A catastrophe looms post-Brexit and the United Kingdom has chosen to lose its voice.
European politics are in turmoil. In Austria, Norbert Hofer has narrowly failed to become Austria’s first far-right head of state. In France, Marine Le Pen has a good chance of winning next year’s presidential election. And in Poland, conservative president Andrzej Duda is intent on seizing control of the country’s media, judicial system, and constitutional tribunal (Poland’s highest court).
Government actions in Hungary were recently described by the president of the European Parliament as having the “characteristics of a coup”, and in Bulgaria the government has allocated $19 million to erect more razor-wire fences to prevent migrants from entering and has called out the army to secure its borders.
There are aggressive nationalist parties in Germany, Macedonia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Finland, Belgium, and on the “sceptred isle” itself, where extremist Britain First is trying to provoke what it calls a revolution in the streets through “militant direct action”, invading mosques, and targeting Muslim officials such as the new Mayor of London.
Against this background, Brexit takes on a sinister tone. In “Brexit is a wake-up call: save Europe” (The Guardian, 25 June 2016), Natalie Nougayrède says that it has put “the cohesion and strength of western liberal democracies at stake in a global environment plagued with uncertainties.” She writes, “Now populist, far-right and anti-western forces will push forward in the belief that a precedent has been set for other ‘exits’.”
Not just exits, but entrances. Russia’s autocratic (and plutocratic) president has sown division in Europe via the Crimea, then Ukraine, and recently with “soft power” interventions in the Baltic states – notably Estonia and Latvia. How will a fragmenting European Union respond to pressure of this kind? How will a blustering Donald Trump or a belligerent Hillary Clinton?
Originally, the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” had a positive meaning, but in the West the phrase is also used negatively to refer to someone who wilfully ignores reality. Brexit has surfaced what political leaders do not wish to see, hear or say about the nation. If they ignore this, they will fail to address the real issues simmering below the surface of the bitterly divided countries that now make up the United Kingdom. But crucially, by abandoning their right to a say on Europe, they risk being deaf, dumb, and blind to the larger woes coming their way. As Natalie Nougayrède notes:
“The French historian Fernand Braudel once wrote that ‘history can be divided into three movements: that which moves rapidly, moves slowly, and appears not to move at all’. History is now accelerating right before our eyes. It is moving swiftly in a bad direction, and for those who, as I did, witnessed the spread of democracy and the reunification of the continent that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or who were brought up to think that Europe’s future lay in the coming together of its disparate parts, it is an ominous and painful moment.”
Unfortunately, the United Kingdom has set its bridges on fire.
“Landscape with travellers ambushed outside a small town” by the Flemish painter and draughtsman Sebastian Vrancx probably at the time of the Thirty Years War.