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  • Helen and Mike

Our life with Brexit

We have written obliquely about Brexit – but next Tuesday, is the big Brexit vote in the UK parliament. The country is at a major crossroads. Friends outside the UK ask us – what do we think?

So – here, for what they’re worth, are our thoughts – in a slightly longer blog than usual:

We both voted Remain in 2016 - but not necessarily for the same reasons. We both tend to regard the distant and seemingly non-accountable but powerful politicians of the EU with suspicion. We believe that the smaller the physical and ideological distance between politicians and the people they represent, the more successful governance is likely to be. We recognise democratic shortfalls and lack of transparency in the way the EU functions. Obviously the EU began its life as an economic union and economics tends to trump other values when it comes to survival. The EU institutions appear to be peopled with politicians who are representative of powerful interests rather than those of poorer and disenfranchised people. All of this makes us Euro-sceptical.

On the other hand, we are unionists with a small ‘u’. We want to maintain any ‘unitedness’ the UK still has including the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland. We mistrust the backward-looking UK-centric mentality exhibited by the extreme Brexiteers. We and our children have become Europeans. We travel comfortably across Europe. We both believe strongly in the co-operation between close neighbours which has maintained peace in Europe throughout our lifetime. We have spent our lives teaching students from across Europe. Many of them have become good friends. It seems like a self-destructive Little-Englander gesture to isolate ourselves from those riches of friendship and culture. We believe that Churchill was right when he said, ‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war’. Our children and most of the other young people we know see the UK’s future in Europe. It’s their future much more than it is ours. We don’t believe in trying to turn the clock back.

Finally we have a big question: What do we really know? What can we, members of the general public possibly know about the complex machinations of government, big business, the media and shadowy figures whose names rarely appear in public?

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that potent ideological forces are at work: ideologues of all kinds, big business, trans-national interests, wealthy individuals etc. etc. The traditional media journalists who offer to the rest of us insights into the process are rarely as neutral as they would like to claim.

And then there are the social media. The Channel 4 drama screened this week, Brexit, the Uncivil War, portrayed a Brexit process engineered by campaigners in smoke-filled rooms using algorithms derived from social media to wield influence. In previous elections, we thought (maybe naïvely) that we had a rough idea of the ways in which electioneers found out about what we and other voters thought. Now, notwithstanding the questions being asked about the extent and success of social media contributions to elections, we must be very much less certain.

So, this to friends who want to know what we think. Like a large proportion of the British population, we know and we know that we don’t know! But our instincts are towards friendship with Europe rather than away from it.

There is one more thing to say and it is quite sensitive. We continue to be disturbed by the way in which the only criterion on which a successful Brexit is judged is an economic criterion. Obviously the economic future of the country is vital and we tend to believe that the people most likely to be harmed by Brexit, especially if it is a no-deal Brexit, are the poorer people in the country. And that makes the economic argument even more powerful.

But we are troubled about the level and quality of the debate. The questions, ‘What sort of country do we want to be? What sort of society do we want to be in the UK?’ seem rarely to be asked. It is worrying that much of the pro-European talk seems to be predicated on holding on to economic safety. It’s the Belloc principle: ‘always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse!’ Whether or not Brexit is going to happen, we crave leaders who will find ways to encourage an improved quality of debate about values. Whether this blog contributes to that, at least among our politically minded friends, we leave you to judge!....

P.S. Should there be a second referendum? A week is a long time in politics – let’s see what the next week brings!

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