Brexit forces us to find a new way of engaging with the world

Those who have suffered in the economic downturn are making their voices heard. The populism behind Brexit resonates with the supporters of Trump in the US. Both political movements draw energy from a large swath of people who rightly expect better from a system that has been giving them less and less to count on over several decades and, in the past eight years, have seen the bottom drop out of their hopes for a decent life for themselves and their children.

The UK shows us that the possibility that Donald Trump’s view of the world, a view catering to this sense of anger and loss, could prevail in the US in November is real.

Concerns about immigration have played into this vote, in the same way they create facile  support for Trump. Refugees and migrants are easy scapegoats when fear and loss feed a frenzied political atmosphere.

The economic repercussions of Brexit will be huge but at this point are not easily measured. Right now, all of us UK citizens are feeling its psychological implications.

It is a sad day for the great project of Europe. My generation, the children of those who fought in the Second World War, have grown up with pride in the way that Europe ventured into the unknown with a new economic and constitutional arrangement that harnessed countries previously at war in a common effort to create a better future. Even with its abject difficulties and poor management of a series of crises, Europe has, for my lifetime, given us optimism about how the tragedy of war could be turned to good effect.

It is a sad day for Britain’s image in the world. In the past century Britain has drastically diminished as a world power. It’s connection with Europe – albeit always a somewhat dodgy matter – seemed an obvious way to keep its hand in.

It is a sad day for the UK, which is going to have much less reason to stick together after this. Scotland will have more reason to secede, since Scots largely supported remaining in the EU. Northern Ireland, which has relied on free movement of people and goods across its border with the Republic of Ireland to assuage the sentiments of its Irish nationalist population, will be looking at the new situation ith concern. Could Brexit do what over a century of complex political negotiation and terrorist activity never managed to do – to hasten a united Ireland?

But I suspect the biggest affront we are going to feel over coming months and years as a result of this vote is to our deeper belief that joint institutions, however frustrating and inept, are worth the effort in the interests of making our life on this planet a common project. It will be tempting to be more cynical about other international institutions, and to be less supportive of efforts at joint action.

Let’s hope this moment can introduce some healthy soul searching about the kind of world we want going forward and how much effort we will put in to make it happen.


4 thoughts on “Brexit forces us to find a new way of engaging with the world

  1. Margaret S. — [This is about the blog on the Orlando shooting] David Brooks says there are four things that need to happen for things to be better but he doesn’t say anything about how they will come about. I’d say Brooks has written just empty words — pretty but empty. Yeats was describing something he perceived in “The Second Coming” and he was profoundly and stunningly right in his perception.


  2. Thanks for this comment…. Of course you are right that Brooks doesn’t say, in his small space, how these things will come about. But I highlighted them because I sense that people who want to make a difference welcome insights about where they might best place their creative thought and their efforts….


    • Thanks for responding Margaret. Good luck to David Brooks on diagnosing the problem but not providing any program on how we should change things.


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