No Britain, you cannot live easily without Europe – And whoever told you so, is a liar.
Ansichten eines in London lebenden EU-Bürgers.
As a European national living in the UK, it comes as a relief that someone outside Britain – Emmanuel Macron in this case – addressed the elephant in the room. “Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be all right, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home are liars,” he said. It seemed like most European leaders were denying that pro-Brexit campaigns were mostly based on misinformation, lies, and misguided polemic arguments.
His comments came better late than never, however, I would have preferred to have heard him speak earlier. It’s now only seven months until Brexit and the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union still seems uncertain.
Curbed immigration, access to the customs market and a handy solution to the Irish border were presented as easy agenda items to a nation hoping to “take back control.” Back then, top supporters of the Leave campaign (such as UKIP leader and EMP Nigel Farage, former London Mayor and potential future Tory leader Boris Johnson as well as other prominent figures) assured British voters that it was a matter of choice to get rid of unnecessary EU laws, stop wasting money on the European project and take back control on immigration, using hard borders. The blame was placed on the EU for causing the UK’s long-lasting austerity in the post-Blair era; freedom of movement across the Union supposedly feeding terrorism and illegal immigration; and EU nationals taking jobs away from Brits.
In fact, no one explained that austerity in Britain predominantly resulted from the global financial crisis in 2008; Britain’s treatment of minorities and marginalisation of youth from disadvantaged background evidentially contributed to the presence of extremism in its soils – not to mention those military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan; and EU nationals paying more in tax than they cost in the UK.
Don’t let me be misunderstood – I’m Greek and have experienced a sceptical past with the EU. I’ve been exasperated by radical political calls made by unelected representatives and I’ve lived the frustrations of the Greek bailout, dictated by EU practices. I criticised its role in undermining our national sovereignty and followed closely the voting for a Grexit back in 2015.
Criticism towards the Union should serve to provide constructive feedback to drive change – Europe certainly needs that to get closer to its people. In the case of Brexit, both campaigns lack rationale. The Remain side stood to be “proud to be European” rather than addressing existing challenges the EU faces and how to get through them in unity with the rest of the member states. Meanwhile, most positions expressed during the pre-referendum campaign in Britain by Leave supporters drove a sickening detestation towards something that most people hadn’t previously cared about.
The monumental referendum wasn’t widely called for, yet people were still expected to vote on it. Even during David Cameron’s time, there was a lack of inference, dialogue or discussion beyond threatening to leave the members’ club. No one from the UK side came up with any suggestions or proposals for reform in European policymaking.
It’s my understanding that in a representative democracy, elected people with proven expertise take decisions in the interest of the public they represent. The reason is that often the public lack the required understanding and knowledge of complex concepts to take such calls itself. In that sense, the Brexit referendum was a monumental violation of democracy and undermines the interest of the British public. Driving a whole nation to the verge of fiscal and diplomatic isolation for the sake of populism and partisan benefits is simply irresponsible politics.
The unfolding of the events of the last three years has made the life of millions of EU nationals living and working in the UK – including myself – needlessly awkward. Over a million British expats living across the EU are experiencing something similar.
At the time of writing, a no-deal Brexit seems closer than ever before. Is this what the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU wanted? I doubt it.