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The March for Europe - and the UK

A bit of a diversion into politics for this blog posting. For anyone who follows my Twitter feed, this shouldn’t be surprising. For anyone who’s read my novel, The Stream, the sentiments here shouldn’t be a surprise either – my liberal outlook pervades the story throughout, along with the fact that you should never take things at face value.

The event that inspired me to write this was the March for Europe that took place in London yesterday. Despite it being woefully under-reported on the BBC (who spent most of the day getting themselves excited about UKIP, as usual), I still managed to follow it online. Besides the hope it engendered that there is still a chance for this country if we all fight to preserve it, it was the sheer good-naturedness of the march that struck me. This was a group of people coming together for a common cause, walking peacefully, often with typical British understated humour on their signs. But underneath it all was a seething anger that this tolerant, peaceful country we all loved is disappearing around us. You’ve only got to look at the reaction to the march online from UKIP and similar supporters – torrents of vitriol and abuse, labelling marchers as traitors, enemies of the country etc.

Since the referendum, that’s the country we’ve become – a country of hatred and intolerance. We’ve found an effective way to cut immigration – make it a spiteful country that mistreats foreigners, so no-one wants to come here. You only have to see the figures for the rise in hate crimes that spiked immediately after the result, and have stayed high ever since. Indeed, this type of behaviour seems to becoming normalised. If you’re tolerant of others, especially those of a different race or religion, then we’re now labelled as the extremists. I lay the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Nigel Farage, UKIP and their supporters. They are the worst this country has to offer, and I am ashamed of what they have done to this country.

Take for example last week – there was so much to be proud of in the way the country responded to the terrorist atrocity in London. The way the police and other emergency services handled the event. The way those nearby rushed to help, the defiance of Londoners. Even Theresa May took the right tone in her speech afterwards – making sure the terrorist didn’t achieve his goal of fear, hatred and division. What was Nigel Farage doing? Popping up on TV, before any facts were known, blaming it on our immigration policy. Exploiting the event to stir up hatred to further his own political cause. And our media let him, and also others like him such as Aaron Banks and Katie Hopkins, get away with this. I feel nothing but disgust for these people – and the same is true of anyone who supports them. You are destroying our country, and turning it into divided, disintegrating nation.

As it's all so inextricably linked with the way our country is going, I should make my position clear on Brexit. There’s so much I could say about why the referendum was called, the lies during the campaign (from both sides, although Leave’s were more effective – the Remain campaign was just inept), but that’s in the past. We had the referendum, and the result needs to be respected and article 50 should be triggered as planned.

Does that mean everyone should just change their mind, accept it, and move on? No! This is the future of our country and Europe that’s at stake here. When the Tories won the last election, did we just say “Oh OK, they won. They can now stay in power for as long as they like”? No, this is a democracy – people are allowed to change their mind, and argue for what they believe in. Two years is a long time, and only as the negotiations proceed will we understand the true implications of leaving. For those on the remain side of the argument, the challenge is to make the case for a second referendum on the terms of exit. Many people voted for Brexit for honest reasons that they believed in. Some may have believed the things that were written on the side of a bus. Once they know the true implications of leaving, they may change their mind. The converse is true – there may be those who voted remain, who when they see the terms of exit, would be perfectly happy to leave. This is such a huge constitutional change, we need to be sure of what we’re doing, and what the implications will be.

Currently we’re in a turbulent world, with the far right and fascism rising. Trump is in power, and we’ve already seen the position of weakness we’re in once we leave, with Theresa May having to toady up to this unstable fascist. Is this the time to destabilise one of the institutions that have kept Europe at peace for 60 years? The other two main factors in this prolonged peace are NATO (which Trump already has in his sights) and the UN (which Trump has also attacked). We’ve been lucky to live in the longest period of peace in recorded history in Europe – that didn’t happen by coincidence, and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

All could have changed in 2 years’ time. Trump may be gone, the exit negotiations may have been smooth and pigs might have taken to the wing across Maidenhead. Alternately, we may be about to drop out of the EU without any trade deals in place, falling back to WTO rules, Scotland may be about to leave the UK, border issues have caused the Irish peace process to fail, and Russia have started to make further inroads back into Eastern Europe, starting with Ukraine. Shouldn’t we have the right to say “yes, we’re OK with this” or “no, I’ve changed my mind”?

I took a lot of effort to find out how Europe worked, what seemed (to me) to be the truth behind all the tabloid headlines, and how freedom of movement (and hence the concerns on immigration) fed into this, before making my decision to vote remain last time. My view was that Europe is not perfect, but I’d rather try to fix it from within than contemplate the alternatives. We’ve already started to see the darker side of this in the way bigotry and intolerance is rising. We are a divided nation, divisions that will not heal quickly. History will not judge us kindly.

The last referendum was one based on lies, falsehood and lack of useful information from all sides. A second referendum once people see what it will really entail seems to be eminently sensible to me. That’s what we need to fight for now. If the vote is still Leave, then that will have to be accepted. We should expect a degree of emigration at that point I think.

As a parting message, for anyone who wants to understand some of the more knotty implications of leaving the EU, I can heartily recommend Ian Dunt’s book “Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?: Everything You Need to Know about Britain's Divorce from Europe”. When I read it, the first intentionally shocking opening chapter seemed a little far-fetched. Now, a few months later, we hear cabinet ministers say that they’re comfortable with exiting without a deal and falling back on WTO rules, but don’t yet have a plan if that happens. Well, read the first chapter of Ian’s book then. If you still feel comfortable about it, then you’re not up to the job. Resign and let someone competent handle the negotiations.

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