Many of my friends are Americans, and I spend a fair bit of time on the left hand side of the pond. Very often, as the sole Brit in a gathering, I am asked what I think of Brexit.
This normally elicits an involuntary eye roll and a sigh – not because I don’t want to talk about it, but because I don’t really know what to say, or at least not in polite company. It’s a mess.
Mostly, I have put Brexit into the bucket of “things that affect me but I can do nothing about”. If I get too caught up in the daily drama of negotiations, votes, amendments, extensions, backstops, and rebellions, it doesn’t make me feel good, and to be honest, I long ago lost track of the detail of what’s going on.
I still harbour a lingering resentment towards David Cameron, who held the referendum in a bid to lay to rest forever the European question and, not to put too fine a point on it, completely ballsed it up by: a) misreading his audience/electorate, b) running a lacklustre Remain campaign, c) not foreseeing that Europe would absolutely punish the UK as the first country to break ranks, and d) not requiring at least 50% of the total electorate to vote for Brexit, not just 50% of those who turned out on the day. I’m also not delighted with Boris Johnson (with apologies to his father, Stanley, who is a dear friend of mine, and is in no way to be blamed for the actions of his son), who misrepresented the financial benefits of
Brexit in a bid, some might say, to further his own political career.
(If you’re a total policy nerd and want the nitty-gritty from a more reliable source than me, I commend the insightful (and even occasionally humorous) articles written by my old University College, Oxford acquaintance, Anand Menon, now Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs at King’s College London, who writes for The Guardian, and has also co-authored a book entitled Brexit and British Politics.)
I suspect that, if we were to have a second referendum, it would probably go the other way. Now that we’re starting to see the consequences of Brexit, as companies move their financial and manufacturing operations out of the UK, as we see the impact on funding for universities and research, as the property market slows and dips, the UK becomes the world’s biggest buyer of refrigerators as the NHS stockpiles medicines, and all the rest of it, we are beginning to understand what a post-Brexit UK will look like, and it’s not a pretty picture. Also, given that older people were more likely to vote to leave while youngsters favoured remain, the demographic shift that has taken place in the nearly 3 years since the first referendum, as old people die and young people achieve voting age, would probably tip the balance in favour of remaining in the EU. But it’s not likely to happen, and even if it did, it could create as many problems as it solves.
The reasons to dislike Brexit are many – even beyond the saturation media coverage (yawn), the threat of imports of American-produced food that doesn’t meet European standards, the damage to British job prospects, and the general shame of taking part in an entirely non-fact-based referendum result (the two most Googled terms in the UK were “what does it mean to leave the EU?” and “what is the EU?” – the day AFTER the referendum) – the thing that annoys me most is that Brexit is taking up practically all of our national bandwidth at precisely the time that we should be paying attention to rather bigger issues, like the unravelling Arctic, collapsing insect populations, the sixth mass extinction, and imminent climate collapse. At the same time, we’re potentially losing the 80% of our environmental protections that come from EU law (detailed breakdown here).
Theresa May, that diligent schoolgirl tasked with the worst homework assignment of all time, but determined to see it through no matter what, obviously doesn’t have time to think about long term environmental concerns while she ping-pongs between Brussels and the House of Commons on her mission impossible. Sure, the clock is ticking towards March 29th, when we are due to leave the EU, with no deal yet in place. But in the overall scheme of things, that clock is a small and insignificant clock compared with the planetary clock that is ticking away our last chances to change course for sustainability. These are crucial years for humanity, and at least as the UK is concerned, we’re in danger of focusing on the “urgent but not important” at the expense of the “increasingly urgent and existentially important”.
Politics may matter, but biophysics are irrefutable.