The British bird has flown

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

The British gov­ern­ment has made its of­fi­cial ap­pli­ca­tion to leave the Euro­pean Union, set­ting the United King­dom and the EU on an un­known course not only re­gard­ing re­la­tions be­tween them but also with re­gard to each side’s co­he­sion. Art, myth and his­tory are full of analo­gies, from the sto­ries and hor­ror films where wolves, se­rial killers or fatal lone­li­ness de­vour any­one who strays out of the herd/cabin/space­ship, to Noah’s doves. It re­mains to be seen whether Bri­tain will re­turn to the ark, hav­ing ex­hausted all ef­forts to find some­thing bet­ter, or whether it will never come back. The suc­cess or fail­ure of Brexit will de­ter­mine to a great ex­tent whether the UK can re­main united, or whether there will be a per­ma­nent rift with Scot­land and a bor­der with Ire­land. It is also un­clear whether Bri­tain’s de­par­ture will strengthen the forces tear­ing at the EU or bring its 27 re­main­ing mem­bers closer to­gether. Brexit fans claim that the ex­o­dus will bring only good for their coun­try, while “re­main­ers” fear count­less ills. But when deal­ing with hu­man be­hav­ior, such as pol­i­tics, no one can be sure of what will hap­pen. In the case of Brexit, the past is not nec­es­sar­ily a good in­di­ca­tor. Con­di­tions are dif­fer­ent to- day; but, also, those most in­volved in the is­sue – the cit­i­zens – may change course. Those who dream of a Bri­tain that will grow rich on old trade net­works with for­mer colonies imag­ine their coun­try rul­ing the waves free of EU con­straints. The for­mer colonies, how­ever, do not share this sen­ti­ment and, free now, will pur­sue their own best in­ter­ests with a zeal sim­i­lar to Bri­tain’s. The old re­la­tion­ship was not be­tween equals, and the grand­chil­dren of em­pire will have to ac­knowl­edge this as they risk their coun­try’s great­est trad­ing mar­ket (the EU) for a bet on de­cep­tive nostal­gia. Things are just as com­pli­cated for Brexit’s en­e­mies, be­cause, when their coun­try’s suc­cess is at stake, it is not in their in­ter­est to be proven right. Just as Brex­iters will have to come to their senses, “re­main­ers” will have to help make the fu­ture work. In a valu­able ar­ti­cle on thecon­ver­sa­tion.com, Stephen Church, pro­fes­sor of Me­dieval His­tory at the Univer­sity of East Anglia, noted that there are sev­eral ex­am­ples of Bri­tain and Europe split­ting from each other. “The clear­est les­son of all,” he pointed out, is that “when the re­la­tion­ship with Europe is poor, the lot of the or­di­nary Bri­ton is poorer for it.” We live in an­other era now, with fewer bar­bar­ians and less pesti­lence, but flight into the un­known is al­ways dan­ger­ous.

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