Can you remember now your reaction to the referendum result? Some of you I imagine celebrated, others were perhaps shocked, or pretended it wasn’t happening. I was still in bed when I heard the news on the radio: the UK had voted to leave the European Union. I remember the immediate sense of loss and then my anger. For I had the impression, overnight, a part of my identity had been altered in a way I had little influence over. The referendum result seemed to signify a collective rejection (by the slimmest of majorities) of the principles of collaboration and reciprocity with our closest neighbours and as I processed the news, I questioned whether I still wanted to be associated with our apparently insular, self-regarding nation.
Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, peace has been maintained in Northern Ireland. But now, after twenty years of progress, Brexit has got people thinking and talking about the border again. This August I spent two days in Derry watching the Bogside Republican Youth building a bonfire. It was a stark reminder that while the majority of people value peace; there are those who would see a return to conflict.
In a referendum in 2014, Switzerland voted to introduce immigration quotas by the slimmest of majorities threatening the countries relationship with the EU. After two years of negotiation, in 2016, the Swiss parliament chose to compromise and introduced a series of soft measures in order to maintain trading arrangements. Given the parallels with Brexit, I ask here what we, in the UK, can learn from recent events there.
The dismal circumstances of asylum seekers and refugees in Greece, is hard to blame on the Greeks. Europe is collectively responsible. If the international community is to address the humanitarian crisis there, as well as in Italy, it must first deal with the imbalance of power between northern and southern Europe.
In this period of political instability and Trump leading the US, the words ‘populist’ and ‘populism’, are increasingly used. But what actually is populism and why is it bad for democracy? Our recent trip to Italy, where we came across the Five Star Movement, got me wondering. How do you tell apart a progressive political movement, which pledges to reform policy and overhaul the political system for the benefit of the people, and a populist?
In June, Macron said the EU’s door would remain open to the UK until the Brexit negotiations are concluded. But does he have the people behind him? I discovered on my recent bike trip through France that many had already shut the door and who can blame them – it’s for their own preservation.