A Second Referendum: more questions than answers

Aug 31




Helen Whitten

Posted In


A Second Referendum: more questions than answers

I confess to being confused.  There is a lobby to hold a Second Referendum on Brexit but I question whether, in just giving us the terms of the UK-EU negotiations, we would have sufficient information to make up our minds?  Don’t we also want the EU to reform?  Do we really just want to go back to where we were, with our tail between our legs?  Even the most staunch Remainers I speak to agree that there are major issues within Europe that need addressing.  The argument is that it is more effective to do this by influencing from the inside but past evidence doesn’t back this up as our own attempts to influence Brussels have not been that successful.  And I don’t see much listening going on when other EU members have gripes either.  So what’s to be done?

The media debate seems to cover only our own appallingly incompetent negotiations with the EU and how it impacts the UK.  But what about what else is going on in Europe and how that might play out over the next decade?  I don’t read much in our press regarding what the EU’s strategy is to hold the members together in this radically changed world.  I only hear the same old narrative about the four principles, with no flexibility, it seems, to those countries who are struggling to manage to live within them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I want a close relationship with Europe but perhaps, having run a small business rather than having been part of a large organisation, I prefer to have the freedom to be flexible and act fast when necessary.  Within the EU currently, negotiations are cumbersome and long-winded.  As I said before, I voted Remain – but only just.  I think, like many others, including those I speak to who voted Leave (who, contrary to the narrative, are usually thoroughly intelligent global thinkers who are far from racist, and often immigrants themselves), there is a sentimental connection to the people who live in those countries and an enjoyment of the exchange of cultural history.  But the reality is that our history is so different, in that the majority of those countries who are now members were all either occupied by invading armies or governed by a Communist or Fascist dictatorship.  Living under an authoritarian regime shapes a very different mindset and lifestyle where people are careful what they say and often source goods or services on street corners or in corridors.  Trust and transparency takes time to build up.

We are currently having our house in Kew refurbished by builders who come from Eastern Europe and they still report that there is enormous corruption in Bulgaria, Romania and other countries where the former Communist regime politicians have found their way back into government and milk the proceeds.  We heard this story in many of the countries we visited along the Danube two years’ ago.  What is the EU’s strategy to tackle this corruption?

And what action does Brussels plan to take to counter the problems countries are experiencing with immigration?  Or to staunch the right-wing attitudes that are bubbling up across Europe but particularly in Hungary, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic?  The events in Germany this week, mirrored in many other countries over the last year, just highlight that there is unrest and division between cultures in Europe that appears to be every bit as pernicious as any racism that exists within our own shores.  It seems to me that the governments of all member states have chosen not to listen to the concerns of their populations with regard to these very sudden and huge population migrations.

But by turning away from problems, denying they exist and refusing to show any compassion for the everyday issues that people might face in getting their children into school, getting a doctor’s appointment or endeavouring to live beside people who may well be charming but are of a very different culture, we have allowed the can of worms to turn to poison.  But even now the Governments just continue to pretend that these problems can be resolved by ignoring them and by telling people to behave themselves.  If we aren’t careful and they aren’t addressed, we could have real unrest within these countries and it would leave the vacuum into which the Far Right could strengthen their position.  We need to learn from history that we have to shape problems and be courageous enough to talk about them honestly if we are to find new ways to create solutions together.

The notion that the nation state has had its day is erroneous, as Ian Kershaw mentions in his book Roller-coaster, Europe 1950-2017.  It is actually natural for people to want to feel connected to their nation, want to have a sense of belonging to a community and a place.  This does not necessarily make them nationalistic.  Surely we can all be local AND global?  Can we not feel loyalty and pride in our own country and yet be happy to enjoy alliances with neighbouring countries?  The one does not in itself exclude the other but we are living in such a binary world that the word “and” seems to get forgotten.

With a weakened Angela Merkel, Macron appears to be positioning himself as a leader of Europe, with inner and outer circles of influence.  He certainly, I would say, has some Napoleonic tendencies so does he see himself as some kind of President of Europe in the future?  Or, if we slide back into a more integrated Federal States of Europe with its own Army, who would we have as a Federal European President and how would he or she be elected?  How would all that work?  Do we know?  How much of a say will we have, whether in or out?

As I have written before, I only wish that the EU had called a meeting of member states many years ago and suggested they revisit the basics of the agreement in the light of the remarkably different world in which it now operates.  I am of the generation where we heard de Gaulle say “Non” repeatedly and then entered on a purely trade basis.  Now we are enmeshed in something very different to cover laws, rights, regulations and a far larger group of countries all with very different economies, pasts, cultures and aspirations.  It’s a great idea.  But what is the strategy to hold all this together in the future?  Do we know?

We have not been strongly supported by Brussels on our stance against Russia in the light of the Skripals.  Other countries seem similarly unsupported.  What are the future foreign policy plans with regard to Russia, sanctions and more?  It seems to come down to expedience at the moment.  Or am I missing something?  If you have answers to my questions please do write to me!

Way back in 1967 I studied in Italy for three months.  I fell in love.  I met an international group of students from Syria to Argentina.  All before we were a member of the EU.  So the scare stories that we will no longer be able to do this must surely be wrong.  But the Brexiteers weave another web of lies and so it is up to us as individuals to try to make sense of it all and, as far as I am concerned, I don’t have sufficient answers to know whether I want to go back into an EU that has not taken action to adapt and reform.

Don’t we need some more answers from Brussels as to how they foresee the future? Don’t we need our government to challenge them to reform?  Doesn’t any Second Referendum need to include more information about these more global issues and the way the EU plans to tackle them?  Is it just me asking these questions?  I suspect several of you will want to put me right!  So do go ahead …


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