The UK has always been a bit… special. Lately this has become more obvious than ever.
You see, it was always there. The UK has been difficult to deal with for a long time now. While not always obvious to the British public, people in other European countries have been scratching their heads for a long time. First the UK didn’t want to join the EEA (it joined 6 years after declining the first offer because its economy was so bad that there really was no better option), later it rejected both Schengen and the Euro. Not too long ago, David Cameron pitched up in Brussels to ask the EU if the UK could have some more exceptions and special deals, because too many foreigners were arriving, thank you very much. (The EU looked into this and concluded that all the problems Cameron mentioned were caused by the UK government not spending enough money on them, especially compared to other EU countries.) After getting most of what he asked for, David Cameron returned to Westminster to announce a referendum on leaving the EU… and unfortunately we all know what happened next.
Wikipedia defines ‘Island Mentality’ as “the notion of isolated communities perceiving themselves as superior or exceptional to the rest of the world”. Sound familiar? The people in power claiming other countries are lining up to strike trade deals with the UK; claiming the UK will get amazing trade deals because without them the EU’s economy would be in grave danger; sacrificing their own economy to get rid of ‘foreigners’. “Stop saying we can’t be in the single market without freedom of movement, exceptions will be made. Don’t you know who we are?”
Whenever other countries talk about the EU or Europe, they use the word ‘we’. Whenever the UK does it, it uses the word ‘they’, as if it isn’t part of Europe.
So why exactly is the UK so out of touch with the rest of Europe? Why does it want to close itself off? Of course there is the long history of European countries being invaded, and working together while the UK looked on from the other side of the English Channel, but let’s look at more recent times. This is the point where I admit to being a continental lass with a Scottish accent. I spent the greater part of my life in Belgium; where you pop over the border into the Netherlands to do some grocery shopping. (What exactly is the deal with selling no decent Vla, Belgium?); where you quickly jump on a train to Paris to visit Disneyland or the Louvre (Free for EU citizens under 18!); where you live in one country and work in the other. It is like this all over the continent. In the Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau, the border with Belgium is so complicated that some houses are divided between the two countries and people pay taxes in the country where the front door is located.
If you live in the village of Bell End (Worcestershire), you obviously can’t do these things. In combination with the anti-immigration and anti-EU press, and the current government’s witch-hunt, it is easy to see how some people could be fooled into believing that globalisation and multiculturalism, rather than austerity, is bad and the cause of all their problems.
Thankfully, the younger generation (many of whom were not able to vote in the referendum) brings some light and common sense in these dark times. They may still live on an island, but because of the internet lots of them speak to people from all over the world on a daily basis, making them pretty much immune to the bias and lies of the UK newspapers and politicians. They take advantage of opportunities – like Erasmus – to study abroad, or share a classroom with people who’ve come from the other side of the world to get a great education. They travel the world and see things with their own eyes. They question things. They are full of hope despite everything, and realise that climate change and not immigration is our biggest threat. And thank whatever God you may or may not believe in for that, because when the effects of climate change truly kick in, we’ll have to open our doors to refugees from all over the world and work together to protect ourselves and the future generations from whatever problems we’ll face. It will affect ‘us’ as a planet, all nationalities, ethnicities, all species… not ‘them’.
If the idea of an open-minded generation of ‘citizens of the world’ soon taking over doesn’t give you hope or make you smile at least a little bit, well…