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A vision of nations

Mural attributed to Banksy, near Dover ferry terminal (2017).

From where I’m sitting, we’re passengers in the longest car crash in history. It’s more than two years since we heard the referendum result, while we were on a residential Nonviolent Communication weekend. The group, as usual, was strongly international. The weekend turned into a mourning circle, with Brits and non-Brits shedding tears over the loss of a sense of belonging to something larger. Some of the non-Brits living here in the UK said that they didn’t feel that they belonged here anymore. We listened and tried to reassure them that they were still welcome. Since then, at least one of my European friends has upped sticks and gone back to her native land. I can say that her research experience and creativity is a loss to this country.

My partner Gesine is a German national. She describes herself as ‘European’, and has been fearful about the impact of Brexit on her living and working situation here in the UK. I’ve tried to reassure her that the impact of Brexit on her is likely to be relatively mild. The 1.2 million Brits living other European countries are in the position of hostages, vulnerable to tit-for-tat counter measures. It’s unlikely that the UK government will take strong sanctions against Europeans living here. I imagine that the position of those from outside the EU will be less secure. Gesine remains puzzled about Brexit.

What has happened to the claims of the Leave campaign? As far as I know, predictions are that the economy will take a hit under all post-Brexit scenarios. And what about “take back control”? I sense that there is still strong sentiment around this. Just visit any city, and you’ll find dozens of nationalities living, working, and studying together. White skins are no longer “the norm” in the way that they once were, except in some rural areas. Some of those with white skins don’t feel that they belong any more. Belonging and security are powerful needs. Will “take back control” be enough for Brexit to make a final swerve before impact? This despite the impact on the economy, including the huge cost of separating our affairs and replacing legislation.

Business thrives on stability. The uncertainty around Brexit has already reduced growth. Today I read that the government is preparing businesses for a no-deal Brexit. No-deal means further prolonged uncertainty. Where does it end? The basic problem is that there never was the political will in Parliament to enact Brexit, and the current government is probably too weak to get any version of it through. The Irish border question will just be the nail in the coffin of any agreement.

How did we get into this mess, anyway? Wikipedia suggests that the concept of a nation state began as a 19th-Century European phenomenon building on ethnic similarities to establish an national identity. However, a quick look at the news any time in the last fifty years will confirm that the resulting nation states do not do justice to the ethnic diversity they contain, and conflicts have ensued.

My vision of nations is of genuine security and prosperity through internationality and interdependence. Since WW2, economic and political cooperation under the umbrella of the EU has made the idea of war between Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands unthinkable. It has also protected European countries from external aggression. The EU has improved working conditions and environmental legislation, and provided an important counterweight to the economic and military power of the USA, the former Soviet Union, and now China.

I don’t want to whitewash the EU – I would like to see it become more decentralised, transparent and accountable. However, I see the UK’s future as part of this union, and hope that Brexit is a temporary and ultimately reversible step.