The British government has made its official application to leave the European Union, setting the United Kingdom and the EU on an unknown course not only regarding relations between them but also with regard to each side’s cohesion.
Art, myth and history are full of analogies, from the stories and horror films where wolves, serial killers or fatal loneliness devour anyone who strays out of the herd/cabin/spaceship, to Noah’s doves. It remains to be seen whether Britain will return to the ark, having exhausted all efforts to find something better, or whether it will never come back.
The success or failure of Brexit will determine to a great extent whether the UK can remain united, or whether there will be a permanent rift with Scotland and a border with Ireland. It is also unclear whether Britain’s departure will strengthen the forces tearing at the EU or bring its 27 remaining members closer together.
Brexit fans claim that the exodus will bring only good for their country, while “remainers” fear countless ills. But when dealing with human behavior, such as politics, no one can be sure of what will happen.
In the case of Brexit, the past is not necessarily a good indicator. Conditions are different today; but, also, those most involved in the issue – the citizens – may change course. Those who dream of a Britain that will grow rich on old trade networks with former colonies imagine their country ruling the waves free of EU constraints. The former colonies, however, do not share this sentiment and, free now, will pursue their own best interests with a zeal similar to Britain’s. The old relationship was not between equals, and the grandchildren of empire will have to acknowledge this as they risk their country’s greatest trading market (the EU) for a bet on deceptive nostalgia.
Things are just as complicated for Brexit’s enemies, because, when their country’s success is at stake, it is not in their interest to be proven right. Just as Brexiters will have to come to their senses, “remainers” will have to help make the future work. In a valuable article on theconversation.com, Stephen Church, professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia, noted that there are several examples of Britain and Europe splitting from each other. “The clearest lesson of all,” he pointed out, is that “when the relationship with Europe is poor, the lot of the ordinary Briton is poorer for it.”
We live in another era now, with fewer barbarians and less pestilence, but flight into the unknown is always dangerous.