So, Brexit. What? No, really. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two years, you’ve likely heard the word ‘Brexit’ mentioned in passing. You might have some vague ideas about it, or you might have been following it for awhile, but still be a little fuzzy on the finer points. If you’ll allow me, I’ll give you the basics of the situation, as well as a reading that’s a little more in-depth than what you’d get from perusing the relevant Wikipedia article, topped off with a light sprinkling of humor.
But first, a little context. Like all island nations, Britain has always been a little insular and isolationist. Most Brits would strongly object and make mildly disgusted faces if you should suggest that they were ‘European’. The decision to enter the Common Market in the 70s was highly contentious, to say the least. Since then, the UK has hung on with an increasingly shaky grip as the community expanded into today’s European Union, which is, if nothing else, an astounding triumph of international cooperation and diplomacy. As the countries around them submitted to the idea of being part of a larger entity than themselves, the Brits still continued as a self-declared exception to the rules everybody else follows, dipping one toe hesitantly in the waters while keeping the other firmly on land.
This commitment to Britishness, that distinctive quality which everyone can recognize but no one can really define, which comes with the humor, the social niceties, the weather, and so forth, has landed the UK in this mess, but if we assume it’s just the attitude of backwards inbred townspeople hidden somewhere in the Midlands, then we’ll never truly understand and deal with it. With the globalization, perhaps too rapid, that the world is undergoing, the exact balance of retaining national identity and diversifying is one that all nations must face. Unfortunately, Brexit is just a downright silly answer to it, born of misconceptions and narrow-minded economic calculation.
Here’s some facts for you: British membership in the EU, any possible dilution of Britishness aside, has had undeniable economic benefits for both parties. With France’s economy still on a low, the UK prevents German dominance over the European market, while the more economically disadvantaged Balkans bring in substantial beneficial immigration. Brexit, especially if done as roughly as it looks like it will, will not only put extra barriers on trade, but also expel countless currently productive EU residents, for pointless bureaucratic reasons. Like it or not, Britain has built strong ties to the countries around it since they’ve been in contact, and Brexit would hit the economy like a sledgehammer, effectively marooning Britain completely, leaving its market vulnerable to whatever American, Chinese, or Japanese corporation comes along to pick at it.
But, none of that matters. Because, friends, the Brexit debate, like so many other hot-button political issues, has long left the realm of facts and concrete pros and cons. From more or less the beginning of the campaigning, it became an ideological battleground, where alarmists on social media and vague widely-held notions are infinitely more important than serious, academic debate. Everything boils down to two poles: Brexit, yes/no. The end.
And look what all that’s led to now. Poor old Theresa May, never really a capable politician in the first place, is stuck in endless negotiations trying to carry out a popular mandate that is plainly impractical and potentially catastrophic if Brussels doesn’t cooperate, not to mention also overshadowing all the other issues the British government must deal with. Meanwhile, the Conservative party is ripping itself apart from the inside as the struggle between hardline right wingers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson and the reticent fence-sitters led by May. And Ireland is asking awkward questions about the border. It is, to be blunt, a bloody mess.
But is it all really an accident? Or could there be a scheme behind all the confusion? Think: who benefits from this? Not the Tory leadership, which had its money on Remain, nor the British people, duped using careful application of fervent nationalism. Could it maybe be those ultra-right-wing Tories and corporate executives who threw millions (many of them in an illegal manner) into the Vote Leave campaign? Well, how could they benefit? Maybe by forcing a change in the Tory leadership to more business-friendly types such as Johnson (though, goofball that he is, it’s more likely he’s being set up as a fall guy), not to mention the advantages of a nation deep in recession ready and willing for exploitation by those same unscrupulous multinationals. Diabolical, as Batman would say. There’s only one problem: Labour.
In the last general election, the revitalized party had the greatest gain in seats in a single election since the forties, capitalizing on the anger and frustration of those who voted Remain or wished they had. After years of capitalizing on the anger and frustration of those who voted Remain or wished they had. After years of American-pandering and compromising under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, they’ve finally got their act together with a strong leader (genuine leftist Jeremy Corbyn) and, unlike the Tories, an actual coherent ideology. Many in it also favor what seems the most sensible choice at the moment: a second referendum, before the exit itself, knowing what the British people know now. If this mess is going to get sorted at all, they’re the best chance Britain’s got.
That’s it in a nutshell. But I still haven’t told you why you should care, beside plain old morbid curiosity. It’s largely a matter of knowledge. Yes, knowledge, which, even in an Information Age like our own, is still the number-one weapon used by higher-ups of all sorts to manipulate and mislead the people for their own gain. It’s how the masterminds of Brexit brought about the Leave vote, how strongman leaders keep getting re-elected, how big business makes you ignore the kids in sweatshops that built your smartphone. They’re counting on us to be ignorant, passive– and that is exactly what we can’t afford to be. In the informational battleground of today, only knowledge, fairness, and understanding can save us. That’s what Britain needed then, and what it still needs it now.