I suppose as an ex-Brit, though thoroughly Canadian spectator, I can comment on the results of Thursday’s EU referendum, particularly as I have friends over there who turned out to vote — some for, and some against.
The media has been full of doomsday comments since then about the surprising result, and even today the tedious headlines dominate our national newspapers.
We know that the decision to go to the people as to whether Britain should remain in the European Union was initially and obviously a political ploy. Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to quieten the dissention in his government ranks from a couple of ministers and a few back-benchers, in order to strengthen his own clique’s position. He rashly assumed that he could frighten the electorate into a ‘stay’ vote. He even shamelessly persuaded Barak Obama, a guest visiting the country, to introduce a little blackmail, so the president assured the nation that a ‘leave’ vote would send the U.K. to the back of the preferential lineup in any subsequent trade negotiations with the U.S. What a bloody cheek, I thought. I’m normally a fan of the U.S. leader, but that comment was so out of line, it dismayed a lot ordinary Brits and ex-pats, including me.
So it seems that what they’ve now ended up with over there is rather like a peasant’s revolt, which has happened again and again throughout history. Such insurrections were usually put down with typical royal savagery in Britain, in Russia and everywhere else where the ‘divine right’ of monarchs was challenged.
In these democratic days, however, dissension among competing agendas and different ideologies may result in a few public punch-ups, but most major decisions are usually settled in the polling booths with the count of votes.
What started off in Europe as a priority trading partnership between neighbouring nations has developed into something very different. The EU has become a monster of bureaucracy, a top-heavy Brussels cabal of the unelected and unaccountable, rife with a sense of expensive entitlement and occasionally reeking of corruption.
Though the union has offered special opportunities to the world’s financial institutions, multi-national corporations and British exporters large and small, it generates another plus, because the single market, borderless scenario has provided career avenues for younger people with the skills so vital in this new age of technology.
But for many millions of Brits, the European experiment hasn’t worked.
Instead these people have been facing stagnant earnings, long-term unemployment and a growing tide of immigrants, eager to work and perhaps take away their jobs. So much of the population has long felt discarded by the wealthy and successful elite, and ignored by the politicians who are supposed to serve them. The new world and its different priorities seems to be passing them by and reducing them to virtual irrelevancy. A similar wave of angst and anxiety is happening in the U.S. right now, and the odious Trump is making the most of this dangerous situation.
This unhappy sense of loss among Brits has been cleverly preyed upon by the leading vocal opponents of the EU who publicly pressed all the right buttons that clamoured for a fairer deal for workers, for a halt to unbridled immigration, and for a return to the old days of self-determination and absolute sovereignty where money isn’t shovelled into a European trough.
Then out of the blue, the country was presented a few months ago with a unique opportunity to express the way it felt about being an EU member. For a surprising number of people it was a chance to express their frustrations, vent their anger and take the opportunity to perhaps change their way of life. For many of the older folk, it was time for an attempt, perhaps futile, to recapture the British way of life that they remember, with the nostalgia that so many of us treasure from our younger days.
We are all aware that the consequences of their slim majority decision could be dire for the kingdom that for hundreds of years has been united in a shared democracy. Great Britain has provided a model for so many other states in Europe, the Commonwealth and beyond. And inevitably for the last few days the ‘leavers’ have been pilloried by world politicians, business moguls and media pundits as reckless, ignorant and naive. And certainly there’s some truth in what they say, because the heart has perhaps led the head in many deliberations.
So, when the guillotine finally falls in two years time, and all the complicated negotiations grind to a halt, some Brits may well rue the day they cast their vote. But let us all recognize that when they exercised that right last Thursday, they demonstrated the real meaning of democracy and created the changes that ordinary folk can achieve when they stand up to be counted.
» Bill Greenwell prospered in advertising for 40 years in the U.K. and Canada. He retains a passion for medieval history, marine paintings and piscatorial pursuits. His wife Patricia indulges him in these interests, but being a seasoned writer from a similar background, she has always deplored his weakness for alliteration. This has sadly had no effect on his writing style, whatsoever.