Once again, a spectre is haunting Europe. It is the spectre of a great unravelling, not only of European unity but also of European values.
No matter how hard they tried to put a graceful sheen on the aftermath of Thursday’s historic referendum by saying that Britain will remain a country that is “open and inclusive”, the leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign cannot escape the fact that their triumph owed itself to the stirrings of atavistic hatreds and xenophobic fears.
They should reflect on the fact that the only leaders on the global stage cheering the result of their campaign are Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen. The outcome of the referendum accelerates Britain’s slide towards an inward-looking country. It has also unleashed forces that could one day sweep away Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — the leaders of the ‘leave’ campaign.
Examine: Europe’s regression
The wave of ultranationalist politics sweeping across the world, from Donald Trump in America to Narendra Modi in India, with the European right wing making strong gains along the way, is gathering momentum, gaining a boost from the campaign behind the ‘leave’ vote in Britain.
The fact that the phenomenon is sweeping across many countries, however, shows that its roots are deeper than the circumstances obtaining in any one state alone.
The growing gulf between the rulers and the ruled, between the haves and the have-nots, and across cultures that rub each other on the streets of almost every city in the advanced industrial West, provides the fuel for the engine of xenophobic politics, driven on a combustible cocktail of fear and hate.
The results of the ‘leave’ victory will be widely felt beyond Britain. The gyrations travelling through the financial markets will likely stabilise soon.
But the deeper implications, for European unity, for inclusive politics, and regional integration in areas beyond Europe, are grave.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was right to remind us in her reaction to the vote that ultimately “European unity is about European peace”. It is a dangerous trend that is sweeping across the world, and if a way out is not found, it risks dragging us back to an era where values mattered less than force. Taking the decision to leave the European Union may well be the right of the British.
But the rise of a more vernacular politics, steeped in the exclusionary language of identity and the muscular assertion of ego, bodes ill for all of us.
Europe has been the beacon of cooperative values and inclusive politics for more than half a century now, forged in the heat of the great wars the continent has known.
Yet today — in the opening decades of the 21st century — it is sadly reverting to exactly that style of politics that paved its descent into the great conflicts of the early 20th century.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2016