Great Britain is leaving the European Union. A referendum was held recently, and the British voting public has decided that they no longer wish to be a member of the EU, and urge their government to withdraw from the union as soon as possible. Of course, when I say as soon as possible, I mean as soon as it’s deemed convenient for the politicians in Britain who have been most adamant that their nation’s interests lie separate–if not, in opposition to–the rest of the European continent. Personally, I find it strange that the people who have spent weeks on end arguing about how it is of the utmost urgency for the UK to get out of the EU, lest it risk having its national integrity superseded by an undemocratic superstate (with implied nefarious long-term intentions), are now calling for everyone not to get ahead of themselves and to not be too hasty in actually biting the bullet on this whole thing by doing what they campaigned to do: leave the EU, posthaste. I’ve always been of the opinion that once you identify a recognizable danger to your person (which the Brexit crowd has clearly and repeatedly claimed the EU to be), you’d want to take actions to step away from said danger as speedily as you can. But, then again, I’m not English, and perhaps this is just one of the many cultural quirks of the English character that elude me, and make total sense to those within the culture.
Notice I exclusively said English at the end there, and not British. The reason for that is that it is predominately the English (and the Welsh) who voted in favor of leaving the EU (in particular the middle-aged and elderly crowd in those areas), while the majority of Scotland (and a large portion of Northern Ireland) voted in favor of remaining in the EU. The significance of this will be shown shortly.
First, let me just say that, as someone who was brought up in continental Europe, within the EU zone, I have a bit more familiarity with the functions of the economic union than the average person residing in the United States. To me, as a fellow European, the criticisms leveled against the EU (i.e. concerns regarding its role in relation to the sovereignty of its member states, and the dynamic between its more economically affluent members and its less well-off members) are perfectly fair points to consider. And while I am of the opinion that improvements can (and should) be made, and laws and policies must be adjusted and amended as circumstances change and develop, to attempt to point to the EU as some sort of unmanageable mess that reaps no benefits for its member states is nevertheless a terribly disingenuous line of argument. However, even though I have always regarding the existence of the EU as a general net positive for Europe and its citizens, I also wholeheartedly respect any member’s wishes to not be a part of it, if they so choose. Of course, this includes England’s vote to withdraw from the EU, and I wish them well in doing so, and ultimately hope it turns out to be the right decision for its citizens.
With all that out of the way, let us get to the irony part of this news event, referenced in the title of this post. It would be ironic enough to point out that a nation that gained its influence in the global scene by subjugating over a quarter of the rest of the world under its crowd at the height of its power, is now complaining about having its national sovereignty undermined by an authoritative state (of which it is an active member). It is equally salient to mention how ironic it is for a nation that readily accepts and operates under a government that does not directly elect its Prime Minister, nor the de facto head of its armed services, and completely lacks a codified constitution, has deemed the bureaucratic (and, at times, mundane) political structure of the European Union as too undemocratic for its liking. However, none of these are of immediate interest as the key ironic bit that has come out of this referendum. No, the true irony relates in the way the vote on the referendum split between the member states within the United Kingdom itself.
As mentioned, Scotland predominately voted to remain in the EU. Now that England has set the precedent that a member state of an active political/economic union can declare its separation from said union, because it no longer feels that its sovereignty and interests are being properly represented by remaining a member of this same union, by what right can London argue for Edinburgh to remain in the United Kingdom if the Scottish citizenry decides that its interest are better served by remaining in the EU instead? Any move by England to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, if they formally proclaim their intent to depart as a member of Great Britain, will reveal the British government to be the very over-imposing political structure that the Brexit crowd was claiming to be saving Britain from by voting to leave the EU in the first place. Hence, the great irony is that if Scotland (as well as Northern Ireland) decides that it would prefer to remain in the European Union, and as a result decides to formally leave the UK, it would signal the dissolution of Great Britain in its current political integrity, brought about directly by the same people–the Brexit crowd–who were so adamant about the need for the UK to leave the EU, because they feared that staying in the union would lead to the eventual destruction of the British state; a definitely possibility right now, with the potential departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK, as a result of Brexit.
Honestly, all politics aside, Joseph Heller himself couldn’t have written a better story of bittersweet irony.