Brexit: some afterthoughts

Now things get interesting.

As an economist, I don’t need to go over for the umpteenth time about the case for Britain in the EU. The Common Market is a monumental success and Britain will not find anything elsewhere on Earth like it.

But I’ve been pondering the case for it as a country. As a nation. Whatever those mean. The “heart”, as they say, versus the “brain”.

And I can’t.

Not to say I think Britain, to survive as a nation (definition of which may vary), need to escape the EU. You still need to cross border controls to get in from the Chunnel. The Royal Navy is still the only navy on Earth besides Ithe US Navy with any real global reach. Britain is one of a handful of OECD countries that actually meets the 0.7% GDP target for international aid and the 2% GDP target for defence in NATO.

In short, Britain matters.

But what I don’t believe is that Britons signed up to be part of something that is more than a very large economic bloc. Europe is Britain’s neighbour. You can be very friendly to your neighbours. You can invite them to tea, every week if you want. What your neighbours aren’t, however, are people who live with you, in your house.

The Remain camp could never quite figure out what to say about this. From my outside perspective, every young person celebrating their jobs and vacations on the Continent, every European town who’d fly Union Jacks in “solidarity”, every emotional point they tried to make was an insult to those who never saw Europe as Britain’s destiny. The children were abandoning their motherland. The foreigners were appropriating the flag. It never worked, perhaps because they thought the same as me: there is no emotional case for Britain in the EU.

I compared the whole debate to a very silly analogy. I’m quite proud of it still.

But what else has happened tonight is make me question what’s a “Briton” at all. The Scots see Britain as superstructure, part of the set of larger circles in the Venn diagram to which Scots belong but closer to “European” as a description than “Scot” itself. The Irish have enough of their own identity issues that any upset in that delicate balance would throw the whole thing into flux. I hadn’t the foggiest idea of what it meant to be Welsh and now I’m even more baffled. I’ve believed that being British is bigger than being English, but does that matter if nobody that isn’t English thinks so?

Anyway, I’m sure the CETA team at GAC is going to have fun tomorrow.

God Save the Queen, and her numerous Realms.

Addendum: the Lord Ashcroft post-mortem poll suggests whatever concept of “Britons” or “Britishness” I may have had in mind above needs more refining, or is deeply conflicted in itself. Namely, self-identified “Britons” in England are much more Europhilic. Perhaps their vision of Britain, as mine, do not see it subsumed in Europe already. As for Scots, the numbers suggest they see “Briton” as a distinctively non-European identity.


Leave a Reply