The start of an era marked by re­gres­sion?

CityPress - - Voices -

One of the most elo­quent ar­gu­ments against Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union (EU) came from an un­likely source: for­mer Eng­land foot­baller John Barnes.

In an opin­ion piece on the eve of Thurs­day’s ref­er­en­dum, he ex­co­ri­ated the “leave” cam­paign­ers for their my­opic, anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ments and nar­row na­tion­al­ism: “They talk about what makes Bri­tain great. How we are morally right, the peo­ple who will do the right thing. Well, that should be help­ing oth­ers in need, set­ting an ex­am­ple to the world – not run­ning away at the first sign of trou­ble.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Barnes and other sober­minded Brits, that is ex­actly what the ma­jor­ity of his fel­low coun­try­men opted to do this week. They chose to close off their is­land and deal a telling blow to the in­te­gra­tion of Europe, a process ini­ti­ated by the vi­sion­ary French econ­o­mist, Jean Mon­net, in the af­ter­math of World War 2. Vot­ing to take one of the EU’s an­chor na­tions out of the union will in­spire sim­i­lar move­ments in other parts of the con­ti­nent and undo seven decades of painstak­ing work.

What is most un­set­tling about Bri­tish vot­ers’ de­ci­sion is that it was driven by fear. The “leave” camp told Brits they should fear peo­ple who did not look like them or talk like them. Their mes­sage that all the na­tion’s ills were caused by im­mi­grants in their midst struck a chord with a pop­u­la­tion that – de­spite a growing econ­omy – is still feel­ing the ef­fect of post-2008 aus­ter­ity.

Thurs­day’s de­ci­sion will have rip­ple ef­fects through­out the world. Be­side the eco­nomic shocks that were be­ing felt min­utes af­ter the re­sult, it could mark the be­gin­ning of a re­gres­sion from pro­gres­sive ideas. It could mean the start of an epoch in which, as Barnes warned, hu­mans run away from the trou­bles of other hu­mans.

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