Potential and Loss

What troubles me most about Brexit, despite that abomination of a name, is the wasted intellectual, emotional, and creative resources that have been spent on it so far. Two years of doubt, anxiety, and arguments. For nothing.

I sometimes imagine all the problems we could be solving as a nation; fighting climate change, transitioning our society and culture away from burning fossil fuels, improving public transport or public services and figuring out how best to improve the NHS. But no. All that time and energy has instead been spent on trying to barter with Europe for the things we already have. It’s such a waste.

People compare #45 and Brexit all the time but there’s an important distinction I try to make when people ask me about it.

With #45 I sometimes feel this pang of unexpected optimism. The worst person for the job was elected and yet the Republic stands. Things are terrible, yes. But there’s something about the design of this nation that I can’t help but feel proud of a little bit. If there’s a mad king at the top and the nation doesn’t descend into madness immediately then I think there’s resilience in the design of it all.

Perhaps this is a bit simplistic but in two years #45 is gone and yet Brexit is going to loom like a dark shadow over my home country for a generation. In March of next year we could see Scotland and Northern Ireland break away from England if they want to join the EU. And perhaps that’s a good thing. I don’t know.

It’s not the most important thing in the world but after March I’ll need a visa to travel across Europe again. I won’t be able to leave and move to Berlin or Paris and that’s heart-breaking to me; the loss of potential connections, potential threads, relationships.

I think about that a lot, the loss of potential.

Whenever I hear pro-Brexit arguments it’s always a pitiful refrain along the lines of what did they do for us? The question is a sheepish one, masked in a veneer of national pride and economic anxiety. Besides what people say, Brexit is not about economic anxiety or anger about increasing political ties with Europe. There are a lot of reasons why Brexit happened; the civil war in Syria and the implosion of Greece, the infighting in the Conservative party, the weakness of Cameron and the lies of tabloid journalists that work for the Daily Mail and the Sun — but all that doesn’t hide our vibrant racism, xenophobia, and cowardice.

When I hear that foolish question though – “what did Europe ever do for us” – I quite frankly want to scream. What did Europe do for us? The Internet you damn fools, the Internet! The single greatest economic and technological breakthrough since the telegram! Sir Tim Berners Lee designed the proto-web at CERN; our culture and civilization are the benefactors of a wondrous European project.

What is Europe for then? It’s about building projects together that we couldn’t as a small nation stranded off the coast of France. It’s for combating the encroachment of Chinese, Russian and American influence on the world economy and political stage. It’s about standing together as a larger force to be reckoned with and respected.

The European project was always about kindness, prosperity in all forms, and creating a small region of the world where borders between nations are mostly bureaucratic rather than real, physical barriers that block us out. Barriers that limit our potential.

As far as I understand Europe was designed to prevent another world war by binding us all together. Instead of breaking off into weak, pitiful tribes, Europe’s vision was always to make us the same people.

And we failed that utopian vision by succumbing to the meanest, worst versions of ourselves.

I look at the past two years and I blush with shame. What fools we’ve all been to waste such potential.