Political Divisions in Britain and America
“Yea…Brexit. Sorry about that…” Lara said to me quickly, quietly and in a tone ripe with annoyance.
We were walking through the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, discussing art, history and traveling, when the very sensitive topic that is all the noise surrounding her home country, was brought to light and was then subsequently dropped, just as quickly as it was brought up.
“Sorry about that…” I pondered her words
Lara, who was a student at Oxford, spoke fast and with a clear intellectual acuity, began remarking about religious art and how it lacked creativity.
Yet I was still hung up on her previous comment.
Not that I was all that interested in the topic of Brexit on this day, it seemed like quite a dreary spectacle, no matter which side you take on it. Yet her comment took my attention away, however briefly, from the stunning portraits and artwork in front of me.
Yes I recognized that tone of voice. The annoyance, some apparent embarrassment and a desire not to discuss it further. I had heard the same voice in other Americans, in regards to our current president, Donald Trump.
It has since occurred to me that after traveling through the British Isles for over four weeks, I had yet to hear a positive sentiment regarding Brexit. However even with it’s obvious lack in approval from a large part of the population, Boris Johnson and his Conservative party, scored a huge victory on Thursday the 12 of December, that pretty much guarantees Brexit moving forward.
Again, this intriguingly reminds me of the controversy unfolding back home in The White House. The media hates Donald Trump, celebrities openly mock him, and most everybody I meet on the road expresses their disapproval of him. Yet, the Republicans still hung on to the majority in the last 2018 senate election.
What the heck is going on? Silent majority?
There are clearly differences, but it is still hard not to see the commonalities and similarities in issues, between America’s current political divide and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union; an economic and military bloc that some argue is the most powerful and influential in the world. Consisting of 28 countries, all together comprising about a half a billion people, the EU currently outranks the United States in population. In 2018, The European Union was the World’s second largest economy, producing $22 trillion in economic output (5).
The history of the EU, is admittedly not common knowledge among us Yanks but it is very much worth understanding when considering an issue that has worldwide repercussions. Founded after World War II, Europe decided after years of bloodshed and destruction, it might be a good idea to rally together, cut some of the bureaucracy and allow its peoples to trade and vacation with each other, while throwing out all the normal restrictions.
On paper, it seemed like a brilliant idea. France, Germany and even Britain, once bitter rivals, were now forced to work together which not only deterred aggression, it promoted unity. Now though, this happy alliance is in a flux with one of it’s larger players, leaving the Union and going their own way. Even without going into the numbers and statistics, considering that, Britain who is often the driver in diplomacy and military issues, the fact that the EU will now be without them is going to have global repercussions.
Once The UK officially exits the EU, new trade deals will have to be negotiated and markets will be in danger of collapsing, as the world’s fifth largest national economy will now be undergoing massive changes. There is already much instability in the world and adding more is understandably not seen to be positive by many in America.
Though looking back at the history of the EU, perhaps is it not hard to see how the current Brexit situation has come to be. Despite the attempt to unite most of Europe under one economic banner, the reality is the Union is still comprised of individual and distinct nations. When confronting global issues, it is understandably hard to find unison in finding solutions to problems like mass immigration, and bailing out member nations who aren’t doing so hot (cough cough…Greece..).
Then there is of course, Britain’s rejection of the Euro. While not the only member nation to do so, (9 out of the 28 members use their own currency) from a North American’s vantage point, it is not surprising that the British didn’t want to renounce their own currency. Sure, some may say that it is because the Euro was unable to meet “the five economic tests,” but even considering the economic implications, its not too far off to reason that pride, played a role as well. Is it really that hard to imagine that Great Britain, once the epicenter of the largest empire on Earth, might have issues in it’s cultural consciousness surrounding identity?
Over the past few decades, EU treaties have shifted the power from individual member states to The EU Headquarters in Brussels. Thus its easy for American’s to have empathy for Britons who don’t want Brussel’s telling them what to do. When EU law now overrides national law, there is an understandable reason for concern on the grounds of sovereignty, and this is something that many in The United States resonate with quite a bit.
We are The United STATES, for a reason. We were founded on the principles of small government. Even today, conservatives tire of the Washington Bureaucracy imposing it’s will on all fifty states of a country, that have their own distinct issues.
Yes Brexit is not an issue that is front and center in America, but it still has a resonance and significance that grabs the attention and speculation of many.
Considering if one were to change a few words, what Boris Johnson said in a magazine article before he became Prime Minister, could easily be a talking point in American politics:
“Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons, or the limits on the power of vacuum cleaners. Sometimes they can be truly infuriating – like the time I discovered, in 2013, that there was nothing we could do to bring in better-designed cab windows for trucks, to stop cyclists being crushed. It had to be done at a European level, and the French were opposed.”
The resistance against a non-local entity making the rules for you is entrenched in the American consciousness dating back to The Revolutionary War.
Though even with the sovereignty argument, those who wish to stay in the EU certainly have very coherent arguments. Consider that London’s status as the gateway to The EU by Banks and Business’s alike, will very much be in flux now. There is the fact that currently over half of Britain’s trade goes to The EU, bringing in about 400 billion pounds a year. Studies suggest that any amount of saving from not contributing to The EU budget, will not make up for this loss in trade (1). And with so many British Jobs directly connected to EU membership, some say a completed Brexit will wipe out about 10% of The UK’s GDP (1).
Frankly, just the trouble that Britain has to go through (has been going through) just to secure their divorce from the EU makes a lot of people wonder how the benefits of leaving can possibly outweigh the benefits of staying. It seems like quite a headache from an outsider’s perspective, that in over three years time since voting to leave, the British government has failed to come to an agreement on the finalization of their departure.
The idea of Britain leaving the EU without future trade deals negotiated, is an understandably scary proposition. And what will happen to British citizens working abroad, EU nationals working in Britain and students studying in the UK and EU? The failure to adequately address these issues has already led to the resignation of a Prime Minister.
Then there is the issue at the Irish Border that has to be dealt with. Currently, people move between the border that separates Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland with incredible ease. But now with Northern Ireland no longer remaining apart of the EU, the Border with The Republic of Ireland is inevitably going to become more restricted, regulated and ultimately changing its status from a soft border, to a hard one. Irish politicians are discussing implementing security measures and this could revive long standing tensions in the region.
Comprising these issues, and others not discussed, it is clear that Brexit presents an enormous challenge in the arena of World Affairs. Britons that I have spoken with, like my friend Lara from Oxford, clearly know where they stand but it still makes me wonder given the recent results of the election about a silent majority.
I for one, am not sure what the best route is in navigating the UK’s future, but as an American, I can only hope that Britain emerges stronger, more unified and avoids going down the road of extreme political division that is tragically occurring here in The States.