Let it be recorded that until the Brexit referendum in 2016, relations between the people of Britain and other citizens of the European Union appeared excellent. Although it was to be expected that the choice between “Leave” and “Remain” would provoke a rift among Britons, many of us did not expect the referendum to poison relations between the people of Britain and the rest of Europe.
As time passes, though, and the two sides move toward tough negotiations on the terms of their divorce, the process threatens to lead to serious division, making us forget our friendship. Even the most well-intentioned, experienced and conscientious negotiators would have a tough time reaching a solution that would satisfy both sides.
On the one hand, the British government appears determined to press for all it wants without any intention of compromising, on the other, the EU is equally resolved to protect the interests of its 27 member-states. The negotiations will be rough and it is quite likely that Britain’s target of a final agreement by the end of the year will not be met. As if anticipating failure, the British government has adopted a hard line against EU citizens who live in Britain or who would like to move there. It has announced strict criteria and expensive visas for them, like those for citizens of states outside the EU.
Boris Johnson’s government seems to want to satisfy its voters but also to provoke a rift with the EU so that it can blame “Brussels” for any failure in the talks and so justify Britain’s exit from the Union. Our era provides ample proof that many voters believe what they want to believe, in spite of reality, and easily blame others for their problems.
Aside from revealing great tension that was hidden under society’s surface, Brexit also uncovered great antipathy toward Europeans who had been living in Britain for many years. In a recent poll (by Deltapoll), 50 percent said EU citizens should not receive priority as regards “who is allowed to come to live in the UK.” Also, 33 percent said that EU citizens already living there should have to apply under the new rules and, if not successful, be forced to leave the country.
Instead of reciprocating with similar measures, the EU should offer special citizenship status to the people of Britain. As a living reminder of past friendship.