Monday, May 29, 2023
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Brexit, a vaccine against populism

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Izaskun Bilbao Barandica. Vice President of the ALDE group and EAJ-PNV MEP.

On June 23, the citizenship of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (official name of the UK) decided to leave the European Union. On June 24, when the results became known known, the British stock market endured a black day, accompanied by a decline in the value of the British pound, which has placed the currency of the islands at parity with the Euro, even before one month of the referendum has passed. That weekend the most searched-for term on Google by British users was "European Union". In less than ten days, nearly four million Britons had signed a petition to Parliament to repeat the referendum.

This sequence of events cannot be understood without analyzing the painful political climate and the quality of public debate experienced in the UK in recent years, regarding what it is and what it means to belong to the European Union. Nor can we without regard to the history of the British connection with this project and its structural Euroscepticism.

The British were not part of the group of countries that gave birth the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), a movement to prevent the recurrence of armed conflict at European level, led by France and Germany. However the British were one of the major players in the Second World War, decisive in the victory against the Nazis. The ECSC evolved and in 1973 led to the European Economic Community of which the UK was a founding member. In 1992, it was also one of the states that formed the European Union.

However, the formula chosen to participate in the club reveals that the marriage between the British Isles and the Union has always been more a matter of convenience than love. This state is the only one of the founders of European club that has not adopted the Euro or acceded to the Schengen treaty. Nor has it signed the 2011 budgetary stability pact. It is not surprising that this "humus" stimulated the starkest populism to blame the European Union for much more than the problem generated in all European countries by the economic and financial crisis, or the crisis of refugees.

Untrustworthy members with strange customs

The idea was as simple as it was attractive. Participating in a club formed by members as heterodox as EU, with members quite far from the level that a true Brit demands of a real club, unreliable members with strange customs was the perfect explanation to understand why there was a decline which began much earlier. The empire had been losing weight and influence precisely since the end of The Second World War. Its citizens did not understand nor assimilate that the colonial model in which its splendour was based on the golden decades is today unsustainable in the open and connected global world.

Sheltered by this suggestive "scapegoat", political movements feathered their electoral nests, such as the weak UKIP and politicians such as the unrepeatable Nigel Farage, capable of to taking leave of his colleagues in the European Parliament leave prior to Brexit, only to rectify later resign as leader his party leader, but retain his parliamentary seat, and yes without renouncing a single very European Euros he gets for his little work in Brussels and Strasbourg.



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