Guest post: People like being angry at things

Originally a comment by Claire on They’ve done it.

As an expat Brit, I was in two minds whether to vote in the referendum. After all, it seemed a bit cheeky to insist on a voice on it when I’d no intention of returning to the UK. But the rhetoric changed my mind. I quickly became very concerned that the Brexit campaign were willing to lie brazenly and hand-wave any demands for details on how any number of important structural changes would be managed. So I got registered and voted, for my nephews and nieces too young to vote, for my other family members who’s lives and job prospects depended on us remaining in the EU. It was not enough, but I was glad in the end that I had voted, because I would have felt so much worse if I had not.

As it is, I’m angry and scared about what’s happening to my home country. A portion of the population has always been given to Little Englandism and rosy-colored visions of a Britain that was not nearly as good as they make out (unless you were a well-off white man) and a nostalgia for a bygone Empire that is as grotesque as it is anachronistic. But I’d never before realized how widespread the attitude was.

I’m not starry-eyed about the EU, in fact I’ve been sharply critical of how they’ve dealt with problems such as the financial difficulties in Greece or the generally poor transparency of many of its institutions. But fixing those problems was achievable if Britain had only been willing to try and effect change. We weren’t the only country to want to see reform and could have sought partners to modernize the EU in a way that reflected the 21st century world.

The EU was built in part in the feverish hangover of WWII. We’d been through two unimaginably large and utterly preventable human catastrophes before we’d even made it halfway through the century. The EU came out of that desire not to descend into the madness a third time. But it brought all kinds of benefits none of us could have anticipated. The Remain campaign did not communicate these very effectively, and I think people like being angry at things more than they like respecting dull plodding things like diplomacy and technocratic progress. But working conditions for workers, especially at the low end of the income scale, were much improved by European laws and directives. All those people who voted for Brexit overwhelmingly came from those most likely to be hurt by the disappearance of those regulations.

The EU will survive our exit, I’m sure. We will be the poorer for it, and I don’t think it’s egotistical to say I think that we did make important contributions to the European project that will be missed in the future. But ultimately, leaving will hurt us way more.

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