The start of an era marked by regression?
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.