It seems ironic in 2018, that it was in Britain that I became a European. I left my native Sweden in 1993, two years before it joined the European Union, and for most of the 1990s, when my childhood friends were busy embracing Europe, I was living in the United States, eagerly absorbing all things American. Europe was little more than an abstract concept to me back then.
It’s now been more than eighteen years since I settled in London, one of the most European cities I’ve ever known, and today begins the 12-month countdown to the day that Britain officially leaves the European Union. There’s a part of me who still believes – or hopes – that Brexit won’t happen in the end, that sense and reason, and community, will prevail, and that Britain’s political leaders will step away from the cliff edge before it’s too late.
“There’s no turning back,” said Theresa May when she triggered Article 50 on 29 March 2017. Her words made me think of Elizabeth Allen, the main protagonist in Enid Blyton’s popular children’s book, The Naughtiest Girl.
Unlike Mrs May, Elizabeth Allen, aka the naughtiest girl, finally realises that it’s a measure of one’s strength, courage and maturity to be able to admit fault and to turn back, rather than obstinately racing towards the cliff edge for fear of losing face. Unfortunately for Britain, it seems Mrs May fancies herself something of a Thelma and Louise.
The other part of me, however, thinks I’m clutching at straws, for there’s nothing that seriously indicates that Mrs May will find the courage and sense to halt Brexit, and any anti-Brexit thinking within the Labour party is tempered by Mr Corbyn’s apparent disinterest in Europe and Brexit alike. We’re all going to fall off that cliff edge.
While I no longer lie sleepless at night worrying that I’ll be forced to leave Britain, I do worry a great deal about what kind of country Britain will become post-Brexit. Any claims of ‘taking back control’ ring hollow in my ears; I don’t for a second believe that Britain after Brexit will be more democratic than it is today unless of course, populism is what counts as democracy these days.
The European Union has its fair share of problems for sure but leaving it doesn’t necessarily translate into greater democracy for the British people. Democracy isn’t simply ‘rule of the people’; it also requires the protection of fundamental human rights, including that of minorities, be they political, ethnic, religious, or other.
Like no other British politician, Theresa May has repeatedly attacked human rights, when she was Home Secretary and as Prime Minister. Although any plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights have been put on hold for now, it’s anyone’s guess what the government will do when Britain is no longer an EU member.
Racism, antisemitism, and sexism are the enemies of democracy, and as long as these forces remain alive in British society, democracy will continue to be under threat. And it’s not just EU citizens and other foreigners who have cause to worry, so should the Brits themselves.