UK – It’s been five days now since the U.K. had its vote to decide whether or not it should be a part of the European Union. The Leave result was close, won by an overall majority of 52%. The Remain camp — the favourites to win — was shocked, saddened, and angry. It is no exaggeration to say that this result has not only torn the nation apart, but also exposed deep rifts which have have existed for many years.
After the vote, social media went into turmoil with different groups of people turning on each other. There were many unfriendings on Facebook. Younger people are annoyed with the older generation for “ruining their future.” And, older people believe that the younger generation does not know what is at stake. As noted in The Guardian, the vote has torn families apart.
Even days later, there is still lots of shock; lots of pain. Much pent up hurt and rage is being released.
Due to the volatility of the debates, it has been difficult to garner any public reaction from the U.K. Pagan community, which is a microcosm of the country as a whole. Pagans, on both sides of the issue, are displaying as much anger and hurt about the vote. Many feel that the decision to leave flies in the face of Pagan values, such as tolerance and diversity. Conversely, others in the community feel that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable. They voted to leave for freedom and independence.
However, many of those contacted were not yet willing to speak on record. In a future piece, I hope to update the situation with personal comments from the UK Pagan community. For now though, I will explain the background behind the vote.
The Breakdown of the U.K.
The vote occurred across the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Britain, also called Great Britain, refers to the countries that exist on the landmass of the island, namely England, Wales and Scotland. Each nation in the U.K. has a form of parliament to ensure its own governance. Northern Ireland and Scotland have more powers over their nations than Wales, due to complex historical reasons that are beyond this discussion.
Since Friday morning, when the results became clear, the U.K. went into a tailspin. David Cameron, our Prime Minister, resigned immediately. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, called for a second referendum on Scottish Independence from the U.K., which would allow them to re-apply to the EU. (Scotland held such referendum in 2014 and voted, by 55%, to remain in the U.K.) In Northern Ireland, concerns about peace have been raised. The Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein has begun talking about a border poll for the reunification of Ireland, and many fear the possible implications and the potential for discord.
A Bit of History
The European Union (EU) was a post-World War II bloc that emerged to trade together and to hopefully bring peace to a ravaged continent. Its original members were France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Britain joined along with Ireland in 1973. Other European countries joined throughout the ensuing years. To date, 28 states are members.Due to the EU, Europeans have enjoyed cheap holidays, a wider range of consumables, and greater work flexibility. But all of that changed with the infamous Maastrict Treaty of 1992, which pushed for both political and economic union. In Britain, the treaty was hotly contested in parliament, with the more extreme ends of both parties blocking the move by the European Economic Community (EEC). While poll tax riots were blamed for the demise of controversial Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it may have actually been her refusal to further integrate into the proposed EU.
However, time went on. And, as the 1990s progressed, Tony Blair came to power as the first Labour Prime Minister for a generation. Simultaneously, the EU expanded, and people from Eastern and Southern Europe came to Britain under the free movement of peoples legislation. The U.K. also began to see the decline of much of its manufacturing industry due to things being apportioned by Brussels, a synonym often used for the EU due to its main, but not official, base being located in that city. (Its official seat is in Strasbourg, France.)
However, the problems really began around the turn of the century when the euro was introduced. Economies in the east and south have traditionally been weaker than those in the west and north of Europe. At the time, the British media began raising concerns. However, Germany and France, the powerhouses behind the euro project, pushed it through.
As the noughties progressed with the credit crunch and austerity measures, the entire EU project began to look increasingly unwieldy. Additionally, the migrant crisis of last summer triggered unhappiness all over Europe, because it epitomised all that was wrong with the EU. More specifically, one country, in this case Germany, deciding to ignore the Dublin Regulations, rightly or wrongly, “off its own bat.”
Back to the vote and a nation torn
The situation is very complicated, and the responses are equally as mixed, without clear lines of support.
This referendum has created a perfect storm in communities that have been abandoned since the Thatcher era of the 1980s. These are the areas that were left behind in the march to globalisation. Many people from the EU came to Britain to seek work in a prosperous, business-friendly country. Many of these working class communities have resented such quick and deep global change. This was reflected by the trend for what are called the Labour heartlands voting in favour of Brexit.
Many on the left are unwilling to talk about this issue at all. Straight after the voting results were released, John Harris and Gary Younge of The Guardian ventured a couple of articles asking people to consider that side of the issue. The failure to address it, according to them, seems to be fuelling the rise of the far-right.
As if to support that point, there have been reports of an upturn in racist incidents across the U.K. These include cards written in Polish posted through letterboxes in areas with a high Polish demographic telling them to get out. People who identify as BME (black or minority ethnic) have been subjected to racial abuse in the street.
These are challenging times and I know full well that many people are feeling scared, shocked and intimidated by the horrible rise in racism and xenophobia that has become evident in this country. But we will not allow that bigotry to infiltrate our Pagan Federation and PF-London will do all we can to make sure that our events, groups and activities are free from such intolerance and the people who perpetrate it.
Economic reaction to the decision has also been mixed. The referendum campaign divided British economists and business leaders from the start. Mark Carney, the Canadian head of the Bank of England, stated in early May that Britain was better off in the EU, and Brexit could cause “a technical recession.” However, since the voting result he has backtracked on that. Just three days ago he announced to The Financial Times that “Brexit will not cause a financial crisis.”
Mervyn King, his predecessor, stated in April that the “economic threat of Brexit has been exaggerated,” but would not reveal which side of the debate he supported.
Business leaders have also been divided on the issue. Two days before the vote, Lord Digby Jones, the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, stated that he was a “reluctant leaver” and slammed the EU’s inability or unwillingness to reform. Other business leaders such as Virgin chief Richard Branson and Amstrad founder Lord Sugar backed Remain, whereas James Dyson (the inventor and entrepreneur behind Dyson vacuum cleaners) and another 320 prominent UK business figures wrote a letter to The Telegraph declaring their support for Leave.
Since then, much of the worries regarding the British economy have receded. Boeing has just declared that it will stick with plans to base its new European HQ in Britain. Aston Martin is due to open a new plant in Wales, which needs the jobs. And as stated above, Business Secretary Sajid Javid has rowed furiously away from his previous pessimistic outlook. Over the weekend, Javid said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that much of the economic doom and gloom that had been forecast was “avoidable.”
Popular personal finance analyst and commentator Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com, has also downplayed any fears of economic strife. Writing in The Daily Mirror as the result of the vote sank in, his message invoked a motivational slogan from the U.K.’s iconic World War II propaganda posters: “Keep calm and carry on.” He said:
The vote result changes the way people think or act. That’s why the markets have gone down – that’s why people have asked if they should complete on their house sale, or complete their bank account change.
The danger of this ‘sentiment change’ is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are worried about the economy so they don’t do things that they would have done otherwise, and that hurts the economy. We have to be very careful of the sentiment change issue.
What it all means
This referendum has basically asked the British people who they are and who they want to be in the future, and this is what is at the core of this issue. Historically, Britain has never been a happy fit in Europe. In fact, one could argue that it is our relationship with Europe that defines us.
The Magna Carta came into being as a revolt against Norman oppression; the Dissolution of the Monasteries was a break from the Roman Church. World War II was a partly a conflagration against German territorial expansion. Many who are part of the Leave camp see similar themes in the EU today, but with different motivations.
Regardless, there is obviously a great split in who we are and how we perceive ourselves – tolerant, multi-cultural, freedom loving.
For some it will take a great deal of time to reconcile the enormity of what the U.K. leaving the EU means. During this time of uncertainty, Pagans are holding fast to their values of tolerance and diversity, and looking to become examples of bringing the disparate peoples of the U.K. together.
In an interview, Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple demonstrated this fact in her own words, saying:
In these volatile times it’s important to remember that Motherworld crosses all boundaries of nationhood and race. We are one global family in the love of Goddess. Motherworld is the society in which Mother Earth, mothers and the values of mothering – love, care and support for each other – are placed in the centre of society rather than being left out on the periphery.
In their open letter on bigotry, the Pagan Federation wrote:
It’s more than fair to say that June 2016 has been a time of significant change and upheaval in this green and pleasant land. We can only speculate about how our descendants will look back upon this time and what they will think. Our world is changing, as all things inevitably do, though with such massive changes as we are seeing now, we are all scrabbling to deal with these turbulent currents.
I will be following the Brexit fallout very closely and intend to update readers on any developments. When the dust does settle and more Pagans, who are as shell-shocked as everyone else, are willing to share their viewpoints, we will bring you their stories, opinions and concerns