Are the British patriotic

Post-Brexit crisis : The rediscovery of the British

Gordon Brown was Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010.

After three days of pomp and military honors that presented the image of a seemingly unchanging Britain, US President Donald Trump left London. But behind the facade, Britain is not only engulfed by a deadlocked Brexit process and endless debate about it, but also by a far deeper identity crisis: a struggle to rediscover what it means to be British.

It is a bitter irony that last week also marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which began the liberation of Europe from fascism. The current ruling Conservative Party seems determined to renounce any agreement with the European Union, to declare a no-deal Brexit and to leave the EU in a disorderly manner on October 31 - a result that is tantamount to declaring an economic war against Britain's continental neighbors would.

Great Britain, which for a long time prided itself on being pragmatic, tolerant and fair, is now in danger of developing a nativism marked by abandonment, intolerance and confrontation. Our island status has allowed us to look outwards for centuries; as explorers, traders, missionaries, diplomats and merchants who did not see the English Channel as a fortress, but as a fast connection into the distance.

Belief in "fair play" was a national characteristic

We were among the first to practice political tolerance. Long before the American Revolution, as the French philosopher Montesquieu (perhaps reluctantly) admitted, Britain had pioneered the modern idea of ​​freedom. In the centuries that followed, we campaigned for what Winston Churchill defined as one of our most important national characteristics: belief in what he called "fair play".

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People have the impression that politics can no longer find answers to important current questions. The result is a massive loss of trust that unsettles people and shakes politics. Brexit is just unlucky enough to happen now, of all times.

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But the meteoric rise of the Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, and the success with which he set the terms for the election of the next Conservative prime minister, leaves the rest of the world wondering what to do with the moderate, rational, non-ideological Great Britain, known for its empiricism and belief in evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.

Farage has more in common with right-wing extremist Marine Le Pen in France, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in their wanton desire to destroy any institution labeled "global" or "European" than with traditional British values. And by equating patriotism with a primitive us-versus-the-nativism that targets and demonizes immigrants, Europeans and Muslims, he tries to redefine our country as introverted and xenophobic - thereby tearing our history and what it means To be British in itself.

Britain was most loyal to herself when she looked outward

In a leaked 14-page memo, Britain's highest-ranking official describes that a no-deal Brexit would cause prices to rise by ten percent, a recession would follow and public unrest cannot be ruled out. In addition, a disorderly Brexit could mean the end of the peace agreement with Northern Ireland and endanger the union with Scotland. But thanks to Farages - and the Faragism that has taken over the ruling Conservative Party - an act of economic self-harm is portrayed as the epitome of British patriotism.

Narrow-minded nationalism is not a disease confined to Britain: much of the public in the western world sees globalization as like a runaway train. Moderate leaders everywhere must now respond not only to the economic discontent of millions of people falling by the wayside, but also to the cultural pessimism and disapproval of politicians as "only for their own gain" that blames the populist nationalism of the Trump cheerleaders Stephen Bannon and his ilk.

What makes it so much worse in the UK is a series of gross political misjudgments during and after the 2016 referendum campaign. While the defeated Remain side ran an economic campaign focused on fears of job losses upon leaving the EU, the victorious one led Leave side launched a culture war by stoking fear of immigration and the need for patriotic British to "take back control". Only marginally did voters hear the patriotic argument for staying in the EU: that Britain was most loyal to itself when it looked outward, not inward, and that our pragmatic mission was to take a leading role in Europe, and not to leave it.

Extremists claim to speak on our behalf

After the 2016 vote, any group of leaders other than ruling decision-makers would have launched a national debate to remind us that intolerant and isolationist nationalism is not an expression of British values, but a rejection of them. That debate never took place.

Now that Prime Minister Theresa May's government is collapsing and parliament is paralyzed, Brexit has revealed a crisis so deep that it cannot be tackled by traditional means - be it through a change of policy, leadership or government. As in other representative democracies, an already razor-thin trust in politics is further undermined because political parties no longer fulfill their traditional role of bringing together public opinion and achieving well-founded and solid consensus based on information. It can take years for the party system to be reshaped.

In the meantime, we can and should try to build a more informed democracy. For example, a series of citizens' assemblies could convene representatives of the public with voting rights to hear facts, question experts and question divisive perspectives. Such groups dealing with the issues are the best way to reach consensus on Britain's European future before a second referendum.

The UK would have benefited from time to think before the 2016 vote. But it's not too late. I am sure that after such a process, the British people will find themselves in a far more tolerant, fairer and more outward-looking country than the extremists who today claim to speak on our behalf want.

Translated from English by Sandra Pontow. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.

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