Britons have voted to leave the EU with a clear margin – 4% of the vote corresponding to more than a million voters. One hoped that the mobilization of UK and European leaders, Obama’s intervention, the warnings of businesses and the financial sector, and wide condemnation of Jo Cox’s murder would have persuaded the British electorate to vote for Remain. Nothing of that sort. When the popular millstone starts rolling there is nothing that can stop it…

The millstone has rolled and has crushed the hopes of many for a positive referendum outcome. Particularly hit are the dreams of the British youth, the majority of whom voted for a European future for themselves and their country. Also the EU migrants to the UK, who could not vote, expect to be seriously affected by the result. The value of the pound is collapsing and no doubt many businesses and financial firms that had chosen the UK as their EU base are considering where to move next. They may be followed by many Britons who feel European and have every right to continue as European citizens elsewhere in the EU.

In the worst case scenario, this could be the unravelling of the European Project, starting with the UK but eventually leading to other referenda and decisions to leave or curtail the powers of the EU, eventually leaving only a company-friendly open market in its place. While the “European empire” may be shaken there is no guarantee that the UK itself will not be shaken even more, or even collapse. The signals from Scotland are clear: England and Wales that votes in favour of Brexit cannot take it out of the EU against the overwhelmingly opposite will of the Scottish people. And pro-EU Northern Ireland will also have to see how it can precariously balance between a UK outside the EU and the Republic of Ireland inside.

Damage limitation measures are already proposed, even by Brexit campaign leaders like Boris Johnson, in the form of delaying the start of the two-year withdrawal period from the EU, negotiating close economic links, etc. Such moves risk to perpetuate the uncertainty in politics and economics that leaves the EU bleeding and getting weaker by the day. If this is a plan for renegotiating with the EU and at the same time changing the political landscape inside the UK, then it is a very high-risk strategy. Opening up the floodgates of populism and nationalism, inciting hatred towards fellow Europeans and blaming them for everything cannot stop with a slap on Juncker’s face and Cameron’s resignation. Once the genie is out of the bottle it cannot be easily put back, and has a powerful dynamic of its own.

Is there a positive scenario that could be pursued, for dealing with the post-Brexit situation and saving whatever can be saved at this stage? For that one has to go back to the origins of the European Project and the thinking of its founders. And that has mostly to do with containing the negative elements that exist in European politics and the European psyche. It was these elements that gave rise to two world wars and many more of a smaller scale, encouraged ideologies like fascism and nazism, exploited slavery and colonialism.

At the core of all this have been the destructive powers of extreme nationalism, intolerance, vilification of the other. These destructive powers seem to be taking over again, showing their ugly face through the gross mismanagement of the refugee crisis externally and the debt crisis within the EU, the undermining of the European model of social economy towards increasing inequality and poverty, the shielding of EU decision-makers from scrutiny and accountability by not allowing a direct democratic process, and now the Brexit decision. Europe is still waiting for the inspiring leadership and inclusive vision that will manage to transform its diversity into strength, for all its citizens and the bigger world beyond – but time is really running out…

 

Katoikos

The editorial team of Katoikos

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