Peter Marshall's Blog

Brexit and the European Union

By Peter Marshall
February 1st, 2020

Today Britain has left the European Union. I initially voted for Brexit in the referendum when I was abroad because it seemed to promise greater sovereignty and independence and because I did not like unelected commissioners deciding on our laws and rules. But I was not aware then how some very ugly emotions of nationalism and narrow patriotism had been awakened in the campaign. There was not only a belief that Britain was somehow against the rest of the world but a real hatred of the other and of foreigners was encouraged. It was all part of a strong desire to raise borders against immigrants and so-called outsiders. I wanted nothing to do with that. When the opinion polls seemed to suggest that there was now a slim majority against Brexit, I called with others for a second referendum. I also became increasingly aware that the EU had helped prevent war between European nation States since the Second World War.

Yet a Tory government with an enhanced majority was returned in the last elections. I had hoped Brexit would open up Britain to the rest of the world beyond the confines of the centralized European State and make it easier to form a left-wing government like the Popular Front in Spain. It was not to be. The main advantage of Brexit under the Tories was the creation of ‘free’ markets for world trade, especially with the United States. So Brexit has misfired for me and Britain is more disunited than ever between its peoples and its nations. Scotland, which had a clear majority in the referendum to remain in the European Union, has not been granted by the government in Westminster to have another referendum on independence and remains yoked to the rest of Britain.

I fear that ‘little England’ will become more isolated than ever, have greater inequality between the rich and the poor, and will increase the warming of the planet and the degradation of nature. Whereas in the 60s I was sufficiently influenced by the Enlightenment to believe in moral and social progress, I now think that things have got much worse. A free, egalitarian, democratic and ecological society seems further away than ever. Human history has simply been, and continues to be, on the wrong side of nature. All the more reason for some to hold out the torch for genuine change, for greater freedom, for greater equality, and for real harmony with the rest of nature.

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