The Ryder Cup win, Jeremy Hunt’s undiplomatic speech and the Brexiters’ hostile understanding of the principles of European identity.
It was rather appropriate for my phone to buzz and reveal that Europe’s team of golfers had reclaimed the Ryder Cup in France on Sunday afternoon. Thomas Bjørn’s team of twelve played an American team beleaguered by dominance from the Europeans. The remarkable fact that the Europe team was made from a composition with half hailing from Britain is symbolic of the times. Indeed, for such a compelling victory to occur for Europe with the assistance of professional golfers from Britain is a rare showing of unity between the two nationalities. It is ironic that 500km north-west of Le Golf National a vitriolic speech was thrusted into the British-EU discourse, with the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt comparing the EU to a prison to attack the EU ‘project’. So much for British-European relations.
This speech has fuelled a fierce debate in political and cultural circles. The New Statesman’s Patrick Maguire was right to call the speech ‘jingoism’, for Jeremy Hunt tapped into the rhetoric of his predecessor to stir up an already boiling pot of antipathy. Maguire went onto state that the speech was undoubtedly an attempt to promote Hunt’s credentials as a future leader of the Conservative Party.
However, there is so much more to the speech which presents the Conservatives as a party now dominated by nationalism and Euroscepticism.
The Brexit debate has arguably never been about anything but nationalism. The economics of leaving the EU are influential for both Remain and Leave supporters, but the hard Leave fanatics have been fixated on national identity and the question of sovereignty. Certainly, the most influential party of the last eight years was UKIP, which has now filled the tight gap left by the many failures of the BNP, was using various domestic policy points to disguise its virulent nationalism and anti-European views.
The failure of the Conservative Party to keep brawling Eurosceptics at bay only fuelled the fires of Brexit, which has subsequently spilled over into nationwide divisions.
This espousal of nationalism by the Tories and UKIP has put into question the very foundations of the post-war agenda of Europe. Jeremy Hunt inaccurately made a blind comparison to Soviet Russia in his soliloquy on Sunday. Many commentators and analysts were quick to bash the budding leader’s unjust comparison, supported by the Latvian ambassador to the UK using the hashtag #StrongerTogether to protest against such antagonism.
Featured influencer for this magazine, Professor Steve Peers was quick to notice that Sabine Weyand (EU Deputy Chief Negotiator for Brexit) provided a subtle retweet to support the ambassador. Gone are the days of explicit geopolitical actions. Premier Khrushchev turned his boats away from Cuba in 1962 to end a nuclear crisis. When explicitly hostile speeches occur in 2018, a simple retweet is all one needs to sense the mood.
I have previously spoken about the incessant British exceptionalism of Brexit and how it has angered moderates and hardliners alike. The UK’s nationality is in itself a tenuous construct, so for British Brexiters to attack the European identity is not only hypocritical, it’s downright rude.
The EU is a cultural and political marvel. After the Second World War, a European unity expressed itself through common ideas and diversity of identity to protect against communism in the Soviet sphere. Though not immediately apparent, a trading bloc would turn into a union of nations dedicated to a common goal – the equality and prosperity of all in Europe.
Unashamedly optimistic, the EU has gone on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and establish trading and diplomatic links across the globe. The political nature of EU policy is to create a beneficial and equal partnership to all. In the UK, there have been countless projects and investments by the EU to promote business, better environmental standards, and agriculture. The optimism of their union is apparent through the common currency which will undoubtedly grow more influential.
It is then against all common sense and visible rationality to want to leave this impressive and dynamic union. The perceived negatives from Brexiters were based entirely on nationalist argument. Those who espouse the Brexit ideology are influenced by nostalgic symbolism and an ugly smoothie of right-wing social policy and neo-liberal economics.
The ‘John Bull’ of Brexit is found in the most prominent of hard Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage. To these politicians, Britain just doesn’t fit inside a ‘union’ of European nations where sovereignty and identity are lost to the hallways of Brussels. It’s self-evident that the loudest Brexit supporters also have reignited an imperialist debate that Britain has yet to accept in its damaging actions.
There is a profound sense of identity to the EU that Brexiters cannot understand or accept. The expression of a pan-European movement has existed since after the Second World War, with the expansion of post-war capitalism and politics moving closer to a political union. It is an acceptance of shared histories and values that have bound the continent together. The Lisbon Treaty of 2007 formalised these values into a liberal understanding of human rights and principles.
Every single named concept of that treaty is nothing a modern British politician would disagree with. To be a European does not disintegrate your national identity but strengthen it through protections and community.
Alas, the British beauties of Brexit are stubborn and hardened by ideological divisions with Europe. Their scepticism and distrust of the EU ‘project’ (which is itself offensive to its primary functions) may continue to pervade the politics of Britain. This nationalism is utilised to question loyalties and divide people and nations. Brexit has become more than a policy. It’s a symbol of sceptical nationalism that has gripped the UK for too long.
Wouldn’t it be a remarkable instance if this Brexit was somehow abandoned through legitimate means? Such an act would cripple the Brexit argument, and ironically, it would use the very principles of European identity: freedom, equality, and democracy.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com)