Being a British person living in the non-British place of Berlin, my opinion on Brexit is probably pretty obvious.
I want to Remain. I don’t want to leave my apartment (I spent ages making it look nice), or have to fill out loads of forms, or be compelled to shotgun-marry my girlfriend in some spectacularly unromantic Brexit-fuelled proposal; “Darling, these last few years with you have been the most bureaucratically convenient of my life. I can’t imagine us ever not being together, as we translate complicated visa paperwork. Would you do me the honour of signing this contractually-binding legal document?”
However, that’s not my only reason. I also really like being in Europe and meeting all kinds of European people all the time, in a non-battlefield context. The idea of ‘ever-closer-union’ might scare some people, but personally I’m awed that the EU is presently doing things like abolishing data-roaming charges on a land-mass previously more famed for being a non-stop 7,000-year-old war. If Britain leaves, other member states might follow, falling like dominoes, and drifting over time back towards dumb, old ways. You don’t have to zoom out far enough on history for my liking to be concerned here. Europe still saw war and genocide in the same year Toy Story came out.
The EU might be a bodge-job of a plaster, but I still prefer it to a load of open wounds.
I still have sympathy for the arguments of the Leave campaign, especially for working people’s concerns about immigration. It is they, after all, who lose jobs and have salaries eroded as a direct consequence of the unrestricted, and unrestrictable, influx of unskilled labour. They are at the sharpest edges of the single market, and it rubs unfriendly salt in the wounds to brand them as “racists” and “little Englanders” by default. You might also be less enthusiastic about the European omelette, if you were one of its eggs.
Unfortunately for nuance, moderation, compromise, and consensus, though, the EU referendum is an unhelpfully binary choice — Yes or No; Remain or Leave. Like everything in politics, we’re voting on which ways to re-shuffle the landscape of winners and losers, and there is no right or wrong answer. The issue is inherently divisive, and there is, unfortunately, zero space for the kind of mild-mannered “let’s agree to disagree” faffy politeness that British people usually employ to navigate their lives. Leave and Remain campaigners have been forced instead to rant madly at each other like a bunch of YouTube comments that came to life.
Luckily, the idea of “impartial journalism” was always a confused idea anyway (what perspective could a journalist possibly write from, other than their one spectacularly limited viewpoint inside of a subjective human head?), so at least Leavers and Remainers haven’t needed to pretend to be anything other than propagandist soldiers on their side of a great Twitter-wide War of the Words. That’s why, as a Remain(-in-my-flat) supporter, it would be rude of me not to fire at least a few friendly shots across the no-man’s-land of neutrality. (Like: maybe we should worry less about immigrants stealing “our jobs,” and more about the robot hoards, who’ll soon be “coming over here” — everywhere, that is — to steal entire human professions in great, cheap swoops.)
So, firstly, the Leave campaign’s best argument is probably that Britain has been forced to cede some of its sovereign democracy to Brussels. The argument goes something like this: in the middle of the EU is a weird government-shaped thing called the European Commission, run by Darth Juncker and his team of nameless, faceless Eurocrats (here they are on Wikipedia, the evil, shadowy anonymoids), who pass down endless mad regulations about the legally permissible curvature of bananas, and the British people have no direct democratic means to remove these lunatics.
The argument that Britain has lost some of its sovereign democracy is, I think, a good one. Unless, of course, Britain’s ‘sovereign democracy’ was simply a synonym for a rag-tag bundle of mostly undemocratic insanity.
Europeans (as British people call them), might not know, for example, that Britain has an electoral system called
First-Past-the-Post (FPTP). I won’t bore you with the details, but the main thing you need to know about FPTP is that it is almost exactly as modern, fair, and inclusive as it sounds. It is the golf of governance.
If ‘democracy’ was an idea you liked, for example, you probably wouldn’t design one where voter’s votes are worth wildly varying amounts, depending on their location, and where all non-winning votes are taken out the back and shot. In the end, the amount of votes cast for a political party have little correlation with the amount of MPs that end up ruling the UK for five years. The last election in 2015 was, according to the Electoral Reform Society, the least representative election in British history. The winners (and the current group of folks in charge) won 50.8% of the seats with 36.9% of the votes. They formed a majority government from 24% of the electorate.
Nevertheless, by the codified rules of Great Golf-land, these are now the chaps allowed to enthusiastically spend 100% of the electorate’s money on a very, very expensive set of nuclear submarines that can be used for literally nothing, against literally no one, without, of course, simultaneously destroying Earth (of which Britain is also a member state.) Project Trident, as it’s known, makes the EU’s banana-straightening directive look positively majestic, wise, and stately in comparison.
As for the upper house, whose role is to balance out the “elected” government, that’s called the House of Lords, the name of which might already give you one, small clue about where this is going. Democratically speaking, the House of Lords is an institution that will mostly never contain you. On its seats, you’ll find the bums of 26 compulsory bishops (!), four dukes (!), and 92 hereditary peers (please note: men). The remaining members of the chamber — Lords, Baronesses, Earls, Marquess’, and Viscounts — are a whole slew of amazingly-titled characters that sound like they were beamed in directly from a Game of Thrones flashback. While the whole list is good for a chuckle at Britain’s staggeringly entrenched tweedness, a few personal highlights include the Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, the Lord Palumbo of Southwark, and the Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (“Hodor!”)
These bastions of ‘sovereign British democracy’ are appointed, of course, to their life-long positions by something called a Queen. “Oh, what’s a Queen,” you ask? Why, that’s an old lady in a very sparkly hat who is elected in another fascinating exercise of ‘sovereign British democracy’ called, “Who is the person that came out of the vagina of the previous lady in a very sparkly hat?”
I’m not even saying that this is a bad, silly or outdated way to run a country. Maybe it’s a system as good and valid as any other; who knows? All I am merely pointing out is that if you most like the argument that British people can’t handle being partly run by unelected leaders who are somehow detached from the ordinary reality of their lives, that’s ironic. It is, after all, the only thing we’ve ever known.
I hope that no one has also missed the other not tiny irony of Britain complaining that “we don’t want to be ruled by other people!”
Indeed, some of Britain’s more warped ideas about its status in the EU and the world seem to be born out of a kind of post-imperial hangover. Look out for prominent Leave-campaigners referring to us as “a maritime people,” “a buccaneering people,” and a “nation of entrepreneurs” for the groggy morning-after clues of a decadent all-nighter we threw about century ago (you know it’s a great party when the sun never sets on it .) If they had looked a bit closer at the UK, they might have noticed their euphemisms need a bit of an update. We are a Wetherspoons people, a Primark people, a nation of volunteer policemen trying to catch a swan.
While our flashbacks of grandeur mean we are still very easily able to correctly identify what a desirable place Britain is to live (it is, of course), it might also be why we struggle to simultaneously hold in mind that Europe is — rather famously — full of desirable places to live. In my experience, British people don’t conceptualise the EU as 510 million people with the freedom to live and work anywhere — from Venice to Vienna, Barcelona to Budapest, Marseilles to Munich. Instead, they see 510 million people with British passports.
When “swarms” of migrants (our prime minister’s phrase) in the refugee crisis were apparently threatening to sink Britain with their combined weight, the most hysterical people on our island were so assured of the unmatched status of our sparkling credentials that — like a drunk at a buffet shouting “I invented the sandwich!” — we barely noticed as the migrants quietly shuffled away from us, towards Germany, and Sweden, and Austria, and all of the other places that are also very desirable, and also speak English about as well as us.
So, whenever I hear someone from the Leave campaign saying something like, “we’d be better off making our own laws!”, I think about who’s going to win the next Sparkly Hat election (spoiler alert: Charles), whether the EU’s nonsense is any worse than our own home-grown, aristocratic brand, and about those bloody submarines, expensively gliding through the daftest depths of the sea, waiting only to avenge the honour of a country that has already, apparently, been nuked from the map. Thinking about how Britain, ‘the sovereign democracy’, could one day say its last posthumous farewell to all life on Earth, I wonder if we wouldn’t, in fact, be better off with a little bit more of Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands in charge.
I want to Remain.