The British Eurosceptics spent years whingeing about the evils and disadvantages of being in the Common Market, later the European Economic Community and then the European Union. If you feed your country enough lies and propaganda some of it is bound to stick, only we hadn’t realised the extent of the belief until a little over half of the electorate (or at least those who went to their polling stations on 23 June) voted to leave the EU. They viewed our membership through the prism of a half empty glass, and negative emotions are dangerous and harmful.
The fallout from Brexit has been unfathomable. Although we were warned that the Pound would plunge and take the FTSE with it, that foreign employers would pull out of the UK and jobs would be placed at risk, the two former journalists running the Leave campaign ran roughshod over the advice of the economists and financial institutions, whose expertise they dismissed with a withering ‘the country is sick of experts’. They fanned the flames of racists and xenophobes, who claimed that they wanted to take their country back. Back from whom? Back from where? This scepter’d isle sits where she always has. There were never any invaders lining up at our borders and ports. And even Nigel Farage’s poster of desperate refugees trying to enter Croatia-Slovenia last year, fraudulently making them appear as if they were in a long queue to enter Britain, was soon debunked for the Fascist lie that it obviously was.
Nick Cohen, writing for The Guardian, pointed out that Boris Johnson has been sacked in the past for lying, both to readers of The Times, and to Michael Howard, who was once the Conservative party leader: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/boris-johnson-michael-gove-eu-liars. During the referendum campaign Johnson was also taken to task for spinning the myth of the £350m that this country was reputed to have sent to the EEC on a weekly basis. He tried to answer the accusations with his usual bluster. However, on Friday morning, once the referendum result was known, Farage openly admitted on television that this had been a ‘mistake’, and the same amount of money, that they had promised to the NHS, would not be remitted.
The country may now be in an uncertain financial mess, but the other campaign that has, divided the UK (and still continues to do so) was immigration. This has been fermenting for a long time, frequently whipped up by the right wing tabloid press, and encouraging people to believe that migrants were coming here, either to take their readers’ jobs, or to claim benefits that the local population were unable to access. There have even been reports in the media of British people turning on those they perceive to be different, harassing them and venting their xenophobic vitriol on them. Apparently some Brexiters seemed to think that a vote to leave the EU would mean foreigners being immediately repatriated. And by ‘foreigners’ they mean people with different accents or different skin colours, even if they were born here.
What is going on? I only know of the 1930s from the history books, but uncertain financial markets, fascism and xenophobia led to the slaughter of millions of people, and I’m not talking about war combatants. Human nature needs a scapegoat, but we can’t turn on our fellow human beings and blame them for the mess we are now in. We have a long record of successfully absorbing migrants, even when they have been invaders or conquerors.
The Romans, Angles, Saxons, Danes and Norman French have all breached Britain’s walls, but we survived. We have not been invaded since 1066, although there were threats in 1588 and during the Second World War. However, we have also provided asylum for those in need: Huguenot French seeking religious freedom, the Irish trying to escape the potato famine, Jews starting new lives away from the Russian Pogroms, and Ugandan Asians, who were expelled by Idi Amin from the country that was their homeland. We provided safety for the more than 9,000 children escaping Nazi occupied Europe and who came here on the Kindertransport between 1938 and 1940, many of whom have gone on to pay their adopted country back in numerous different ways.
Since the Soviet bloc began to disintegrate in 1989 and more Eastern European nations have joined the EU, we have been a magnate for those seeking to improve their lives. Current estimates are that around 2 million people from other European countries have now made Britain their home. We must also not forget that we once had an Empire and members of former Commonwealth countries have also had the right to move here. Their numbers are estimated at around 2.5 million since 1952.
We cannot change human nature, but we can try to calm down and look at facts calmly and realistically. In the early seventeenth century several playwrights were called on to make changes to a play about Sir Thomas More. Experts have confirmed that Shakespeare’s hand is the one that is apparent in the scene where Londoners are baying for the blood of immigrants who they believe are threatening their jobs and livelihoods. He turns More into a skilled orator, pointing out to the mob exactly what they are doing and suggesting they turn the tables and put themselves in the shoes of the migrants. He urges them to imagine themselves as strangers in a foreign land. Shakespeare may even have been referring back to the Bible: ‘The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ Perhaps some of the inhabitants of these islands should take these words to heart.
On top of the above problems, the state of limbo is incredibly unsettling. The referendum polling stations closed a little over four days ago and several hours later David Cameron tendered his resignation. The country has no Prime Minister since David Cameron tendered his resignation on Friday morning and more than half the shadow cabinet have resigned while Jeremy Corbyn still clings to power. And yet Boris Johnson, the man who most of us believe campaigned to leave the EU in an attempt to build his own political CV and achieve his ambition to become Britain’s Premier, appears to have gone to ground. The Brexiters don’t appear to have a plan (at least not one that has been shared with the country) to proceed, Article 50 (the initial step to triggering our formal withdrawal from the EU) has not been invoked, the UK has lost its treasured AAA credit rating, and we are left in a limbo of no-man’s land. And to add insult to injury, the England team has gone out of football’s European cup. Is this really happening or are we all living in some kind of shared parallel existence from which we will wake up to find that it’s all been some kind of horrible dream? What was that slogan half of the country was chanting last week? I think it was something to do with taking back control. Sorry, I think I’ve missed something. We have never been more out of control.
Winning the referendum is the equivalent of drinking from a poisoned chalice, not least because it toppled Johnson’s former friend and schoolmate, brought the above problems with it (and we were warned), and could well precipitate the dismantling of the United Kingdom and a possible further fracturing of the European Union. The Great seems to have fallen out of Britain.
 Leviticus 19:33 The Jewish Study Bible (Second Edition 2014) Oxford University Press (eds Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler