Auf Wiedersehen, Großbritannien!

It is a struggle to find the appropriate words to describe how I am feeling about yesterday’s unwelcome news – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will part ways with the European Union. The result of the historic referendum, genuinely, came as a great shock to me. A part of me always assumed that the Vote Remain campaign would gain victory across the U.K., as the alternative seemed deeply divisive and undesirable. However, one must now come to terms with the judgement of the majority of the British population, no matter how wrong it is reckoned to be.

Although the success of Vote Leave, which won by 51.9%, is a life-changing result of significant global importance, this is only the beginning of the end. An official notification on behalf of the British government must first be delivered to the E.U., and subsequent negotiations must take place before a ‘Brexit’ can be realised. The process will carry on for a period of two years, as the U.K. attempts to reorganise its trade agreements with nations remaining in the E.U. In the aftermath of the vote’s declaration, the markets’ volatility was manifested, and this was indeed predicted – but not by the triumphant Vote Leave campaign. The lies spouted by the ‘Brexiters’ were shameful and completely unprincipled; particularly the pledge made by Boris Johnson that £350 million would be invested in the National Health Service per week if the British people voted to leave. Just an hour after the results became known, Nigel Farage called that very pledge a “mistake.” Another lie transpired shortly afterwards when Conservative Party MEP Daniel Hannan stated that leaving the E.U. would reduce immigration to the U.K.

The FTSE 100 observed losses of £120 billion in its worst day since the financial crisis, this, of course, will negatively affect ordinary, hardworking people’s pensions. For ordinary British people, the prospect of purchasing a property and the level of income they receive will all change, negatively, of course. The situation can only expect to furthermore deteriorate financially, and the U.K. will not be the only nation to suffer. The fifth-largest economy on the planet became the sixth largest almost overnight, having been overtaken by France. I wholeheartedly reject the notion that this is short term pain for long term gain. How can this possibly be a good thing?

Already many people who ill-advisedly voted to leave are regretting their decision, I say rightly so. Unfortunately many others are less remorseful, and are chanting such things as “This is our England” and “We have taken our country back.” The most alarming aspect of this referendum was the blatant surge of xenophobia and English nationalism. While I personally am not opposed to nationalist movements, the strong associations of the former with the latter cannot be ignored. The rise in extremist far-right fringe groups, such as the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), can be attributed to the financial hardships experienced in the U.K. over the past several years. Prime Minister David Cameron never wanted to hold a referendum on the matter of the U.K.’s membership of the E.U., and though it was not legally-binding, the overturning of the popular vote would be considered “political suicide.” Cameron came under intense pressure from the likes of Nigel Farage who represents a part of British society I most certainly do not sympathise with. A part of British society I wish to know no more about. The more the economy deteriorates, the stronger these hate-filled fringe groups will become.

Farage’s infamous and disgusting campaign poster may go down in history for what it was, a replica of Nazi propaganda. Such propaganda is greatly damaging to society, and only heightens the tensions and hatred within it. The senseless murder of Jo Cox, a Labour MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen, and a mother of two, must always be remembered. Jo’s admirable message of compassion and humanity in such dark times must never be forgotten. She was brutally shot and stabbed by yet another terrorist, a 52-year-old named Thomas Mair. A terrorist who reportedly shouted “Death to the traitors, put Britain first.” Such acts of violence and terror towards individuals who are trying their damnedest to make a positive difference are commonplace in this oftentimes cruel world. That is why it was such a tremendously beautiful gesture when Malala Yousafzai, a young woman who came face to face with such unspeakable hate, spoke at a remembrance ceremony for Jo in London.

Jo was proud to be from Yorkshire and campaigned for the rights of innocent Syrian civilians surrounded by an unjustifiable conflict in their homeland. That is why this incident was particularly upsetting, as this remarkable woman fell victim to the rising hatred in her own country – the country she truly loved. We, as fellow human beings, must not allow hatred to overpower us. Whenever and wherever we see xenophobia or any form of racial discrimination, we must act resolutely to stop it. We cannot allow immigrant populations to feel unwanted after the great contributions they have made to British society – they have done, and are still doing, the jobs the indigenous workers choose not to.

Now, the people of the U.K have absolutely no idea what the future has in store for them. Some view the go ahead of ‘Brexit’ as the avoidance of the bureaucracy of Europe, as well as the rebirth of British sovereignty and the taking back of control over the U.K.’s borders. My response to that is the U.K. was not part of the Schengen zone, and while the E.U. undeniably needs immediate reforms, the withdrawal of the U.K. from the organisation was not the solution. It will prove to be a reckless move. A move the U.K. will learn to be sorry about in the future, or so I hope. It is safe to say the very union at the core of the U.K.’s existence is now threatened following the outcome of the E.U. referendum, as Scotland voted 62% to remain in the E.U., and Northern Ireland voted 56% in favour of remaining also.

Within a matter of hours of the result being announced, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon made her response as blunt and as explicit as possible. The concept of Scotland having a second independence referendum in the next two years is “very likely” and is “very much on the table.” Sturgeon has stood by her people, the people of which she was chosen to represent, and she will put up a fierce fight to ensure their voice is heard loud and clear. A material change in circumstances has occurred, that cannot be argued, and in the event of such a material change, a referendum on independence must be called upon. The Scottish people are being dragged out of the E.U., an organisation from which they benefit considerably as a primarily rural, peripheral region. It is, as Sturgeon has called it, “democratically unacceptable.”

From my viewpoint, I feel very strongly that Northern Ireland should get that same right – the right to have a democratic voice, the right to self-determination, and the right to decide upon a burning question that has irritated the island of Ireland for almost a century. I think it is beyond repulsive that Theresa Villiers thinks she has the God-given right to decide Éireann’s future, the same can be said of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster. Foster’s demeanour is offensive and disrespectful if nothing else. It is as if she is inhabiting a parallel universe, dismissing reality in preference of fantasy. A border poll must be held, otherwise, Northern Ireland will undoubtedly walk backwards into the nightmares of the past.

However, by suggesting that the Troubles may be reborn, I am not being overdramatic or delusional. The Vice President of the U.S. Joe Biden, who is currently researching his ancestry in the Republic, delivered a speech earlier today calling for the continuation of peace in the six counties. He stated that “old habits of mistrust and sectarianism die hard.” Thus, it is indeed on the minds of prominent political figures, instability and ethnosectarian violence could easily fall back into place. That is something I truly do not want to see, for democracy always trumps violence – on both sides. The U.K. government, and the N.I. government, have no other choice but to honour the results of the referendum and observe the clear-cut facts, Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the E.U. Villiers has carelessly rebuffed Sinn Féin’s request for a border poll, claiming that ‘Brexit’ will not affect or damage the Good Friday Agreement or the greater peace process. How on earth will tight border controls not damage the fragile North-South relationship? Such an ill-considered statement should not come as a surprise, however, she did support a ‘Brexit’ after all.

The fight to prevent a ‘Brexit’ has been defeated, therefore there is no logical purpose in grouching any further over it. But, certainly, there are fights of merit still to be fought, such as the fight for a second Scottish independence referendum and an Irish border poll. The political climate has changed dramatically in the past two years since Scotland voted on its future, never mind 43 years since the nationalist-boycotted Irish border poll was conducted. Although our political differences definitely outweigh our similarities, I respect Prime Minister David Cameron for being a man of integrity, at least towards the end of his time in office. Cameron persuaded his cabinet to accept the holding of an E.U. referendum, in order to preserve the unity of his party. It can also be said that he put his heart and soul into the campaign, but it just did not pay off. He does not possess the intellectual convictions to be the person who will negotiate with the E.U. now that the U.K. is withdrawing, as he does not believe in doing so. Though it must be said that Cameron will be leaving behind a fractured union of nations, and may be passing on his premiership to Boris Johnson – a chilling thought.

Brexit: An Irish Perspective

The potential exit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, more commonly known by the snappy portmanteau ‘Brexit,’ has gotten everyone talking. To me, the concept of the U.K. closing itself off from the remainder of Europe is deeply concerning, both from an economic point of view and a diplomatic one.

President Barack Obama, during his visit to the U.K., has made it abundantly clear that he is staunchly opposed to a British withdrawal from the E.U. Obama sensibly cited the Northern Ireland peace process and how much it has achieved since it was effected in 1999, following the Good Friday Agreement. This lasting peace could not have endured without co-operation on both sides of the border, and now a ‘Brexit’ threatens to undo all of the commendable progress that has been made. I would be more inclined to believe in the words of Barack Obama over the likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.

Despite the vast improvements observed in Northern Ireland’s society, once fraught with violent sectarianism, there is still a long way to go. However, no further progress can take place if the British people ill-advisedly vote to leave. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to alienate the Northern Irish nationalists from the Republic, with which they have ethnic, cultural and historical ties. The concept of strict border controls on the N.I.-R.O.I. border will directly affect ten counties and is absolutely appalling. ‘Brexit’ would serve only to afflict trade and business between the U.K. and the Republic. That cannot be emphasised enough. People who possess dual nationality and are employed on the opposite side of the border from where they reside will have immense and unnecessary difficulty in their everyday lives. Border controls along the N.I.-R.O.I. border will be far too reminiscent of the past to be even remotely a good thing.

Perhaps the most insulting and frustrating part of this campaign is the response received from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP.) First Minister Arlene Foster stated back in February that her party would back the ‘Brexiters.’ To me, that is a massive kick in the teeth to the Irish people and the entire peace process. For it undermines the close-knit relationship the 32 counties currently have, and undoubtedly that will come back to haunt her someday. It is also a daily occurrence for people, north and south, to cross the border for recreational purposes without any disturbance. The current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers is also a Brexiter, which only adds insult to injury.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to stir up trouble in Scotland, with which the U.K. has a fragile relationship. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has 54 out of 59 Scottish seats in the British House of Commons and is experiencing a surge of support among Scots who feel cheated by the DevoMax pledge made by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised a second independence referendum if there is a “material change” in Scotland’s political situation – ‘Brexit’ would deliver a said material change. Much like the people of the Irish Republic, the vast majority of Scottish people are pro-E.U. and are prepared to accept the many benefits that come with membership and participation. If the U.K. leaves the E.U. it is very likely that Scotland will leave the U.K. – an inevitability in a matter of two years according to former First Minister Alex Salmond.

Admittedly, the quickly deteriorating situation in our backyard is alarming, but surely that is more of a reason to remain part of the E.U. Merciless terrorist attacks in prominent European cities and countless floods of refugees pouring into Europe are major problems to us all. Nobody has denied it, nobody is denying it. The E.U. is designed to foster stronger and healthier relations between its member states, while simultaneously upholding peace across the continent. Membership and active involvement in the E.U. are of the U.K.’s highest national interest. We, as European cousins, must work together and tackle whatever adversities we are faced with. Compromise is the key solution, reform in the E.U is much more preferable than the recklessness of a ‘Brexit.’ It cannot be argued, peace is imperative.

Seldom would I express any form of praise towards a Conservative, but the work Prime Minister David Cameron is carrying out to prevent the U.K.’s citizens from voting to leave the E.U. invokes my approval. Whereas the less said about the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the better. The leave campaign is fuelled by xenophobic misinformation and Britain’s delusions of empire. Indeed a British withdrawal will negatively affect the Republic and the mainland member states, however, the U.K. is certainly not the superpower it once was. But let me make this clear, that is not an Anglophobic statement. I harbour no hatred whatsoever towards the U.K. and its people, in fact, the very contrary. Unfortunately one has to clarify such obvious statements in order to avoid a petty onslaught – which is becoming increasingly common among those who support ‘Brexit.’

I was born in northern Wales and have strong familial connections to the U.K., therefore I feel a great sense of warmth towards the nation. I would like to continue to see a robust United Kingdom within the European Union, which is able to have its voice heard and is constructive in its criticisms. The British people have every right to determine their future, as do all communities and peoples – but they must act for the good of all their citizens, in all four constitutional countries of the U.K.

‘Brexit’ would serve only to create trade complications with the United States and the other member states who will remain within the E.U. The Republic of Ireland imported an estimated 43% of goods from the U.K. in 2012, not to mention up to 90% of its petroleum and natural gas is of British origin. But the Republic can turn towards other E.U. states for increasing trade relations, particularly France which is geographically nearby. It wouldn’t be an especially desirable move, but it is feasible.

The U.K. will suffer dramatically if it parts ways with the E.U., and I genuinely do not want to see that happen. I cannot understand why anyone in a sound state of mind would want their nation to suffer. A return to the U.K.’s ‘splendid isolation’ would be economically detrimental. Co-operation in Europe in such dark times is essential.

The Disunited States of America

The rapidly worsening situation in the United States of America is, in my opinion, reflective of the volatile political climate that can be observed in the remainder of the western world. The very concept of a seemingly uneducated real-estate tycoon, Donald Trump, contending against an untrustworthy corporate sycophant, Hillary Clinton, is unnerving to me. All across the remainder of the world, it is fair to say many are looking on with fear and dread, as they await for the results of that fateful November day.

It has become increasingly difficult to treat Donald Trump with even an ounce of gravity. Though, I refuse to cite his involvement in reality television or his connections with Playboy magazine as valid reasons for this; as many of his critics have a tendency to do. Instead, one should simply analyse his grotesquely out of touch policies that could potentially be implemented in the event of him attaining the presidency. The truth of the matter is, Trump is causing a major factional fallout in the GOP at a scale never before observed. Many traditional Republicans who have stood by the party all their adult lives are now turning towards more favourable alternatives, such as the Libertarian Party’s nominee, Gary Johnson. Steadfast Donald Trump supporters are either deeply frightened by the uncertainty of the future, or are distasteful bigots.

His infamously racist rhetoric is so ludicrous it transcends far past laughable, and is furthermore damaging to the current fragility of American interracial relations. Trump’s bigoted views counter the commendable progress made by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in recent times, on the front of bringing institutionalised racism to mainstream attention. Apparently, he possesses no respect for the U.S.’s oftentimes forgotten citizens either, the indigenous peoples of the tribal nations. His constant usage of the name ‘Pocahontas’ to disparage supposedly partially Cherokee senator, Elizabeth Warren, is insensitive and completely inexcusable. This petty name-calling recently reached a new level when it was discovered that if one searches online for ‘pocahontas.com’ they will be redirected to Warren’s website. Fortunately, Senator Warren is more than equipped to tear down such idiocy and illogic.

On top of everything else, Trump’s disconcerting vow to prohibit the entry of all Muslims into the U.S. – apart from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – is beyond preposterous, and will achieve absolutely nothing positive. The same can be said of the wall he intends to have constructed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of his supporters cite the Korean Demilitarised Zone for the plausibility of this proposed wall – however, the K.D.Z. is 250 kilometres in length, whereas this wall of hatred would span for more than 3,200 kilometres. Even the motto of Trump’s campaign tickles the epitome of problematic – ‘Make America Great Again!” – as it questionably ignores the dark past the U.S.A. has had. America was never by definition ‘great,’ it was a nation built largely upon a toxic foundation of greed, genocide, slavery, environmental exploitation, and warfare. My views are most certainly not anti-American, the innumerable and impressive achievements of the nation ought to be celebrated. However, I do believe that Trump’s campaign should have its focus more on the future and not on the past.

As I am writing this, the U.S,  and greater global community, mourn the tragic and needless loss of 49 innocents in a wanton killing rampage at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, FL. Perhaps one of the most unsettling parts of this incident, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, is it has not come as an especial surprise. The terrorist attack in Orlando resembles both the Paris attacks of late last year and the Brussels bombings that occurred last March – both of which claimed a total of 162 innocent lives, and the injury of an additional 708. The incident in Orlando, however, was committed by a lone American national – a reported self-loathing homosexual – with no known links to Daesh. The circumstances in the U.S. are inarguably embroiled in the matter of gun control – in the past 72 hours, there have been 93 gun-related deaths, not including Orlando. The U.S.’s annual firearms-related death rate per 100,000 is 10.54, a startling figure when compared to Germany’s rate of 1.01. The way in which the presidential candidates respond to this major obstacle is absolutely crucial.

In the aftermath of Orlando, Donald Trump almost immediately demonstrated, via his beloved social media, that he has neither tactfulness nor initiative.Rather than offering his condolences to the families that lost their loved ones, and extending a gesture of solidarity – Trump first praised himself for “being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” He then made a personal attack against President Barack Obama for refusing to use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ in his address to the nation. Obama quickly noted Trump’s misbegotten prioritisation. To me, it is clear, there is no room for assault weapons on the streets of a respectable first world country. It should not take a mere matter of thirty minutes to purchase weaponry designed to kill. How many more harrowing, yet avoidable tragedies does it take before the U.S. realises this?

On the face of it, it would appear that the list of Donald Trump’s flaws is endless, and that his opponent would receive a one-way ticket to the White House (at least for the duration of one term), however, that is not necessarily the case. Although recent polls suggest Hillary Clinton will enjoy a victory in the presidential election with a sizeable margin, her track record has come back to haunt her. Clinton undoubtedly possesses an abundance of experience in American governance and politics, but it is difficult to ignore her inconsistent stances – some of which are controversial. Clinton is an awe-inspiring orator and is a symbol of hope to young girls all across the United States that they too can someday contend for the presidency. It is almost unbelievable that, in this day and age, a woman has not yet become president of the U.S. Nevertheless, I refuse to be dragged down by the widespread propaganda that her opponent in the Democratic Party Bernie Sanders is sexist, and that her genitalia will magically compel me to agree with her policies.

I am all for complete gender equality in all aspects of society. Many powerful female politicians inspire me profoundly, including Nicola Sturgeon, Wilma Mankiller, Mary Lou McDonald, and Leanne Wood. Yet, I feel as though Hillary Clinton does not represent me, or people like me. While she delivered an impressive speech about the topical issues of economic inequality and poverty, she donned a Giorgio Armani dress valued at 12,495 USD. At first glance, without any further research, her message appears relatable and supportable – unfortunately, this is not the case. Clinton does not represent the working class, she represents the corporations and the elite. For every single speaking engagement she delivers, Hillary receives an estimated 200,000 USD. Yet she had the audacity to state herself and her family were financially unstable when they left the White House.

Hillary is no stranger to “misspeaking,” a particularly worrying fact for an individual who was responsible for the foreign policy of the U.S. from 2008-2013. Clinton claims she was “instrumental” in the Northern Ireland peace process and the subsequent Good Friday Agreement. However, prominent Unionist negotiator Peter King openly questioned this self-applause, adding she had virtually no role to play in the talks and was absent from all key decision-making. Another notable lie that Clinton uttered, concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina, was when she stated she had to run for cover when she came under gunfire in Sarajevo. When in reality she was videoed laughing and smiling – generally having the time of her life – alongside her daughter Chelsea in a five-star hotel. She never even came close to the conflict, but she simply put it down to her famed “misspeaking.”

The greatest problem I have towards Hillary Clinton, however, is her campaign’s fishing for votes from the LGBT community. Her inconsistency reeks and to me, it is overbearing. In a 2007 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Clinton made it clear that she did not support equal marriage, and over the past few years, she has accepted financial donations to the Clinton Foundation from countries that openly execute LGBT people. The fact Bernie Sanders has campaigned for equal marriage since the 1980’s, a time when it was not fashionable to do so, is indeed noteworthy. Hillary Clinton is an opportunist, in my opinion, and is not the right answer for the U.S.’s long collection of domestic problems. How can the ‘lesser of two evils’ be a legitimate option in such an important presidential race? As it is still evil.