The Brexit saga
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Jon Worth, a European communications and political consultant, has recently gained fame for creating 27 versions of a flow chart – not about artificial intelligence or cyber warfare – but about Brexit. But now after more than two dozen updates to his flowcharts, he says he is exhausted and is now planning to give up. Nobody seems to know where Brexit and how Brexit will end.

With everything that is happening in the Philippines and in this part of the world, I never thought I would write about Brexit. But, it has become a fascinating example of how even an icon of democracy and western civilization could end up as bitterly divided with a paralyzed government. Its prime minister, Theresa May, has totally lost control of her own Conservative Party and the parliament. However, the British parliament voted on more than 12 different options for Brexit and not one option got a majority vote. 

What is Brexit? This is the common term applied to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European (EU) following a referendum held on June 23, 2016 in which 52 percent of those voting supported leaving the EU. There was supposed to be a two-year process during which a plan for an orderly exit would be worked out between the UK and the EU.  The withdrawal date was supposed to be March 29, 2019. However, after two years of negotiation, the withdrawal agreement worked out between Prime Minister May and the EU negotiators was not approved by the UK parliament. In fact, Theresa May submitted her plan for approval three times; and, it was defeated three times. 

Why did Brexit win? No major public figure or media pundit expected Brexit to win. In fact, the Prime Minister David Cameron called for a referendum because he expected an overwhelming public approval for staying in the EU thereby silencing the few so called “extremists” who wanted UK to leave the EU. 

To understand why Brexit won, it is first necessary to realize that the member states have accepted four common free movements within the EU –free movement of goods, services, investments and people. Researchers in Warwick University concluded that those who voted to leave the EU tended to be in areas with lower incomes and higher unemployment especially where there was a large flow of low skilled Eastern European migrants. The pro-Brexit vote was also an anti-immigration vote. This is the reason why the Brexit victory has been also coined as a “Trumpian” vote. 

The member states also could not negotiate trade deals separately and were subject to European laws. There was an appeal to British nationalism and pride to return to Britain its “sovereignty”. The biggest support for the Remain vote came from the more educated, upper income classes and from the younger voters who enjoyed the freedom to study, work, live anywhere they wanted in Europe. 

In retrospect, it seems that the main reason people voted for Leave was for the UK to regain control over immigration and its borders; while those who voted to Remain were worried that leaving the EU would hurt the economy and endanger London’s status as the financial services center of the world.

This Brexit controversy, according to historians, is just a continuation of the long history of British and European relationship, a story of alternating conflict and cooperation. One view of English history is that this nation was formed as a nation state because of pressures from Europe – first to defend itself against Viking raids, six small kingdoms united to become England. Then the United Kingdom of England and Scotland was formed as an alliance against King Louis XIV of France.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, England was in constant warfare with other European powers – Spain and France. During this period, Britain tried to be a European land power.

In the 18th century, sea power changed British history. According to historian Ian Morris: “Rather than seeing themselves as the western fringe of Europe and treating overseas trade as a way to fund wars to strengthen Britain’s position on the continent, they began seeing Britain as the core of a global trade network. The most important thing about Britain was that it stuck out into the Atlantic , and the only point of fighting in Europe was to prevent a single power from dominating the continent, because such a land power might then challenge Britain at sea.”

This  vision of a United Kingdom as a global trading power rather than a European power seems to be still the dream of the Brexiters. On the other hand, European leaders, especially from France and Germany have always dreamt of a united Europe attained through wars like Napoleon or peacefully like the European Union. Charlemagne or Charles the Great earned the title “Father of Europe” when he united much of Western Europe, including France, Germany, Northern Italy – under his rule. 

British leaders seem to be trying to balance its interests as an Atlantic power and as a European partner. When Britain joined the EU  in the 1970s, it seemed that it had finally decided to become part of Europe. Then it opted out of the Euro and now is seeking to leave the EU. Once again, as in the past, Britain stands alone against a would be European hegemon. But this is a misreading of history.

Britain is not anymore the world power it used to be. The United States, China and even India are the economic giants of this century. Only a united Europe can hope to equal these great powers. If the United Kingdom wants to have a major voice in the world, it cannot stand alone.  It can only do so if it becomes part of the Third World Power – a United Europe. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on April 6, 13, 27 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

BREXIT EUROPEAN UNION
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