A Very British Referendum
Today Britain votes on brexit: whether or not to remain in the European Union. Here are a short set of images chosen for their symbolism and taken on a all-too-rapid walk through central London last week.
The lead image (above) shows the statue of Churchill in front of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It seems an apt image for many reasons, not least the connection to the second world war which ultimately led to the creation of what is now the European Union from the attempts to ensure that Europe should never repeat such military conflict. In this respect, Europe has been astonishingly successful with a period of peace that is unprecedented in european history. Churchill himself played a key part in establishing the European Union, although in private he opposed UK membership of the EEC – a duality which seems threaded through all subsequent history between the UK and the EU.
The referendum campaigns have been profoundly depressing to watch. Highly misleading facts and figures about the EU have been repeatedly posted by the leave campaign, and despite repeated challenges not withdrawn. This Orwellian tactic repeats falsehoods time and time again until people take them as fact. I strongly recommend reading fullfact.org, which generally has good and unbiased analysis of the claims being made.
This has also been a highly xenophobic campaign, leading to the murder of one MP and death threats to others. Extremist right-wing groups such as Britain First find their racist and anti-immigration narratives legitimised by prominent politicians such as Nigel Farage. To be fair, this is part of a larger trend across all of Europe, where economic dissatisfaction is leading a right-wing back-lash against social democracy. But the referendum has amplified and pushed this trend front-and-center, and it will be a feature of UK politics for a considerable time regardless of the referendum’s outcome.
We live in a world where cross-border issues are now more important than ever – whether we are talking about pollution and climate change, the refugee crisis, the financial crisis, criminal and terrorist activity, and of course, issues of economy and growing inequality. Such issues can only addressed at a level larger than a traditional European country, and I would very much like to see Britain leading a united Europe against the issues that we all face.
Sadly, what I see instead are small minded politicians who fail to look beyond their own tiny domains of power and who use Europe for their personal political ends rather than as a means to work together for the benefit of everyone. Politics and economics are not zero-sum games.
The European Union’s free-movement rights are arguably one of its greatest strengths, not its greatest problem. People who have travelled and worked outside their country of birth are usually the strongest supporters of the union because they can see first hand the benefits that the European Union has brought and can continue to bring.
I am a British
citizen subject who lives in Spain and whose partner is Italian. Our work often involves collaboration with other people, companies and universities in the EU and our life, as many others, would be impractical under the insular and parochial vision for Europe that is implied in a potential British European exit.