I have never liked the European Union. For me, there is little to like about it. And yet, despite the fact that the EU goes against much of what I believe in, I did not vote for Brexit in Thursday’s referendum. Frankly, I was too nauseated by the way the Leave campaign had been conducted to put my tick in that box.
As I watched the Leave campaign unfold — Leave being the most squalid campaign I've witnessed in my 26 years as a British citizen — I saw the flames of angry nativism stoked, and I was horrified to see the fire scorch my country. A British Member of Parliament was murdered on the streets because a deranged nationalist allegedly wanted her to put “Britain first.” A man interviewed on British television after the result claimed that the point of this referendum was "to stop Muslims coming to this country.” Another voter said he wanted all foreigners kicked out.
As I said, I did not want Great Britain to be part of the EU. To me, the EU is a neoliberal cartel that has treated the principle of democracy with utter contempt. When the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was strong-armed into resigning, despite having an overwhelming mandate behind his anti-austerity program, I knew I could never again support the European Union.
I already had reservations about the principle of free movement, which, to me, effectively creates a two-tier immigration system that subjects migrants from outside the EU to a much higher level of scrutiny than those who come from within. An insidious way of discriminating against individuals with colored skin, in short.
There was a time, before I was born, when the Left could make its own distinct case against the European Union. Political heavyweights like Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Michael Foot argued passionately for us to protect British democracy from the clutches of Europe. But in 1975, the last time the European question was put to the British people, their message was roundly rejected. Now, although the end they campaigned for has been achieved, the vision they stood for has again been rejected.
Worse than that, it hasn’t even been heard.
Those who don't support Britain being part of the EU may say that the ends justify the means. What if the means themselves transform the country much more than the end they were employed to achieve?
Britain is now more divided than I have ever known it. The majority of Scots voted to remain, and are now contemplating their future. The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland has already called for a referendum on the reunification of Ireland. The young, who voted overwhelmingly to Remain, are at odds with the middle-aged and older, who largely voted to Leave. This referendum has changed our country more than any of us expected. For the time being, we could even call it The Divided Kingdom.
For months, we have been shocked that our American friends allowed Donald Trump a chance of becoming the next U.S. president. That sort of thing, we proudly claimed, would never happen in glorious Britain. We don’t do racism and xenophobia, we said. We don't do cheap populism. But in the last 48 hours, who has been the most triumphant out of all British politicians? The man who holds up a British passport to whip his supporters into a frenzy; the man who stood in front of a banner showing a line of brown-faced refugees entering Europe to prey on public anxiety; the man who said he didn’t feel comfortable sitting on a train because he heard people talking in foreign languages.
Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, UKIP leader Nigel Farage is the person most responsible for the vote to Leave, and the vision that has won the day in this historic referendum is the one he has been advocating for the last twenty years.
Perhaps it's strange to say this, but after 17 million of my fellow countrymen voted to leave a political union I have never liked, I feel more alone than I have felt for a very long time.
Alone, and frightened.
Image: Hasan Ali (1)