September 21, 2016
Somebody compared Brexit to a dog who got onto a bus without having thought what to do next. This is a pretty accurate image of a country that is almost too stunned to ask the question “What now?”, unable to make up its mind what price is worth paying for this glorious day of independence.
There is no shortage of ambitious but meaningless statements about what Brexit means. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson talks about “seizing the opportunities that this country now has to forge a positive and exciting new relationship, not just with Europe, but also with the rest of the world, changing Britain and making it global again.” On the other hand David Davis, Minister for Brexit and usually very bullish about the subject, admits that “this will be the most complicated negotiation of all time.”
The ‘phoney’ stage of Brexit is marked by a deep fear of saying anything specific, let alone committing to a timetable. When Donald Tusk, after a meeting with Theresa May, suggested that Article 50 might be triggered at the beginning of 2017, Downing Street quickly claimed that this was just an interpretation of their conversation.
This general feeling of not knowing what to do next is also widespread among the 48% who voted to remain in the EU. There is still a sense of gloom and puzzlement about the result: how was the Leave campaign with its populist anti-immigration rhetoric able to outmanoeuvre the Remainers so thoroughly? Were there really no better people to make the case for the EU than David Cameron/George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn?
There have been protests and demonstrations by pro-EU groups, and there has been a T-shirt with the slogan “We are the 48%”, (to which the simple answer is “We are the 52%”), but overall the mood is one of powerlessness and resignation.
However, solid reasons exist for a more positive outlook, if we remember some important points:
- 48%, almost half of the UK, are pro-European
- This attitude is particularly strong among 18 to 24 year olds, 75% of whom voted to remain in the EU
- The 27 remaining EU states did not want the UK to leave and favour a continuing relationship with Britain. It helps that English is the common language of communication within Europe.
Over the past decades, and this was an important factor in the Brexit vote, the EU has emphasised economic regulation and control by the European institutions, rather than links between Europeans of different nationalities. It became very clear that the notion of control (‘edicts from Brussels’) and national sovereignty was one of the main considerations for people to vote leave. For them Brexit did not imply any loss at all – what they lost was the – perceived – control from Brussels, thereby regaining their autonomy as a nation. At least that is what they thought.
By contrast, most young voters feel angry that they have been cut off from fellow Europeans, that the freedom to travel, study and work in Europe has suddenly been taken away, amounting to a betrayal by the older generation who voted to leave the EU.
We need to make sure that, whatever Brexit means, young Britons should not have their European options closed off. That is why, during this stage of the Brexit limbo, efforts of pro-Europeans everywhere must focus on nurturing links, particularly for young people, between Britain and the 27 EU countries,.
For UK educational institutions, this means, for instance, that schools, colleges and universities could foster relationships with their counterparts in the rest of Europe. Many students have benefited from the Erasmus programme – it should be used as much as possible before the UK leaves, and there is no reason why a specifically British-European type of successor scheme could not be devised.
For the European institutions a new priority should be the creation of European networks for a whole range of sectors, particularly for young people. This applies of course to education but also, for instance, to the media and sport. Without creating a new sense of commonality between European citizens many other initiatives are doomed to fail.
Author : ¿Que gigantes?