And so the U.K. votes to secede from the European Union – the “Brexit” movement prevailed. I find this action ironic. When the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, it created the European Economic Community, which later grew into today’s European Union (EU). The six original members were West Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The U.K. was not one of the original members because of its independence streak, its special relationship with the U.S., and because Brits have always considered themselves Brits first, and Europeans second.
As the 1950s turned into the 1960s, the U.K.’s economy, which struggled to recover during its rebuilding mode after the war, started to seriously hit the brakes. It was in the mid-1960s that the country’s leaders developed a strong urge to join the EU. This effort was thwarted by then-French President Charles de Gaulle, who never felt that the Brits respected him as an equal partner during WWII, and because the U.K. was snotty enough not to join the new European group in the first place. It took until 1973 for the U.K. to be voted in, 16 years after the formation of the original EU. By the time of its joining, West Germany and France had already developed secure leadership roles within the EU, which remain today.
It can be argued that the U.K. feels like it never rose to be a major leader within the EU, politically or economically. Those roles tend to lie with France and Germany. Unlike the rest of their European neighbors, the British have not physically been invaded and conquered on a large scale since the Norman Conquest of 1066. They are strong in their independence and firm believers in self-destiny.
However, a large part of the Brexit movement focused not so much on economic reasons, but on tightening up immigration flows to the U.K. I also find this ironic, as this is one of the most multifaceted countries I have ever visited in the world. The U.K. is a lot like the U.S. in the sense that there are people of every ethnicity and religious persuasion living there, and rightly so. The U.K. ruled a substantial portion of the world for the better part of four centuries. Its holdings included some of the most diverse regions on earth, stretching from North America, through Asia, and to the Middle East.
During one of my visits to the U.K., I struck up a friendship with two brothers from Jordan that owned a small pizza-by-the-slice business in Piccadilly Circus. Both had left everything they had back home, a country the U.K. ruled until WWII, for a better life and were working night and day to make their business successful. I also met an Iranian worker at a Mexican-style tavern/cafe that drew my attention, having worked in Mexico most of my career. This gentleman was working two jobs to feed his family and was struggling to make ends meet. I asked him why he didn’t return to his native country and he told me that his two kids were born in the U.K. and it was now their country, the only one they knew, as it was his. On subsequent trips, I met people in the U.K. of Indian, Pakistani, Sikh, Turkish, and African descent. By and large, Brits traditionally have been polite and accepting of foreigners.
I thought about these people when I read the horrible reports in the U.K. of foreigners and immigrants being accosted, insulted, and told, “The vote is over, we won – go home, you don’t belong here!” I read about one account of a Polish mother on a bus with a baby in her arms being told to leave the U.K. and go back to Poland with her family. This brought back sad feelings of the brief time I lived in American Falls, Idaho, when my father decided to sell his business in northern New Mexico and move to where his brother had settled as a dentist. Some of the people in town were gracious and welcoming to me. However, several actually told me, to “Go back to Mexico, you don’t belong here,” without knowing that my family had been on the North American continent, and what is now the U.S. for hundreds of years before their families came. I chalked these experiences up to ignorance, although they were hurtful at the time. Years after having moved back to New Mexico, I still vividly remember these experiences.
Britain has been one of the most welcoming countries in the world – this is part of its historical DNA. Cultures of the world have made the U.K. a beacon of leadership in the world. Now it is receiving a black eye because of its vote to leave the EU, and by the hateful actions of people who are making the country look like it never was connected to the rest of the world. Isn’t it ironic that the U.K. has invaded, controlled, and benefited from so many countries/peoples across the globe, but now a lot of Brits don’t want foreigners in their country? We can only hope that this hateful anti-immigrant spirit is minimalized in our own country, and Americans present a dignified image to the world as we enter into the last stages of our presidential election.