My Brentry after Their Brexit Upon revisiting the UK, I’ve found it just as I’d left it: as if the EU had never existed
Could Britain be immutable as well as irreplaceable? This is a question worth pondering, given several of Britain’s attributes: its greatness as an island with tendrils reaching across the entire planet, even if it is limited today to a mere geo-cultural-symbolic rite as its geo-politico-economic clout has somewhat waned; its unity, if only among its own constituents, insofar as in Europe it hasn’t been particularly long-lived due to an overly Brussels-based rigid and (op)pressing bureaucracy; its kingship, even if henceforth God must Save the King after having watchfully protected Queen Elisabeth II throughout her 96 years of life, 70 of which spent as a reigning monarch. To a Euro-citizen recently returned to the United Kingdom after the Brexit, having to hand over the passport instead of the more familiar ID card at the border control represents the most immediately apparent change of tone. Looking strictly at the ambience, just as entering the (predecessor of the) European Union didn’t perturb the daily affairs of the Brits, neither did Britain’s divorce from the EU generate any depression. Yet, one cannot always perceive the subtleties beneath people’s (changes of) mind and (pre)judgments, even if these people are His Majesty’s subjects, yet also subject to error.
British newspapers have recently turned to the Brexit typesetters’ strategic reserves of wordplays and puns. Six and a half years after voting to desert the EU, three years after officially withdrawing, two years following the conclusion of a trade agreement with Brussels, and a month or so in the wake of swearing in its fourth Prime Minister after the referendum of 2016, papers in the Albion began speculating about a possible feeling of “Bregret”. Reasons for remorse include: the Covid-19 pandemic with its cumbersome recovery mingling with the energy crisis caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine in what threatens to turn into the harshest economic crises of the past generation – an even worse crisis than Britain’s European neighbours would endure. The UK’s tenuous trade with the EU is seen as the unfortunate catalyst of the imminent recession. A recent poll by YouGov revealed that support for Brexit has reached its lowest point thus far: merely 32% of participants would still endorse it, whereas 56% deem it a mistake. And democracy is complicated in terms of both names and numbers.
Truth be told, much can suddenly change even in the least change-friendly societies. Early this September, Liz Truss was taking her oath before the late Queen, while towards the end of the month Rishi Sunak was the protagonist of the very same scene before King Charles III. It would appear to be too much change, especially with regards to the binomial pair of policy and politics where predictability is more highly valued than versatility. But there is little to be done when one must deal with the conjoined whims of biology and sociology. The change occurring between the aforementioned political events supervenes upon both the certainty of any living organism’s finite existence, as well as on the limits of the societal body’s capacity to metabolise uncertainty. Each sequence has its own moral to teach us: on the one hand, institutions / rules (e.g., the monarchy) can be an answer to biological frailty, offering a moderator to temper the volatile reactions powered by human passions; on the other hand, society, without being overwhelmed by (e.g., economic) rationality punishes its leaders’ lack of inspiration, patience, and luck, even when said leaders seem to mean well.
The current “resident” at 10 Downing Street must clarify the UK’s approach to the EU. Will the UK seek to enter the EU’s good graces to insert itself once more in the latter’s tempting unique market? Will it seek to squeeze a bit more of the EU’s Eastern European workforce, which the UK is lacking in a few key economic sectors? Will the UK shape its relationship with the EU by following the Swiss model, the Norwegian model... or by developing its very own model, which at the moment appears to be... un-modellable? To answer a few rumours fuelled by “political sources”, Sunak stated that he will not pursue any course of action that would require Britain to make payments to the EU budget or to reaccept certain elements from the European acquis, i.e., the crucial causes of historical discontent that led to a hysterical disconnection from the community conclave. As an aside, if there is any common language left for Britain and its continental partners, otherwise unchanged in their timeless mutual feelings of otherness, it would have something to do with changes e.g. of the climate variety. There we have the common phobia of a new Eco-Pan-European climate change / global warming activist consciousness. I’ve felt it myself in an unusually sunbathed London at the end of November, after flying across the English Channel, warmly renamable as La Manche… Courte.