Britons are voting today whether to leave or remain in the European Union. In a uniquely Anglosaxon way, mirroring the presidential election in America, the Brexit vote lacks a correct answer.
People feel this, and like all such kafkaesque double binds, the referendum is characterized by high polarization, low facts and even lower turnout (mark my words).
Furthermore, the outcome of the vote is probably going to be irrelevant. For one, every state in the world retains the ability to influence the results of pivotal elections and referenda. Not everybody does it as often, or as clumsily, as Vladimir Putin with his 104 % approval ratings in Chechnya, but on a vote this important, the state can only afford to have one outcome.
Second, it is already being suggested that even if Britain votes to leave, the usual EU-ferendum trick will drop and Britons will be kindly allowed to retake the test until they get the answer right.
But in the hypothetical case the will of the people of Britain means something:
It is important to realize the vote is not about whether the EU is or isn’t a dysfunctional monster in urgent need of a spot of St.George-style skewering. Nobody except a few luvvies in Camden doubts that the EU is a corrupt clusterfuck.
The main objection to the EU – that it’s a bunch of unaccountable statists and mafiosi wasting the continent’s economic and human potential on an epic scale – is true.
What the vote is about is whether the EU is reformable.
That question was, sadly, virtually absent from the national debate. What was not absent was total douchebaggery from both sides. In the runup to the referendum, both campaigns have soiled British public discourse with unseen lows of dishonesty, demagoguery presented as substantive analysis, and lowest common denominator appeals to amygdala.
I’m just glad and reinvigorated in my faith in mankind that nobody would be such a morally bankrupt hyena to try to capitalize on the tragic and suspiciously well-timed murder of a young MP when the leave camp was already ahead by several percent and had nothing to gain. But what’s a young life next to dreams of empire?
Still, many of the arguments both for and against are legit. The question is of course their relative importance.
- Staying won’t be as benign as suggested: if Britain remains after leveling numerous (justified) complaints, Brussels will apply the logic of an abusive spouse whose victim failed to take the last opportunity to pack their bags. Already, in true abusive spouse fashion, EU officials are alternating “please don’t go, I need you” with unlubricated assrape and open threats.If Britons remain, they will inevitably face an erosion of their power to govern themselves, which is why they must seek more power to govern the whole instead. For all of post-communist Europe, I pledge any and all forms of support in that effort.
- Leaving wouldn’t be an economic disaster: the interests of German industry always trump the hurt feelings and petty vindictiveness of francophone bureaucrats. There would be a mad scramble to get Britain into trade deals as fast as possible.
- Independence/exemption from globalisation. Forget it. That ship has sailed. The trend towards global interconnectedness is inevitable. However, a legitimate question is whether membership in a bureaucratic behemoth is the best way to partake. But the isolationist/nationalist argument is ridiculous. Leaving the EU won’t make Britain immune to globalisation. We’re all headed into one big melting pot, there’s no stopping it, and it’s a good thing.
I don’t object to Germany being a leading force in Europe – German economy and internal stability speak for themselves. If Europe should be anybody’s empire, theirs would be the fourth or fifth best choice. But there’s a difference between being a leading force, and being the leading force. Germans are good – the best, really, after the Swiss – at managing their own affairs. But their projections of influence abroad have historically been problematic.
Contrast that to Britain, which has at one point managed a global empire, at a time before instant communications, and whose former colonies are to this day leagues ahead of everybody else in their regions. In turn, contrast that to Spanish, Portuguese, French or Italian colonies, which continue to suffer from … the same problems as Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, really.
Libya, Somalia and Vietnam on one hand, Singapore, Australia and Canada on the other. Pick which you want Europe to resemble more.
In an ideal family of nations, Germany would be the stay-at-home spouse making sure the household runs smoothly, and Britain would be the breadwinner engaging usefully with the outside world. In practical terms, this means the EU needs more German administration replacing the Belgian, French and Italian communist paper rats (of whom there is an inexcusably outsized share), and more British power replacing, frankly, Merkel, Schäuble et co..
The fact Britain, as the world’s fifth largest economy and the inventor of modernity, languishes beneath Italy and France in rankings of EU influence, is frankly appaling. On merit and importance, it should be, at worst, tied for first with Germany.
Instead, much like a bus driver able to jump out before a cliff but not save the others, Britain has enough influence to gain exceptions and insulate itself from the worst, but not to substantially change the direction of the whole.
Given that Britain single-handedly invented modern civilization, the scientific method, the industrial revolution, liberalism, the concept of human rights, parliamentary democracy and tea scones, maybe we should try listening to them a bit more than the fallen empires that gave us two world wars (that the British and their former colonies stopped), Robespierre, Karl Marx and Benito Mussolini.
Britain is the healthiest part of Europe with any global power. I don’t know if it’s possible to be patriotic for a country whose citizenship one doesn’t have, but I’m a complete and unapologetic anglophile.
All successful recipes for EU reform include the UK as crucial actor. The UK is the place that literally created modern statehood, and if it is going to be reformed or saved from somewhere, it will be the UK again.
If anybody can Make Europe Great Again (MEGA!), it is Britain.
What most people in Europe really want is simple: a cooperating Europe, built on the removal (rather than clientelist restructuring) of barriers.
We don’t want officials telling us what the proper shape is for a banana, or that our power should be 20% more expensive because somebody in Germany is dreaming a wet dream about solar being an actual source of electricity in northern Europe.
A united Europe was the greatest political vision in a generation. The “elites” (there really are not enough sarcastic quotation marks in the world) thought they could smuggle any amount of self-serving protectionism, regulatory capture and general top-down oligarchic unfairness onto the back of a cause this good. They were wrong. The camel’s back is broken. Europe will either radically reform, or disintegrate.
Britain should take the lead in either case.
If Britain remains, and chooses to lead an EU-wide reform effort, it will have many allies, perhaps small in isolation, but together half the continent.
The Czech republic is an ethnically and culturally Celtic enclave smack in the middle of Europe – we have bagpipes, black pudding, maypoles and an overwhelming appetite for our neighbors’ property, for fucks’ sake. We flew your planes in the Battle of Britain. We’re Englishmen without the relevance. And as long-lost cousins, we vouch for the local tribes – the Poles, Slovaks and Hungarians are all natural allies for Britain.
All of the post-communist countries on the eastern and northern flank, the Visegrád four, Romania, the Baltics in the north and Slovenia in the south, are culturally deep within the bossom of western civilization – and unlike the vaccilating spoiled brats in other corners of Europe, we’re fully aware where big-government utopianism leads, and deeply grateful to be in civilized company. Furthermore, we are supplying all the attractive waitresses that y’all are banging. True fact.
Add to that the less self-destructively communist from among the Nordics (Finland and Denmark come to mind), and the substantial overlap of values and interests with Germany, which is ultimately more likely to side with such a block over the profligrate latin wing, and this, this can be the new European consensus.
I don’t want Britain to leave, nor to stay within the presently dysfunctional EU. I want it to remain and lead.
Today, Britain will probably vote to stay. Or at least, it will look like that. I’ll eat a ghost pepper and wash it down with half a bottle of gin if it doesn’t, and upload the result on youtube.
UPDATE: look who’ll be a youtube sensation soon!
UPDATE2: here’s the video.
If Britain leaves, no biggie. So will others, given the precedent, and we can start our own club.
The question Britons need to be asking themselves today as their hands hover over the ballot box is this: is the EU reformable from within? If not, leave and start an alternate club. If it is, remain and lead.
Loath as I am to tell sovereign nations what to do (the scope being too small, I am born to rule the planet at the very least), Britain should spearhead a reform effort with every ounce of that plucky bulldog blood it’s got. Not just for the sake of Britain, but for the sake of Europe, which is completely fucked without it.
If there is an europeanship, Britain better be the captain.
If you want Britain to either stay or leave, buy me a nice cuppa.