A political commentator in The Guardian this week reckoned that Teresa May risked becoming an accidental Europe-wrecker. I’ve got news for him. It’s not necessarily our Prime Minister who risks wrecking Europe. The latter is doing a pretty good job on its own!
As an EU pragmatist who basically voted for a trading block in 1975 at a time when it was uncertain whether capitalism would triumph over communism and at a time when the ‘club’ we were staying in was small enough to manage the affairs of states whose interests were broadly similar, I have always struggled to defend what that club has become, particularly in the way that it has dealt with economically weaker countries like Greece, to give just one example.
I did vote to remain on 23 June, not out of any enthusiasm for the EU in its present form but more out of ‘better the devil you know’. I accept the ‘verdict of the British people’ because I am a democrat. I personally do NOT want a second referendum now, although I can see why many people do. The problem for me is that I don’t want to be labeled a sore loser, nor do I wish to be portrayed as someone wishing to ‘punish’ my fellow citizens for making what I arrogantly assume to have been the wrong choice.
As with immigration, those of us on the ‘liberal’ wing of the political divide appeared to ignore the fact that, for many people, the issue of sovereignty did play a more significant role in their lives than we cared to admit. Our complacency, as epitomised by Nick Clegg’s unfortunate remark, “More or less the same”, when asked how the EU might look in ten years time, was a prime reason why the nation voted narrowly to leave. Our collective hubris blinded us to what was happening on the ground. The same attitude could prove to be the death knell of the EU as it is today, unless the leading politicians in mainland Europe wake up and smell the coffee.
The problem is that, were we to be given a second vote ( a ‘two referendum’ strategy that even arch Brexiter, Dominic Cummings, apparently favoured at one time ), would there still be an EU in which to remain? Much will depend on what happens in three of the founding states next year following their national elections, not forgetting recent events in another, let alone any ‘deal’ that can be negotiated in the next couple of years, if at all.
As far as our country’s ability to forge deals with more far flung countries is concerned, a possible trade war between a Trump led USA and China might make it hard for a little country like ours to have our voice heard. Similarly, to rely on links with our Commonwealth friends could come up against their geographic reliance, in the cases of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and possibly India, on their economically powerful neighbours.
When the Berlin Wall symbolically came down in 1989, which, in effect, signalled the end of the Cold War which had dominated my generation for most of our lives, I really thought we had it made. How wrong I appear to have been. Since then we have seen the rise of militant Islam and of the strong man, as epitomised by politicians like Trump and Putin, as well as the reinforcement of the power of the multinationals at the same time as the emasculation of and lack of faith in representative democracy has increased. The last time we were here was probably in the 1930s; and we all know what came next.