By Sam Saunders
The other night, I was in the Taf enjoying a drink with some friends and everything was right in the world. At least for a while and until I looked at the front page of BBC News and saw that the Prime Minister had finally signed the letter that would trigger Article 50 and begin the process of leaving the EU. What I felt then can only be described as the same as my feeling on the 24th of June, hollow, as if we’d lost something that we can never get back. As I left the SU, a French song was playing on Xpress and that night I thought a little more about the EU, and everything we’re set to lose.
I wasn’t a staunch Remainer, in fact, I remembered the other day with a modicum of humour that I was almost against it in Year 12, even going as far as to say I would vote UKIP if I could. That, however, was the ignorance of youth, my idiocy in not understanding what the European Union was, the impact it had on our lives and the true value of a peacekeeping initiative that morphed into something far greater than any of its creators could have imagined. I think the reason I was against the EU back then was due to the number of things that were signed by British politicians without any formal approval from the voting public; legislation such as the Maastricht Treaty for example. The rhetoric of unelected technocrats and sovereignty certainly did little to help, particularly as, like most people, my grandparents were leave voters. I find this in itself odd, as surely the people who lived during and after the war would be the most likely to support the European project?
I think the issue is that people in the UK have never really felt like Europeans and that as Britain has given away more and more power to the EU, that resentment has grown. But there’s another factor that people seem reluctant to talk about, or at least, that hasn’t been fully acknowledged by most voters. Which is the simple and indisputable fact that Brexit has revealed the divisions in our country; the divisions, which, if we’re honest, are mostly economic in nature. These divisions are founded on the fact that, for most people, things haven’t improved to the levels they were before 2008, and there are those who feel a sense of resentment towards London and other affluent areas. People who are having a hard time believe London is disproportionately valued than the rest of the country, and people in London look down on those outside it as it’s their belief that they support other areas of the UK.
The vote certainly revealed differences in the countries that make up the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain, and England and Wales voting to leave. This will have repercussions, as we’ve already seen with the intention of the SNP to hold another independence referendum. And what then? Discussions about a unified Ireland? Welsh independence? These ideas, which would have been laughable a year ago, now seriously warrant concern. You may scoff, but Leanne Wood (the leader of Plaid Cymru) has brought up suggestions of Welsh independence, and on the day article 50 was triggered, the PM had to restate her government’s commitment to supporting Northern Ireland remaining a part of the UK. This is of course not helped by the political problems that have engulfed Northern Ireland in recent weeks, but these are worrying discussions that see no sign of diminishing.
In truth, the UK has never really been a particularly good member of the EU. At every turn, we’ve protested and dragged our heels over pretty much every aspect of European policy. The Common Agricultural Policy and the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher are famous examples. It’s also easy to forget that we’ve been on the periphery of the European project for the time I’ve been alive, as the UK doesn’t use the Euro and isn’t in the Schengen zone, so we were almost half in-half out when we started this debate anyway.
Yes, there are things wrong with the EU, anyone who is vaguely aware of current affairs could tell you, but it’s the idea of togetherness, not being an insular nation and looking to our neighbours to co-operate with when the going gets tough that really endears the EU to me. The idea of political and economic union was born out of the fires of World War Two, and whilst I don’t agree that the UK should be in the Euro, or should have given up more power in the same way that France and Germany have, it still makes sense for us to be in rather than out.
Maybe one day, we’ll realise that this was all a huge mistake, and be taken back in with our tails between our legs, or maybe Brexit will be the success UKIP dreamed it would be, and I’ll be sat eating humble pie until the Severn runs dry. But that’s not seeming likely right now, even if the tone struck by the EU and the UK has, at times, seemed relatively amicable. My fear is that future generations are going to be angry with us for doing this to them, as we have raged against our parent’s generation for the damage done to the environment and more wars than I can list here. Maybe this to will come to pass. Who really knows? There’s so much uncertainty, but, for me one thing is certain. Donald Tusk said today that the EU ‘already misses the UK,’ and do you know what? I already miss them too.