Brexit is nigh.
Every argument around Brexit has been laboured to death already. But since it is 31st December 2020, and the full impact of Brexit starts tomorrow I figured I’d mark the occasion with some “final” thoughts on it. Mostly just to get them off my chest 🙂
I have no major love for the European Union as an institution. I have no doubt that there are many very smart upstanding people within its midst, but it has all the hallmarks of the typical bureaucracy that brings roomfuls of clever people together and somehow manages to get them to cancel each other out.
But all the same I voted Remain. And if I had another chance to vote, I would vote Remain again. I’ll get to why in a moment, but first:
Why a lot of people voted leave
I know a lot of leave voters. My parents. A lot of my family. Some of my colleagues and friends. A lot of the people I know who voted leave did not vote for the sovereignty of the UK, for our fisheries, for our trade relationships, or even for better controls on immigration (although a few did). All of the leave voters I know voted against the EU. Against the perceived establishment. Against the status quo. It was a great big “fuck you” to the disparate and ethereal forces behind every gripe and disappointment they felt in their lives.
While Vote Leave was dressed up with some positives like EU membership fees going to the NHS, it was almost entirely a built on people’s frustration, anger, disappointment, confusion and in some cases xenophobia and racism.
Why I voted remain
A lot of remainers voted for internationalism, for peace, for equality, for trade, for liberal values, for stability. But I’ll be honest, even though all those are noble causes I support, they weren’t what I was thinking about when I was in the voting booth in 2016. I mainly voted against an attitude I have grown to detest in the British.
There’s a sizeable group of British people, particularly older British people, who still hold on to the idea that the UK is a major global power. People who get misty-eyed about the thought that “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. These are people who feel, really deep down, that they are special. They fantasise about being important. In fact more than that, they fantasise about being historically important. They love reading about war, and particularly Britain’s victories. Their pride over the Industrial Revolution makes them sound like they personally invented the steam engine. They’re obsessed with the Union flag. And their two greatest heroes are Winston Churchill and Arthur Wellesley, who are held with such esteem because they “prove” the UK reigns supreme over Europe.
The problem is that fantasies only go so far. Power yearns power. And our media are only too happy to help amplify the most base of our emotions and instincts. So we have a country with a significant number of politicians who have drunk this intense media-powered kool-aid of British supremacy – but deep down they can’t avoid the cold disappointing reality that they are barely relevant suit-wearing bean counters.
The end of the British Empire has caused a vacuum in our popular imagination, resulting in the UK becoming a country obsessed with its own relevance and importance.
I can’t help but draw metaphorical parallels with a kind of desperate middle-manager. The kind of manager who would proclaim a major overhaul to their department by… giving it a new name. Maybe changing a font. The person with the BSc (Hons) at the end of their email signature and name plaque on their desk. A belligerent pedant, because the only things they have power over are the scraps.
Brexit is the political equivalent. It is a pseudo-momentous event that puts a stamp into the history books – for the very purpose of putting a stamp into the history books. It isn’t for social benefit, for democratic benefit, even for national benefit. It is about fulfilling the boyhood dreams of historic under-achievers, sat in the shadows of their heroes, who desperately yearn to be important.
Every time I hear Farage or Johnson or Rees-Mogg or any of the other prominent faces of Brexit speak – that is the image I see. And that is why I voted against Brexit.
Sadly the British supremacy I hold in much disdain is not going to go away any time soon regardless of Brexit. But at least it will be a little bit harder for our politicians and media to mask our post-Empire reality without the EU being there as a scapegoat.
In any case, life goes on and I fully intend to make the most of what I can personally and professionally in our new world outside the EU.
Best of luck everyone.