You’ve probably heard that Brexit nearly upon us. For those of you who don’t know, “Brexit” is the silly-sounding term that is being used to describe the British referendum on whether or not to leave the EU. The vote will be on June 23rd, so hopefully we will stop hearing the word “Brexit” very soon! Regardless of the absurdity of the term, Brexit is a serious issue. I don’t have a dog in the fight so I was going to keep quiet. But I can’t any more. (And because I decided to speak out on the eve of voting, I may not be as coherent in my ranting as usual. Sorry!)
I would like to start by saying that as an American who has lived in the UK–twice as a dependent on my mother’s skilled workers visa and once on my own student visa–I resented the changes that came along with full integration into the EU. Free travel and right to work for all EU passport holders definitely made it more difficult for non-EU citizens to live in Britain. As the economy got worse in the late 2000s, hostility towards Americans got worse and visa restrictions got tighter. I admit, as someone who went to international grade schools (and whose mother paid extremely high taxes to, in part, fund state schools) and then paid double the fees that EU students pay to attend LSE for my master’s, I resented the open hostility of the customs agents when I arrived in the UK to start my program. It’s not that I minded paying my way; I would not expect recourse to public services or in-county fee levels. But the fact that every immigrant from the EU gets these things and I get detained at the airport even though all my documents were in order rubs me the wrong way.
Setting aside my personal feelings, I always thought the EU sounded a bit like the Articles of Confederation; a loose collection of states with differing interests and goals, domestic laws, and, at least to some extent, currencies. If you’ve studied American history–or have ever heard anyone mention the Constitution–you probably know that the Articles of Confederation didn’t last. That’s because it’s very hard to govern a group of primarily independent states with a loose web of laws. The Constitution is an ultimate authority that binds together every state in America. It may be flawed, but it does generally work. I’ve always thought that superimposing an Articles of Confederation-like network of regulations on the vastly different and fully independent countries of Europe sounded like a bad plan that was bound to fail–or at least flail.
From the above rant, you’d think I’d be ready to say “yes” to leaving the EU. You’d be wrong. It’s not that I necessarily think the EU is a brilliant idea or that Britain is unequivocally better for being a member. But we are well past the point of no return.
Leaving probably won’t change much at all from an immigration or open jobs perspective if the UK wants to do trade with the EU, which they will obviously want to do. Plus they will be in a weaker position as they try to renegotiate other treaties without the EU backing them up. Not to mention businesses will have to navigate new British regulations, once they are written, and EU immigrants’ employment eligibility will be in question–they will (as I said) most likely be able to keep working, but it’s certain to be bad for business and for workers and their families who are contributing to the British economy (and conversely for Brits working and living in Europe). All this is a long-winded way of saying that Britain’s economy will suffer, Europe’s economy will suffer, most likely the world economy will suffer. All because Britain’s economy hasn’t rebounded as quickly or as well as the Brits would like!
The economic argument ignores many points in favor of remaining. For example, the EU has been a leader on climate change prevention and environmental protection. The invests as a bloc in other areas of scientific and medical–through CERN, the ESA, European Medicines Agency (based in London, I might add), and more. And of course there are social justice arguments for staying (if only because the arguments for leaving sound so racist.) Aren’t these important reasons to stay?
Of course if Britain does vote to leave the EU, I will never have to put up with my British friends and family mocking the US for having political candidates like Palin and Trump. We might have bigoted, right-wing, xenophobic politicians who want to put up a wall on our boarders–but so far these candidates haven’t won a majority of the peoples’ votes. If Britain does exit, they will have voted for a wall and for racism and fear. I’ll finally have a good comeback for all those annoying posts on my newsfeed!
By the way, the photos scattered through this post are from a project for one of my politics classes at LSE. My group and I were tasked as pitching the media strategy for an anti-EU campaign. This was in early 2014, before the EU Parliamentary elections (and the triumph of UKIP) and well before the term “Brexit” was coined. We figured that British pride would be the pressure point, rather than unbridled xenophobia. But then again, we would have been in hysterics if someone had floated the name “Trump” as a Republican presidential primary candidate, let alone the party’s prospective nominee. Regardless, none of us were anti-EU (even though only one of us, if I remember correctly, was an EU citizen) but we all thought the “no” vote would be a fun campaign to run! I think we came up with some great media, what do you think?