Take back control.
Rarely in the course of human history has a simple marketing slogan had such a seismic impact. When future generations of historians analyze Britain’s EU referendum, they might well conclude that these three words clinched it.
The Promise Of A National Rebirth
During those early months of 2016, as Britain geared up for its crucial vote, the slogan snowballed into an incessant mantra, seducing millions with the promise of a national rebirth which would cast new, golden light upon their drizzly lives. Once we’d freed ourselves from the dead hand of Brussels—the propagandists claimed—Britain would somehow turn back the clock 100 years and recapture a glory it last enjoyed in an age of steamships, telegrams and chronic illiteracy.
Well, now the Brexiteers have what they wanted. The drawbridge has been pulled up and good old Blighty has control of its destiny once again. But now we’ve got all this control, what precisely are we going to do with it?
Well, if the Leavers have an answer, they don’t want to share it with us. Instead of laying out a vision for Britain’s future, they’ve spent the last few days sticking a metaphorical thumb to their nose and waggling it around in the direction of Brussels. Nigel Farage, the self-styled “Mr. Brexit,” has found the time to unveil a giant portrait of himself, but can’t spare five minutes to tell us what he wants his new, independent Britain to look like.
The Many Unanswered Questions Of Brexit
Will Boris Johnson’s government prioritize a trade deal with Trump’s America, with all the political baggage that entails, or turn instead towards the young powerhouses of China and India? Will millions of skilled foreigners be expelled, and, if so, how will the beleaguered NHS replace all that lost manpower? Will London really become Singapore-on-Thames, an enclave of low taxes and light regulation, and, if it does, how will the Exchequer fill a GBP70 billion black hole in its revenues? None of these questions have yet been answered.
But that’s been the problem with Brexit all along, hasn’t it? The Brexiteers know what they don’t want, for sure; they don’t want the EU, which is accused of crushing our legislative system with laws no-one can actually name, and they don’t want immigrants, who somehow contrive to take our jobs and our benefits at the same time. But they don’t seem to know what they do want.
Brexit Has Always Focused On The Negative
Right from the get-go, Brexit has been a negative step. It’s based on what we dislike, rather than what we aspire to be. And it’s primarily come to pass because of the steps people didn’t take—the Remainers who failed to vote in 2016, then refused to join forces behind a single party in December’s election.
For those who voted Remain, it’s hard not to feel cheated. We’ve grown up with the EU, and what’s more, we’ve grown up in a globalized world. We’ve benefited from attending multinational universities, from working in global offices, from traveling the world. Now we’re being forced to accept an altogether different world view, one framed by nationalists who think Britain is the center of the universe and won’t be told otherwise.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should ignore the referendum result. Yes, the Brexiteers won the EU referendum with the support of only a third of all registered voters, and the Conservatives achieved even less than that to win last year’s election. But rules are rules, and Britain, as everyone knows, is a country of fair play.
Nor should we turn our backs on Britain. It’s still a magnificent country, with a history envied the world over. We should be proud of the way our mighty little island has led the world in the advancement of liberty, technology, and racial equality. Of the way our grandparents, and great grandparents, stood up to the most vile empire the world has ever seen.
Britain Has Lost Its Way
But, judged by that historical yardstick, it feels like Britain has lost its way. A nation which has prospered through its open-mindedness, its willingness to expand beyond its borders and build relationships around the world, has chosen to hunker down behind a wall of suspicion. Brexiteers may look wistfully back upon the age of Empire, but those 19th-century imperial pioneers were fired by a spirit which is anathema to theirs.
One hopes that, one day, we get our Britain back. That this descent into suspicion and resentment is nothing more than a wrong turn, which will be corrected by a more enlightened government in a few years’ time. As the world gets ever smaller, a country with aspirations of global leadership can’ afford to retreat into the shadows.
The Brexiteers may think they have taken back control. But really, they’ve betrayed the principles which made their country great. If Leavers think Britain will prosper by turning its back on the world, they’re guilty of a grave misreading of history.