Sometimes you have to examine your motives for writing stridently on a particular topic: what is it that provokes you to turn to print? I have now written over 400 articles for the European Tribune, and 40 of them have been on Brexit in the last year alone. (Thanks Boo, for allowing me to publish most of them here as well! I really appreciate the different perspectives provided by your readers here.)
On the one hand, it is hardly surprising that a European community blog should focus on a topic like Brexit, and ever since I was made an editor I have felt a responsibility to try to keep the front page ticking over on at least some of the core issues effecting Europe.
But there have been many other reasons why I think Brexit is one of the seminal issues of our time and why I am so militantly opposed to it and everything which gave it birth.
I feel I owe you an explanation.
Firstly, it is not because I think the European Union is some sort of Utopia which only an apostate could want to leave. It has many flaws and a rational case could be made for any member state that might want to leave. Much of my previous writing has been on those many limitations, and particularly on the structural flaws in the Euro, the policy response to the financial crash, the treatment of Greece, and the growing inequalities within the EU as a whole.
Neither am I some sort of closet anti-British Irish Nationalist or Republican for whom Britain’s misfortune is Ireland’s opportunity. I consider the rapprochement which has taken place between Britain and Ireland in the wake of the Peace process to be one of the great political achievements of recent times.
No, my objections are very much specific to Brexit, to those who have campaigned for it and to those whose interests it is designed to serve. And most of all to their blind indifference to all those who may be harmed in direct or indirect consequence.
Please let me explain.
Brexit started out as a fringe English nationalist movement on the far right of the British political spectrum. There is nothing wrong with English nationalism per se, and many modern nation states have nationalist movements of one sort or another. Indeed, it can be argued that they were essential to the formation of nation states in the first place. Whether real or manufactured, every state needs at least some elements of a common identity if social cohesion and political consensus is to be achieved.
No, it is the basis on which social cohesion is often built that can be problematic: using markers of race, religion, language, culture, social class, sexuality, and dubious assertions of shared values, history and interests to paper over the cracks of the very real conflicts that exist in all societies. It has often seemed to me that those societies with the greatest unresolved conflicts which often resort to the most extreme measures to try to maintain discipline and solidarity.
The United Kingdom is a classic case in point. Undefeated in war, it hasn’t shared in the relatively recent defeats and revolutions it’s European counterparts have often endured. Thus basically the same ruling class has been in power for many centuries. As a result, class distinctions are more prevalent than in most other European countries leading to an ongoing class war within civil society. Historically those tensions have been dealt with by sending many working class men off to war, and using various external bogeymen to enforce a sort of strained social solidarity at home.
The EU became that bogeyman par excellence over the past four decades, blamed for every unpopular act of government even when those acts were agreed and often initiated or led by the UK government. The classic case is the over-rapid expansion of the EU in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a processes strongly urged by the UK. And now the EU is being blamed for excessive immigration from those self-same countries… In a recent example, the Express even sought to blame EU regulations for the Grenfell disaster when the cladding used is already illegal in other EU member states.
The Brexit Leave vote was above all a protest at many years of Tory led austerity government policies skilfully misdirected against immigrants and the EU. Now Boris’ clever little ruse has backfired horrendously and the Government will have to find other external bogeymen in an attempt to maintain political “stability” at home. The class basis of Tory rule is threatened and we are in for several years of howling complaints that the EU is being unreasonable in the negotiations and wants to “punish” Britain.
Little matter that it is now the responsibility of the EU27 leaders to act in the best interests of the EU27, rather than those of the UK, especially when those interests conflict. And conflict they will. The EU27 cannot expect to be taken seriously as a world power if it still relies on the UK for a large part of their currency transactions, settlement procedures, legal disputes resolution, financial services, aerospace industries, armaments production, and a plethora of other activities which form part of the essential infrastructure of a world leading economy and polity.
And we must not forget that the Brexiteers had larger aims than just the UK leaving the EU. Their objective was nothing less than the break-up of the EU as a whole seeing it as a threat to their dreams of the UK still being a major player on the world stage. It was back to the old foreign policy of divide and conquer for them when they realised they couldn’t conquer the EU as a whole. Even their clever ruse of promoting the premature expansion of the EU to include states who never met any rational convergence criteria has failed, so far, to terminally incapacitate the EU, although it has caused extreme difficulties.
My parents lived through the horror of the Second World War, and their parents, before them, lived through the First. The avoidance of violence to settle conflicts is thus part of my very DNA, and that of many of my generation besides. Whatever failings we might identify in the EU pale into insignificance when compared to its primary achievement: the maintenance of relative peace in Europe. Anybody or anything which threatens that inspires in me a very visceral response: the Brexiteers must be defeated, and their project must be seen to fail. Bigly.
The EU has also had a very beneficial effect in ameliorating the conflict in Northern Ireland by enabling the Republic of Ireland to treat, on near equal terms, with the UK, and by reducing the distinctions between the British and Irish identities within N. Ireland as part of “an ever deeper Union” and the emergence of a distinct European citizenship.
The DUP were always extremely reluctant to engage in the Peace Process and now have seized on Brexit as their opportunity to turn the tables on their Nationalist (and pro-European) rivals and once again proclaim N. Ireland as an exclusively British state, putting greater distance between N. Ireland and the Republic and reducing the encroachment of secular liberal social values they associate with the EU. Little matter that they could ignite the Troubles all over again. This is a war, and they want to win it. This makes them natural allies of the Conservative and Unionist Party which is busy fighting its class war in Britain.
So my opposition to Brexit, and to Brexiteers and all they represent has nothing to do with a starry eyed idealism about the EU, or some kind of republican anti-British sentiment. It is all about wanting to support international institutions which can reduce the risks of war and promote alternate means of conflict resolution. It is all about trying to defeat a form of politics which depends on raising false external bogeymen in order to promote a bogus solidarity at home. It is all about defeating ruling classes who no longer even pretend to govern in the best interests of all.
The Tory press can shriek all they want but their game is up. They have failed to export their peculiar form of class war to the EU as a whole. Brexit is, in many ways, a partial admission of defeat by them. Not only do they no longer rule an empire, but they failed to rule the EU. And when the reality of Brexit hits home, they will most probably also fail to rule the UK. Scotland will probably secede and Northern Ireland will reach an uncomfortable accommodation with the Republic. The Brexiteers may even eventually lose their grip on little England.
Revolutions tend to be messy affairs, and I have no wish to see England destroyed in the process. Hopefully, its institutions will survive intact enough to enable a peaceful transition. The Tories won’t have the City and much of Industry as allies any more; English agriculture will be devastated and you can’t run much of an economy on fox hunting and cricket. The English ruling class have outlived their usefulness, too bad they will be taking much of a once great country down with them.
Hopefully the EU will survive intact. An independent Scotland will join and a more united Ireland can be built – in time. Much needed reforms can be introduced once the influence of English ruling class marketista ideology is reduced. The focus can move on to more positive things such as a reform of the Euro and the development of a fiscal union. It may be too late to save Greece but the focus of political energy can move towards people who actually want to be part of the EU and make it work. There are huge challenges integrating Eastern European member states but we would do well to remember that Ireland was a poor, undeveloped, socially conservative and religiously oppressed backwater when it joined just 45 years ago.
The EU is built for the long haul. It will survive Brexit and Trump and its own incompetents if we are prepared to fight for it.