpected turn of events but right now perspective is in short supply. 72% of Brits turned up at the polls, the highest turnout sine the 1992 general election. The demographics of the vote suggest a split along age lines with the younger voters wanting to remain and the older voters choosing to leave. This is a somewhat superficial conclusion that has sparked some emotional responses on both sides. What I find interesting is that only one-third of those between 18-24 bothered to vote at all. As one older voter in favour of leaving wrote to The Week, “As a 67-year-old man I deeply resent being identified as one of those who is supposed to have brought the country to its knees and destroyed the future of Britain’s young people. I was 24 when we joined the Common Market, and so who better placed than me or my fellow “oldies” to judge on whether it has served our country well or not over the lifetime of our membership?” Careful reading of the demographics reveals that of those eligible to vote, 33% of those 65 and older voted Remain against 27% of 18-24-year-olds.
Those who voted to leave are being labeled either ignorant or racist. An angry subscriber wrote into a local newspaper asking, “I feel like asking someone saying such things, ‘then which one am I?’ as, I am neither”. I sympathize with his valid sentiment. There are compelling reasons to see a better and stronger Britain outside of the EU but, as with life, these potential benefits are just that, potential. They will have to be realized as a result of astute and skilled leadership. Never since it’s original use has the phrase, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ been more apt! Yes, the political right has seized the result for their own political agenda and this is likely to happen elsewhere in Europe with the next possible exit being that of Austria. The country has been forced back go back to the polls as a result of a spoilt election thereby giving to hope to the right in that country. But, the argument to leave should not be framed by this reasoning.
Both sides were guilty of wild speculation and distortions that spanned subjects from global conflict to economics; from unchecked migration to idealistic societal constructs. Both sides. However, Britain is not a nation of haters and although there has been a rise in hate crime since the result, such acts and attitudes won’t survive nor will they be tolerated. The 57% increase in hate crimes following the vote in effect was 85 reports to a police-funded website, up from 54 a month earlier. This is not grounds for widespread panic and a belief that overnight Britain has turned into a xenophobic mess. Tanya Ashworth (15) of Oldham tells of an incident on the Manchester tram were some racial abuse took place and the majority of commuters stood up to the perpetrators coming to the defense of the victim. I choose believe that the best of Britain will come to the fore as a new and still inclusive pathway into the future is explored.
So what of the EU ‘pathway’ that many believe precipitated Brexit? Apart from the idealized notion of a common Europe, there are serious cracks and power plays at work. The Brussels bureaucracy is unchecked and bloated. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker when asked if he’d manage to, “keep the British in the boat”, replied somewhat smugly, “they can swim”. He is now acting like a betrayed spouse, insisting that, “out means out”. His shortsightedness and barely disguised anti-British attitude is as much to ‘blame’ as any other factor in the referendum outcome. The EU is a failing political experiment and the real strength of the Union lies not in the political front but rather in the economic inter-dependencies. These will survive and ultimately thrive, as the EU needs Britain as much, if not more, that the Britain needs it. Things will have to be unbundled, reconfigured and rearranged. There will be some losses as reports of such already are making the news. It will be complicated and painful but economic sense will prevail. Britain will regain the ability to make decisions for itself and those decisions will be made in Britain and not outside of its borders. It is what America, Canada, Australia and most sovereign states all enjoy. For America to lecture Britain to maintain the EU default decision-rights position, something that would be inconceivable in the Land of the Free, is hypocritical in the extreme.
Brexit has changed many things, some known, much unknown. There are no guarantees that things will all work out for the best but hope should never rest in the outcome but rather in the believe that what happens next makes sense regardless of the outcome. We live in disruptive times and sense making, staying calm and maintaining an openness or curiosity are important. Brexit won ‘t set the clocks back (as some maintain); it will help push us all forward. Interdependent relationships will be reshaped will the possibility of a better future for everyone. Israeli diplomat Abba Eban said that, ‘history teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives’. Moving forward into a new European order is now the only alternative for both Britain and Europe. Yes, I know that the referendum is not legally binding and there are calls for a second referendum with many claiming that there is a sense of ‘buyers remorse’ amongst those who voted Leave. Well, I really can’t see it happening but then I also didn’t think the vote would go the way it did! Moving forwards is now the only option. This journey needs to be handled well (by all concerned) and the results could leave us all better off. Disruptive change can go either way but which way it goes is not predetermined. The responsibility is ours.
Time to listen to the swing band now playing and what is that I hear? No more crashing porcelain? Ah, the plates must have run out and so now the music can be enjoyed uninterrupted! Even the sun has decided to make it presence felt all of which is simply splendid!
Brexit, whilst certainly an end, is better seen as a beginning; And who doesn’t relish a new beginning?