The Brexit story

On this day the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, will trigger the process that will see the country leave the European Union, implementing the referendum decision of a majority (albeit a narrow one) of the United Kingdom electorate. I am no fanatical supporter of the European Union, but I believe that this decision and its consequences will define Britain for generations to come; and while the result may turn out to be benign, the risks are huge and the pitfalls are many. What more than anything else will make those risks and pitfalls more potent is the continuation of the easy optimism and bizarre over-confidence that has characterised much of the rhetoric of Brexit supporters; alongside their aggression when that is challenged. This process needs to be managed with realism and sensitivity (which includes sensitivity towards those people and those regions, including Scotland, who took a different view of Brexit).

What really must not characterise the Brexit story is the xenophobia and jingoism displayed by some of the more objectionable elements in the media and by some politicians, such as the appalling (but I hope now inconsequential) Mr Nigel Farage. If this story is to have a good ending, the dramatis personae must display generosity of spirit and a willingness to engage with those who think differently. And a message for the UK Prime Minister might be that this is not the same thing as telling these people (such as me) what we should be thinking; it is understanding, and responding generously to, what we actually are thinking.

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2 Comments on “The Brexit story”

  1. Anna Notaro Says:

    “If this story is to have a good ending, the dramatis personae must display generosity of spirit and a willingness to engage with those who think differently.”

    Not sure how can anyone conceive of a good ending, or even expect such generous behaviour as described above. My assessment might be obfuscated by the deep sadness and frustration that I feel today, and have been since the referendum result, and yet one cannot but consider the impact that emotions have had on the Brexit story. As I have argued before on this blog one of the reasons why the Remain side lost was exactly due to its failure to engage in an emotional intelligent way with the electorate. This post, it seems to me, perfectly reflects the academic mental habit of privileging rational thought over the emotional one, in fact I would suggest that the message for the UK Prime Minister should be one of understanding, and responding generously to, not only to what we are thinking, but also to what we are feeling.

    Also, the post makes no mention of the challenges for universities in the Brexit story, such challenges have been lucidly expressed most recently in this blog post https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/vc/2017/03/27/brexit-and-the-interests-of-the-university/
    and by many others, personally I have always believed that it is the duty of university leaders and of any member of the university community, no matter the role, to intervene in policy debates when the interests of the university are at stake. The danger, in my view, is that the most powerful universities (read Oxbridge) will support the idea that “Brexit will be good for universities”, as claimed already by the newly appointed Oxford University’s head of Brexit strategy, Professor Alastair Buchan http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/01/12/brexit-will-help-uk-universities-recruit-worlds-brightest-students/

    More surprisingly Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University and vice-chair of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) stated in this week’s Times Higher that “Brexit can help to break down the ‘ivory tower’ walls between academia and society” https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/brexit-chance-universities-leave-their-ivory-towers-behind

    I don’t know about Maastricht University but I would reassure Professor Paul that the trite metaphor of the ‘ivory tower’ does not apply to what staff working at British universities do with their research and teaching.

    PS. While I was writing this, I remembered that line from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, “God guard me from those thoughts men think In the mind alone.”

  2. Vince Says:

    In the 90s, if I was to think of a country that might leave I’d have said France, handsdown they were more sceptical than any other polity. Yes, you have a rump in the UK that believed England should go it alone. But this came from a cohort that had offshored their wealth since the little Welshman was PM, and didn’t bring it back onshore post WW2.
    I had a fair idea that this would happen. And I was certain once the independence for Scotland was brought down by the Labour party playing silly beggar’s.
    Did I foresee that the Tories would begin to pander to rancid muck, nope. Do I foresee them growing some gumption and telling that poison to take a long run off a short pier. I really don’t, at least not anytime soon.
    So, what are the real questions now. Will the unemployed miner in the Valleys of Wales see any hope of an economic future. Will the sheep farmers on marginal land survive. Will the middleclass city people continue to outprice locals in little villages, remembering that even where you are in Scotland the city is affecting a 60 mile hinterland in this.
    What aren’t real questions are those about the waiter in the hotels nor the Erdbeeren picker in Boston. Neither the English in Spain, nor any Irish question.
    For what it’s worth, twopenn’orth, I believe the rump to whom they are pandering are harping on questions that were answered when the UK wanted to join the EU in the early 60s. Those who lost a function once the empire fell away. A bit like the FGers and Labour in Ireland still harping on the days when they were the captains and corporals in Queen Vic’s Irish regiments. Still 3-day eventing all over gods creation practising for the day they get the call to draw sabres and charge down some uppity colonial. Or water protestor. 🙂


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