Will Brexit make us better Europeans?

At Coffee House

But one of the results of the vote might be that Britons become better Europeans; this is not exactly an unintended consequence, as Daniel Hannan has argued the point before, but it’s still somewhat counter-intuitive. Contrary to the thesis that Brexit has made the country a backwards-looking cesspit of hate, polls show that Britons have become more friendly to EU migrants since the June 23 vote.

Maybe strong fences make for good neighbours, or the upsurge in nationalistic rhetoric has made others more strongly pro-migrant in response; I have seen one academic paper showing that the election of xenophobic parties leads to more public warmth towards migrants, and it may be an instinctive human urge to protect the vulnerable; or perhaps people have got their xenophobia out of the system.

The Leave vote was, in my view, directly linked to the Blair government’s decision to turn on the immigration taps from 2000, not just of A8 migrants (who only ever constituted a minority), but from around the world. Much of the frustration people felt was a result of powerlessness; they’d never been asked about this huge, irreversible change – far more consequential, for good or ill, than our EU membership – there was no decent party they could vote for to stop it, and they felt powerless to say anything without being labelled. (Now that’s changed, of course, and people never stop talking about immigration.)

Likewise British tabloid europhobia of the ‘Up Yours, Delors’ variety is an expression of hostility but also impotence. Some British people felt that decisions were being made over which they had no power and so reacted with a Basil Fawlty-like rage; now that we’re being forced to make choices with consequences, the tone may be different. (Who knows, though? One of the europhile arguments I agree with is that British newspapers have over the years been biased and factually incorrect about the EU, so that probably won’t change.)

Read it all there. The headline I put on it yesterday, ‘No one likes us and we should care’, probably gave an unduly pessimistic or self-hating view; polls show Britain to be fairly popular, at least compared to other large European countries; but we should not rely on a false confidence that we are well liked either. Also, being half-Irish, I’m probably more aware of Anglophobia than most.

Comments so far

  1. Good on you for changing the emphasis.

    You were getting a reputation as a bed wetter ; )

What do you think?