Brexit: 364 Days To Go Before We Walk Off The Gangplank
Exactly a year from today, as pretty much every media outlet has reminded us, we Brits will be waking up outside the European Union. Attempts by remainers — everyone from Tony Blair to J K Rowling — to reverse the exit strategy seem doomed, not least because as Timothy Garton Ash wrote this morning, Leavers are willing to make any compromise simply to get the deed done, while “Anti-Brexiters, by contrast, have 10 different plans and therefore none”. The liberal left’s perpetual inability to speak with a coherent voice is once again a depressing spectacle. And let’s not even get into Labour’s current chaos. The normally sensible Emily Thornberry’s belief , that Labour would probably vote in support of the final deal to leave, shows how unhinged the opposition has become.
Watching last night’s Newsnight’s focus group discussion, I couldn’t help but conclude that the fixation with immigration is the smallest wedge that cleaves the hardest oak. One side of the argument claims that migration is disastrous for the country (irrational, in my view, and fuelled by racist fears). The other side reasons that our economy benefits from managed migration. They believe that successive UK governments — and not the EU — have supported migration, but seem unable to present the evidence in a compelling and persuasive way.
The question of migration, however, misses the emotional impact of the bigger picture. A year ago, shortly after the Brexit referendum, I endured CNN’s Richard Quest bellowing in my face (I don’t think he is physically capable of normal conversation levels) when I argued that the biggest consequence of the vote to Leave would be to put our national security at risk. The avoidance of major wars across Europe is the EU’s greatest achievement, and too often overlooked.
Perhaps Quest’s aggressive assertion — that the so-called ‘peace dividend’ was not a major factor in the referendum campaign — has been borne out by events of the past week in the fall-out following the Salisbury poisoning. I can’t have been the only one to have felt a sense of shame at the swiftness of our European allies to come to our aid in expelling those Russian diplomats. Perhaps our allies would do exactly the same in 12 months time when we’ve cut the ties that bind? Maybe, but Theresa May must have felt humiliation at having to ask support from the club that we’re about to leave. Relying upon the magnanimity of our European friends in times of crisis (and this is a time of crisis) is a very risky strategy during a period where the world feels unstable, volatile and teetering on the edge of warfare (digital or physical). In my view, we’ve become complacent, and have a collective amnesia when it comes to our recent history.
As it happened, I was working this week with teachers in Denmark. We asked them to share their stories of family members, doing extraordinary things within an ordinary life. They told incredible stories of personal bravery and heroism: the grandfather who was forced as a young man to fight against his own people during the Second World War, simply because he lived in a part of Denmark that had been occupied by Germany; the Danes that helped Danish Jews escape to Sweden; the father who took part in the Hungarian Uprising of 1956; the Tanzanian refugees who benefitted from Denmark’s high acceptance rates of asylum request (over 80% in 2015). It was a powerful learning experience, and made me realise how little I knew about the recent history of the continent of Europe. And how we’re inextricably tied together, by our geography and our culture.
I just wished that some of the people who are pushing to leave, at any price, could have been present — because our failure to remember how the EU has kept us all safe, is in danger of condemning our children to an impoverished and dangerous future.