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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 26-Jun-16


Sunday 26-June-16

The UK and Europe: A love-hate relationship

If you stand in America, Europe can be seen as something like the USA, only a form of 'United States of Europe'. After all, there is a kind of Western-world cohesion about it. They have a Union. Many use the euro currency. So why do they seem to be constantly bickering?

The reality of Europe is better understood by looking back at its history. For centuries, we have argued and fought with one another. Boundaries have changed. Countries have gained and lost dominance. And old feuds simmer and simmer. We all have stereotypes about one another, and perhaps some of them are partly true. And yet we know we are all in Europe, and that there are many ties that bind us, including religion, collaborations, wars (and the alliances therein) and so on. The European Union itself came out of a desire to avoid future conflict, yet itself is a source of endless niggles.

Europe and the EU is also a source of much political division within parties, notably within the UK Conservative party, which has for long been split by pro- and anti-European sentiment. This has come very much to the fore in the referendum last Thursday about whether we should stay or leave. Other parties were mostly for remaining, apart from the vocal right, most notably UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence Party), which specializes in populizing fascist views such as in demonizing immigrants, shrinking the state, increasing the military and so on.

Interestingly, there has been a surge in love from other European countries as they tried to persuade us to remain with them. Maybe this is because the UK has been a net contributor to the EU. Or maybe they think we add wisdom to the mix. Maybe. Britain has historically interfered and fought with European countries on a number of occasions, often winning. Europe is full of countries who think they are better than the other countries. Britain feels invulnerable, after nearly 1000 years of not being conquered. Germans feel superior, and have good evidence in such as their successful economy, though having lost to the UK in World War 2 (and a few other countries, of course, but which are largely ignored by UK historians). The French have been harried by the UK for centuries, then embarrassed by being rescued by the UK twice in the 20th century. We have also argued with the Dutch, Portugal, Spain and a host of other countries. It is no surprise that our friendships can get a little strained at times.

More persuasively, everyone from President Obama to collections of business leaders and Nobel laureates have pleaded with the UK population to remain in the EU. This weight of opinion persuaded me, though I believe there are no easy escape routes. Europe will continue to have its troubles. The euro will continue to wobble. Migrants from elsewhere will continue to arrive. Internal squabbles and bullying will not stop. Yet if we are do to anything about such issues, we just have to keep talking with them all. Glorious isolation doesn't work in this connected world.

A curious but perhaps unsurprising source of 'leave' votes came from traditional right-wing Labour voters. Yet this is not that surprising as this group includes many who feel disenfranchised and abandoned by successive governments, including the right-leaning Labour government of 1997-2010. The result is that they seek change without thinking too hard about the effect that change will bring. Anyone who taps their anger (as done so expertly by Donald Trump in America) can swing this large voting bloc. It is frustrating that people are persuaded so easily, though this site in particular should not be surprised.

The result, as much of the world knows, is that the UK public voted 52% to leave the EU (vs. 48% to remain). The fallout has already been massive, with the pound falling, trillions wiped off shares. Much of the commercial damage is due to confusion. Markets do not like uncertainty and will sell what they do not understand. David Cameron (Prime Minister) will be resigning, Jeremy Corbyn (the Leader of the Opposition) facing mutiny and the people who led the Brexit charge seemingly bereft of any detail about what they will do next. Scotland, who voted 'remain' will want to leave the UK and join the EU, though Spain says they will veto this as they fear similar moves by their own independence-minded regions.

What will happen next? Who knows. There has been a public petition calling for parliamentary discussion about a new referendum that has gained over 3 million signatories in a few days. If we continue the Brexit course, then we'll likely get a more right wing government. They will try to negotiate with Europe for a new trade deal, but will be punished for disloyalty and as a lesson to others who may want to leave.

What a mess!

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