Last night, at 11 p.m., the UK officially left the European Union. Somehow, though, talk surrounding the issue seems to have died down, as an emotional blanket of what can only be described as reluctant acceptance drapes itself over the masses of those who decried the plan to part ways with the Union. As an EU citizen myself, the weight of that acceptance seems almost heavier, as if a link to the country I grew up in is about to severed and there’s nothing that can be done about it. As I was getting ready to walk to campus yesterday morning, however, one thought popped into my head, seemingly out of nowhere: why is this happening at 11 p.m.? It seems such an incongruous time, a random number set an hour before the day actually ends.
A few seconds later, I realised the reason: 11 p.m. in England is midnight in Brussels.
The Brexit campaign was the culmination of a debate that had been raging since the UK joined the European economic alliance in 1973. Many British politicians, particularly those further to the right, saw such a unification as an implicit sign that their country was becoming something less unique, less significant in terms of itself. As the years went by, discontent grew; a new scapegoat could always be found for why the UK was not as great as it once was, why it could no longer live up to its fantastical past which has never truly existed to begin with. Migrant workers and EU taxation, framed as taking jobs and money from Britons, became the rallying cries for Brexit supporters until 2016, when the vote passed by 52%. On that day, the long and arduous road which has led to what happened last night began. The idea was to take back power, to take back agency; for the UK to be the UK, on its own terms.
Funny, then, how this event, pivotal for the UK yet almost trivial for the goliath that is the EU, is happening on their time. Similarly, for the next 11 months, the UK will essentially be a helpless member of the Union, forced to continue abiding by its laws yet unable to influence its elections or rulings in any way whatsoever. The EU will do what it wants, when it wants; the United Kingdom has, essentially, turned its back on what has always been a beneficial pact for them. As one French diplomat said, “for the UK it was the best possible world.”
It remains to be seen what will become of the United Kingdom in the months and years to come. It will undoubtedly be a time of uncertainty, especially for those of us without a UK passport. If this country can take one thing from the union which they are leaving, though, it should be the sense of brotherhood, fraternity and camaraderie. It should be the links which bind us together, and which help us remain strong in the face of anything that may come our way. It is the foundation upon which the EU was built, and if it is forgotten, then the UK will have made a mistake from which it may never fully recover.