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The sweet sorrow of Brexit

中国日报网 2016-06-28 17:19



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Britain just voted to leave the European Union, exposing many divisions in the country. It showed the divide between those for and against the EU, respectively, to be Scotland versus England and Wales, the young vs the old, the rich vs the poor, the educated vs the less educated, and big cities vs small towns. Another division that has been revealed is between what Britons thought they were and what they really are.

Far from being a nation of modern, sophisticated, multicultural go-getters, it turns out we are still a country of beer-swilling bumpkins with a distaste for foreigners and a deep mistrust of European powers. In his essay The Lion and the Unicorn about patriotism, George Orwell gives a portrait of Britain that many might have found outdated only a week or so ago, but which looks to be as solid as ever post-Brexit.

One sentence in Orwell's tract that will resonate with Remain campaigners currently licking their wounds is: “The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreigners seriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from time to time.” And, indeed, there are many doom-laden forecasts for the British economy in the light of the referendum result.

Why did the majority of Brits – 52 percent of a 72 percent turnout – vote to leave? Many resented the fact that the initial project of a unified single market had been overridden and had become about creating a super-state that would subsume national governments, and even have an army. British people also resented the dominance of France and Germany in the union.

In recent years, the EU was blamed for soaring immigration. Britain was by far the most popular country in Europe for migrants of all stripes, bringing diversity but also straining public services and housing. As more Eastern European countries joined, there were many more EU migrants to Britain. It was also felt that of the masses of recent immigrants from places like Syria into Europe, many would in time make their way to Britain. The timing of the referendum, in this regard, was terrible.

While such concerns were justified, the British people have lost a lot and Brexit is not something to celebrate mindlessly. Two years from now they will no longer be able to easily work and live in the EU countries, while British businesses will have to pay a tariff of a few percentage points on goods exported to the EU. Britain has also lost a lot of its influence in Europe.

Nevertheless, the country has regained its right of self-determination. This is a time when, as Orwell said in the above essay, “Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again.” Britain can rise to the challenges and opportunities of a clean slate. It can forge new trade deals around the world, much as it did in its heyday – only this time by deploying the business acumen and experience that have made it the sixth-largest economy in the world instead of the might of gunships.



The sweet sorrow of Brexit

Greg Fountain is a copy editor and occasional presenter for China Daily. Before moving to Beijing in January, 2016 he worked for newspapers in the Middle East and UK. He has an M.A in Print Journalism from the University of Sheffield, a B.A in English and History from the University of Reading.

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