Most of the articles on Popular Discourse have been focused on the United States and politics on this side of the Atlantic. But there’s one issue that looms large on the other end of the pond, one that threatens stability and economic prosperity not just in its epicenter, but also promises to have major ramifications around the world and in the United States. On June 23, the United Kingdom will vote in a nationwide referendum on its status as a member of the E.U. By and large, members of the opposition Labour Party are in the Remain camp, while the majority Conservative Party is split among Remain and Leave. The most recent opinion polls show the Leave campaign with a slight majority, although the referendum is far too close to call and the majority of polling had been showing a tendency towards a Remain vote. Most reputable experts, most politicians, and most common sense tilts toward Remain, and it is paramount that Great Britain tame the Eurosceptics in its midst once more.
The U.K has always dealt with the question of whether it is a European nation. The British Isles are not physically connected to the Continent but time and time again through the centuries the British people have been shown over and over that the fate of the U.K is tied to the fate of Europe. In today’s climate, Britain is the arbiter of balance within Europe. If Germany gained too much power, Britain stood by the French and the Allies in two world wars to defeat them because it knew that a Germany-dominated Europe would spell doom for the nation. When France gained enough economic power to begin to unbalance the Continent, the U.K stood by the Nordic countries to oppose it. Britain obtains food, commodities, and economic power from Europe. And in the community politics that arose out of the formation of the European Community that led to the European Union, Britain is much smaller alone than within the Brussels-centered power structure.
Yet proponents of the Leave campaign claim to be on the right side of history. They use a campaign of misdirection and sometimes outright lies to try to scare the public into accepting the latent Euroscepticism that Britain has experienced since the 1500’s. They tap into the public’s fear of immigrants, especially Muslim emigres whom they see as a potential threat given the violence in France of the past year and the subway bombings in London in July 2005. The Leave campaign also claims to be campaigning on liberalism and national self determination in what they see as a repudiation of the oppressive centralization of EU power in Brussels. Finally they protest the funding that Britain sends over to Europe each month in order to pay for membership in the EU, which they falsely claim runs up to 350 million pounds per week (it’s 150 million pounds and even less when the net balance of cash flow is taken into account). They claim that leaving the EU will bring back economic growth and revitalize the country’s ability to look outward. Their arguments sound legitimate but unfortunately most of the Leave campaign is facetious and downright dangerous.
“I… would hope and wish for the UK to stay part and parcel of the EU,” says German chancellor and Person of the Year Angela Merkel. “The US and the world need your outsize influence to continue- including within Europe,” says American president Barack Obama. “I don’t want to scare you but… there will be consequences in many areas,” says French Prime Minister Francois Hollande. “Brexit would be a defeat for Europe, but it would be a disaster for the United Kingdom,” says Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister. And most experts agree. But that’s just the thing. Most members of the Leave campaign display a credo of anti-intellectualism, dismissing studies, information, and analysis specifically and purposefully because of its authoritative tone. In a what the Economist calls a display of post-truth politics, the Leave campaign has adopted a sense that it is precisely the Oxford and Cambridge education that the elites in the Remain campaign have received that undermines their cause. This makes them immune to the piles of criticism that world leaders have expressed in reference to Leave, and in fact maybe the best turning point in the entire campaign may have been President Obama’s April 23rd appearance with British Prime Minister David Cameron in defense of Remain. Up until that point polls had been showing a neck and neck race between the two sides with a large section of those polled also unsure of their vote, but after the joint statement Leave pulled away.
A Leave vote would be unequivocally disastrous on the world stage. Yes, it’s true that both the Remain and Leave campaigns have waged untruthful campaigns. Both have their hands dirty in the game of politics that is being played out. But regardless of who is right on the proximal effects, from the economic impact (which Leavers fantastically claim will lead to 4% GDP growth when there is no evidence to suggest this will occur), to the immigration impact (David Cameron had promised to bring immigration into the U.K down to the “tens of thousands” yet almost half a million immigrants poured into the country in 2015), to the social impact on the EU (unclear, but may lead to a domino effect that collapses the European order), it is the distal, more abstract factors that matter most. Until 1914, the name of the game was divide and conquer. Each country sought to achieve greatness through military conquest, grabbing as much land, resources, people and money as they could, then using that surplus to expand even further. The Napoleonic Wars produced the Congress of Vienna that papered over great power politics by attempting to solidify European borders and prevent the rise of any one country’s hegemony. But by 1914 the stable European order fell apart due to a variety of factors, one of which was the simmering over of incipient nationalism in occupied territories in Southeastern Europe as well as the rise of German nationalism beginning in the 1870s. Two world wars shook the continent to the core, as Western liberalism was rebuked in a most hideous fashion and the very bastions of freedom that professed liberty for all produced death and destruction on a never-before-seen scale.
The European Community and the European Union was born out of the chaos of the first half of the 20th century. Yes, part of the reason for its formation was to organize against the Soviet Union. But a lasting goal of the E.U is to show and prove that the European continent has moved past the petty power struggles of the nineteenth and eighteenth century. And there has been a lot of progress here. The Eurozone unites almost two dozen countries under a common currency, tying their fate together and ensuring economic cooperation in a unique example of shared economic sovereignty.. The Schengen agreement completely opens borders between a dozen countries, allowing for the free movement of labor and travel and stitching the European continent more closely together than ever before. Yes, there are certainly problems with the E.U. The centralization of the power structure in the EU Parliament in Brussels is not nearly organized enough, and it remains unclear how much political sovereignty the EU countries will be willing to give up to remain in the union. And there are certainly other problems that plague the continent, not least the rise of right wing nationalism and the influx of immigrants and refugees spilling over from conflict in Syria and unrest in North Africa. But it is certain that a Brexit would only exacerbate all those problems and place the entire European project in jeopardy.
Britain has proved to itself time and time again that despite its wishes, it is a European country. Its fate is tied to events across the English Channel. If Brexit does occur, Britain does not get to escape that simple fact. It will have to negotiate trade treaties and political agreements, and find a new way to fit into Europe. It will be hard, but this isn’t in itself a reason not to leave the EU. The best reason to vote Remain is that as long as the U.K remains in the E.U it is possible to reform it from the inside. If Britain exercises the nuclear option and invokes Article 50 of the EU charter, it nixes the opportunity to work with the rest of Europe as closely as they can today. It is always better to work within the system to change it than to sit on the sidelines and sneer as problems don’t get fixed because you don’t have a seat at the table. If I had British citizenship, I would vote Remain, and if anyone from England reads this, I would urge them to vote Remain as well tomorrow. If any readers do have British friends, I hope that they will take the message to Remain to heart and call their compadres across the pond to action, to ensure that our collective project towards interdependence and connection remains within our grasp.