Brexit Debate

Photo by Jannes Van den wouwer on Unsplash

Written by Owen Buchan and Alasdair Bell – please note that this article may not represent the views of the writers, it is a debate to show both sides of the argument

The 23rd of June 2016 will always stand as a very important day in British history. It will be remembered in various ways by different people. Some may view it as a day where Brits chose racism and isolationism over tolerance and globalisation. Others view it as the calm before the political storm that was unleashed afterwards or even worse, a mistake. Yet there are still those who look back at 2016 and Britain’s future with great enthusiasm, optimism and hope. These people have a variety of titles imposed on them: Brexiteers, uninformed voters or even racists. Whatever personal animosities held, this collection of around 17 million people threw their support behind Brexit.

The product of their vote only now seems to have just come to fruition. With our pre-Christmas present being the signing of a deal between the EU and the UK. After years of anticipation, a comprehensive deal numbering 1,246 pages was signed. Of course, there is still much more work to be done but this should still be hailed as a huge and long-coming victory. Throughout the journey of Brexit; at times it can appear as if the reasons leave one has been forgotten. While luckily the case for Brexit does not need to be made, it can be helpful to remind ourselves some of the key reasons why Brexit will be beneficial for the UK.

The European Union is a threat to the sovereignty of Parliament and the UK. The EU is a supranational body whose powers transcend that of Parliament. Therefore, rules are imposed on the UK that are not always in the UK’s best interest. While admittedly the UK, through the EU Parliament and the EU Commission, does play a hand in creating these laws, the other 27 nations in the EU can easily outvote British interest. Therefore we see rules from Brussel enforced in the UK without any scrutiny from our Parliament. Furthermore, the EU as a political entity is very disconnected from the people and hence it’s understandable when the EU is said to be lacking in accountability to the citizens. Consequently, leaving the EU in an ideal world will restore all lost powers of areas like fishing waters and EU immigration back to Parliament; an institution that is accountable to the British public. 

Immigration has been a concern for the British public for a while and Brexit was a way in which this anxiety was voiced. Of course, it is a controversial subject and tends to bring out the worst in people’s opinions. The EU allows for the free movement of citizens within its borders. While the UK was able to avoid more extreme schemes like the Schengen Area, the UK was still subject to the free movement of people. The general sense of immigration being too high into Britain was heightened by the EU’s policy of free movement. While all non-EU immigration has always been controlled by the UK Government and is actually higher than EU immigration, ending free movement became a catchy slogan. Ultimately, controlling who can and cannot enter a country is a basic power and duty of a state and leaving the EU will restore this power in its entirety to the UK. 

The UK’s fate will be under the UK’s control. The EU, through various treaties, has slowly grown its own to become not just a trade but a political union. The EU member states could very much end up sacrificing more and more powers over areas like foreign policy and trade to the EU. No longer do we see German or French trade deals between the USA for example but the EU and USA trade deals. This in itself is a large amount of power to be given to the EU, this very much could go into other areas. Could we see an EU foreign policy or some form of military cooperation to rival NATO in the future? With the current rate of EU member state integration, this could become a possibility in the far future. Thus by leaving; the powers that have already been given can be returned and the UK will be able to stand as a sovereign entity and not a part of a potential EU superstate. 

Ultimately, there are many reasons to leave the EU. Here a few key examples were highlighted. Leaving allows Britain to reclaim its sovereignty as a nation. Control over trade deals, immigration and foreign policy will once again be restored. The UK has always had a proud history of self-governance and Brexit shows this tradition is not ready to be given up yet. 

In a way, it is quite refreshing to think again about Brexit, being bogged down as we are in the mires of Covid and our government’s capricious response to it. It has become unusual to look at the news and find a headline detailing something other than a shift in the tier system, a milestone in the mortalities or a new reminder on just how much food is needed in order to buy a pint. However, refreshing as it may be to take the mind away from the pandemic, there is little pleasure to be found in the aftermath of the vote of 23rd June 2016 and the impact it has had on the political climate in Britain today. 

‘Madness is something rare in individuals’, says Nietzsche, ‘but in groups, parties, peoples and ages, it is the rule’. The words of the German philosopher are no less true today than they were in the nineteenth century. The madness Nietzsche speaks of is not that of the mind, but that which ideologies provide, parties require and ages are defined by. The madness of consuming yourself with ideas that are removed from the everyday, have no tangible repercussions, yet dictate relationships with people you know nothing about aside from their political persuasions. Since Cameron announced the referendum and involved the public in an affair that ultimately didn’t belong in the public realm, this is the madness that has gripped Britain and divided Britain, persisting and reigning as the ‘rule’ that defines our socio-politics. 

Madness may be a bit of a strong term. Nietzsche was never one for using language in moderation. However, it is accurate in describing the attitudes on both sides of the political spectrum that have allowed for society to become viewed and sorted into binary categories. Brexit has given birth to a wealth of terms that serve no other purpose than to reduce people to stereotypes, lumping us together to then pit us against each other, ignorant to any sort of complexity or variety of opinion. Words such as ‘brexiteer’, ‘brextremist’, ‘remainer’, ‘remoaner’, ‘snowflake’, ‘boomer’, ‘millennial’ and ‘leaver’ (I’m sure there are many others) have found life in the tick-box, one-or-the-other attitude towards politics that the voting slip created. If you’re old, you’re now out of touch and behind the times, a boomer with no thought for the future. If you’re younger (generally, if you were born a decade after the UK joined the EU), you’re a remainer with no back bone and no belief in your country, holding hands with the tyrannical bureaucrats in Brussels who make the laws for our country. Whether it be age, party affiliation, geographical location, ethnicity or wealth, there will always be a line to fall either side of, an irrelevant characteristic that makes you wrong or right. Brexit has left no room for nuance, for perspective, for an empathetic understanding of somebody else’s situation without implicitly or explicitly seeing them as with you or against you.

Now, in no way am I suggesting that life before Brexit was full of hugs, street parties and communal sing-songs. Differences in opinion, quite obviously, have always existed and have always created a ground for difference amongst a population. However, whilst difference is inevitable, division is not. Brexit forced the voting population to put itself on one side of a fence that it previously never knew existed. But then it made that fence the boundary for issues which should never be sat either side of. The Brexit campaigns were waged not over economic consequences (the Bank of England recently concluded Brexit will cost more than the pandemic), international relations or the legal intricacies of our relationship to the bloc. Instead, identity was targeted, individual sovereignty (rather than national) was brought to the fore and the voices of those previously ignored by government were told that this was the chance to be finally heard. Such complex, personal factors as these were eroded to align with either leave or remain, a tick in a box sold to the public as the remedy for issues government will never come close to solving. 

That is the root of the aforementioned ‘madness’. Brexit exposed the divide between the individual and the political by trying to fuse the two together. Those campaigning for Brexit knew that the percentages weren’t going to swing on the merits of fact. They had to target emotion. The £350million was a lie, the economic benefits were a lie, the control of Brussels over the UK was grossly exaggerated, the imminence of a border in Ireland was ignored and we were never going to ‘Take Back Control’ in a way that would give satisfaction to the millions of votes that were pledged to that end. The EU never cared about our bananas. And on the other hand, in no way are we going to perish in some sort of post-brexit apocalypse. We don’t need to stack up on canned food, kiss goodbye to the future of the younger generations and hold our hats out in the hope of a pittance to keep us ticking over following the end to EU funding. In short, nothing much will change in day-to-day life. Perhaps it will be slightly more difficult to go to France. 

I’m not saying that Brexit doesn’t matter. Only that it matters in a way yet to be fully acknowledged. Conversations on Brexit either flog the dead horse of the short-term consequences or stress over exactly what ‘Australian-style’ means. The true impact of the vote, a decidedly negative impact, is the insistence that that sort of stuff matters, matters in a way significant enough to justify the partition that has split the country down the middle on a level far deeper than trade agreements and single markets deserve. In a few years, trade will have stabilised, businesses adapted and the economic curve recovered. But the divides will remain as a scar that won’t fade.

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Alasdair Bell

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