This space would normally be used for a photo, but I’ll be damned if I’ll give some unscrupulous politician the honour.
So, after all the huffing, puffing, the ranting and raving, the screaming and yelling and at least one murder, Brexit has come/is coming/might yet come to pass. Britain, in its wisdom has declared itself to be an ex-member of the European Union. The shenanigans and malarkey (personally, I prefer a little malarkey to shenanigans) have been played out in full view of a slightly bewildered rest-of-the-industrial-world, and need no further description here, The sword has fallen, and Britain – pending some bad-tempered negotiations about future relationships – is essentially alone.
You may be able to guess that I think this is an absolutely bonkers idea, but since I have lived thousands of miles away from the land of my birth for some eighteen years now, I’ll thankfully be somewhat insulated from the economic fallout of this crass stupidity. The damage is at the very least already partly done, no matter what the future holds. Even if Brexit was wiped away tomorrow and Britain started out again with a clean slate, billions of pounds have been lost to the economy in the last three years. It’s a senseless waste, and all for the sake of justifying xenophobia. That, however, is not the greatest problem facing my fellow Britons.
The lasting damage to Britain is internal. Brexit has been a malignant influence on the nation’s population. In 2015, polls indicated that the EU was only considered an important topic by 10% of the electorate. Now, as a direct result of the lies propagated by the right wing in the country, the nation is divided in a way that I cannot remember in my fifty-plus years. What I see more and more online in discussions on the subject is the worst kind of illness: hate. Hate on both sides for those who hold differing opinions; hate which breeds outlandish accusations of treason and traitors in our midst, and hate which ushers in the kind of authoritarian government the world has seen far too many times in the last 100 years.
A populist right wing government holds power for the next five years, and maybe more. Pollsters and pundits continue to argue about the reasons for the result of the recent general election, much as they did over the election of the orange idiot in Washington DC. America wrung its hands over his electoral success (albeit through a corruptible electoral system which beggars belief and good sense) but refused to tell itself the truth. Now Britons do the same, fearful of saying out loud what is evident to those of us outside of that particular box.
The voters of Britain chose this government because millions of Britons agreed with much of what they said in their campaigns for Brexit and election. This despite the majority of such claims about the EU, immigration and the Labour party having been proven quite clearly to be false. An awful lot of people decided to swallow the politicians’ lies, and having done so – at least, it seems to me – they have staked a large part of their world view upon that decision. Changing their minds has become too difficult to do for reasons of pride and ego. Recognizing that another viewpoint may in fact be correct has become a hateful thought. People who express an opposite opinion are worthy of contempt. Those who point out the dangers of Brexit are nothing less than traitors.
The upshot of the whole sorry affair has been to alienate family members and friends from one another. Civilized debate on this particular subject has died and has been replaced with spiteful name-calling.
I’m deeply saddened by this turn of events, not only because I’ve seen people I know turn into irrationally angry caricatures of their former selves, but because this phenomenon has ruined a society which once successfully managed its differences. Perhaps, however, all we ever did was lie to ourselves about ourselves. Maybe we were hiding from the truth; hiding from the fact that we were far more divided than we were ever prepared to admit. I wonder if the outpouring of hate was inevitable; the veneer of civility crumbling before an overwhelming tide of lies and misinformation followed by tribal lines of disagreement being fostered by the nation’s politicians.
I hope not. I hope we were better than that. But then, I suspect that many Americans hoped that their country would never elect an overt racist and pathological liar to the highest office in the land. I suspect that many Americans were stunned to find that so many of their countrymen/women would ever – or could ever – support such a set of ideas. They have discovered the truth: millions of Americans agree with, endorse and support some pretty bloody unpleasant ideas and behaviours. Given the rolling train crash that the current administration has proven to be, they might be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s re-election would be in doubt. Not so; the new truth is undeniable. Racism, xenophobia and hate are popular. Millions of Americans are the kind of people we might not want for neighbours.
So it is, I think, with Britain today. Many Britons have shaken off their shrouds of reason and instead clothed themselves in obstinacy, wrapped themselves in an inaccurate version of history and proven themselves to be unreasonable boors. Every political misstep is being shrugged off as fake news or ‘project fear’ propaganda, every pronouncement from their favoured politico is taken as proof of the wisdom of Brexit, regardless of veracity. Today, I came across an online opinion about the current environmental crises brought about by extreme weather. Flooding, this person said, was the fault of the European Union and the control they have over the management of Britain’s waterways. Flood defences and amelioration measures can be constructed now that the country is no longer a part of the EU, they said.
My sadness is tinged with relief; relief that I don’t have to live in the mess that the country is becoming, and an even greater relief that I don’t have tio worry about having the kind of neighbours who are immune to evidence, truth and reason. For those people, the truth hurts too much to be tolerable.