So, I woke up this morning to find that yesterday we voted leave in the EU referendum, that over the next few years here in the UK we will be going through the painful — and unspeakably boring — process of disentangling ourselves from European Union legislation. And it will be boring. Nobody in the Leave campaign bothered to mention how boring it will be. But now that it is happening, it’s probably time to admit that it won’t be the joyous march to freedom we have been promised. It will be committees and laws and bureaucrats and documents petty squabbling and sheer, mind-numbing tedium. And alongside all this boringness, there will be the new political climate in which we find ourselves: darker, uglier and more unsettling than before this whole business began.
I think the decision to leave is the wrong decision. I am not an uncomplicated supporter of the EU. I am appalled by how what the EU has done to Greece, at considerable human cost (for an account of which you could do worse than read Varoufakis’s excellent And the Weak Suffer What They Must). I am deeply uneasy with the way in which the EU has responded to, and continues to respond to, the migrant crisis. Nevertheless, on balance, I think the decision to leave is the wrong decision, and the wrong decision made for the wrong reasons.
Throughout this debate we have not been offered a kinder, wiser, more humane, more democratic alternative. Neither the Leave camp nor the Remain camp offered us this. Sure, individuals spoke out in favour of this, but in terms of the political campaigns, this is not what was on the table. So, in the absence of any real positive vision for where might be heading, it is the awful Farage who has won out, with his already-broken promises about the NHS, his racism, his objectionable “just an ordinary bloke” pantomime.
I think that many of those who voted to leave will, in the long-run, be disappointed by the meagre returns. They will be disappointed when they find that they have not been told the truth about the sources of their all-too-real miseries. They will be disappointed to find that the architects of this Brexit campaign do not genuinely have their interests at heart. Austerity will grind onwards. The cards will continue to be stacked — systematically, deliberately, callously — in favour of the rich. London will continue to be the centre of global corruption. And those who are interested in deflecting our attention from the real sources of our problems will direct us towards new people to blame and to hate for our predicament.
In the end, what I find most miserable and depressing about all this is not just the result, but the way that the result has been won. It has been won at the cost of making the UK a worse place to live in. And this being the case, had the UK voted to remain, the victory would have been won at exactly the same cost. Even before I woke up this morning to hear this news, I think that we had already paid the price.
But given that this has happened, and that it is irreversible, we need to remember that this is not the apocalypse. The good thing about the apocalypse is that it can only happen once (although this is also the bad thing about the apocalypse). And this probably isn’t it. These are ugly times — they have been ugly for a while — but the odds are that the world isn’t going to end just yet.
At the very brink of the apocalypse, when nothing more can be done, this is the point at which we should allow ourselves to give up, the point at which we might permit ourselves to say, “OK, we’re now well and truly screwed. Let’s just hang out and eat cake.” But if this is not the apocalypse (or probably not) we don’t really have that luxury. If we want a kinder, wiser, more humane, more democratic alternative, our work is cut out for us. We need to get on with things. The struggle may be harder than before. But it is not entirely lost.
Image: Matthew Paris’s 13th century map of Great Britain, thanks to Wikimedia Commons.