(With apologies dear reader from MJ who is slightly late in adding this Rant to the JJ files…this should have been loaded on Wednesday 29 March, 2017, instead of the 30th. Hence, the opening line sounds a bit off – but only because I didn’t get to the computer on time.)
This is a sad day.
It is a sad day when the work of two generations in pacifying and unifying a continent that had been at war with itself for the best part of a century starts to unravel – all the more so when it happens for the same reasons of rising nationalism and distrust of diversity that caused most of its troubles in the first place.
I apologise on behalf of those of my fellow Britons who, when confronted with a verdant forest, see only the dead branches. Sadly, there are as many, and perhaps more, of them than there are of those of us who prefer to appreciate the landscape, with all its inevitable imperfections.
To accuse the European Union of not being a perfect creation is to say nothing. No government or administrative body created by man can be perfect, or even seek to be so. But knowing that idealism must always end in disappointment is no excuse for abandoning it. Anyway, there are mercantile reasons alone sufficient enough to keep it going.
The Union’s faults were many, and plain for all to see, even to those who believed in it, but dismantling the entire edifice, as many now wish to do, and not only in this country, hardly seems to be the most rational or proportionate response.
I fear that there may be more of this deconstruction of the Established Order to come. In America, the forces of laissez faire capitalism and isolationism, in their more extreme forms, are in the ascendant, under the newly-minted banner of ‘populism’. So-called populist movements are also gaining political heft in Europe. These may yet be turned back – and there are signs, as in the recent elections in the Netherlands, that they are becoming discredited – but their influence will not fade so readily that we can breathe freely again.
Populism in not in itself a base phenomenon, but discontent with governments and the classes categorised as ‘elite’ are one thing, the rise of bigotry and xenophobia something of a different order altogether. This was demonstrated during the 1930s by certain rabble-rousers in Germany and Italy. Rabble-rousers in market squares invariably go on to become despots if handed the reins of power. The proof of this defines our recent shared experience, a phase of history that reached its apotheosis in my lifetime; to the point, I might add, of possibly ending it prematurely.
There will be readers of this piece who will think it overwrought. In Britain, people like me are known as ‘remoaners’, who cannot accept the Will of the People, as freely expressed in the recent referendum. My response is that I do accept it, but must insist on the continuing right to freely express my own opinion.
This is that Britain is sleep-walking away from a warm dwelling into a cold night. That is not to say that Britain will not survive outside the Union – and it may, in time, even thrive – but those who spend their nights wandering in the garden usually suffer the uncomfortable consequences the following day.
I hope, my European friends, that we and you will remain cordial with each other, despite the political differences in our government circles, or in our private views. There are millions of my countrymen living and working in the countries of the Union, and millions of you ‘continentals’ living and working here, an exchange that I have always considered as something that brought enormous benefits to all concerned, both commercial and social.
Evidently, many of my fellow-countrymen prefer to regard it as an affront. That is what saddens me above all.
We in Britain have similar problems preserving the integrity of our own nation-state to those you face in keeping the Union together, as Scotland once again insists on being given the right to decide whether to continue its membership of the United Kingdom. It may well choose not to – another sad event to look forward to. Even Northern Ireland is beginning to test these waters.
This impulse to disunite can be as infectious as influenza. And the effects on nations can be just as devastating as it has proved to be on families.
Meanwhile, our government representatives will spend the next two years, or more, negotiating our ‘divorce’ (as the newspapers call it). Rather than hoping that Britain comes out on top, I find myself wishing both sides well. There should be no ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in this process.
We did, after all, enjoy some good times together, and nothing should happen that precludes our enjoying them again.
So, in conclusion, it is good luck from me and, I trust, bon chance from you.