Today marks the one-year anniversary of the EU referendum when the British took the decision to leave by a slim margin. This shock result led to the triumphant prediction from the likes of Nigel Farage that this was the start of the domino effect leading to the end of the European Union after 60 years. There was reason to believe this was the case. In France, there was a huge fear that Marine Le Pen would win the presidency and set about on her own ‘Frexit’ referendum. In Germany, the far-Right AfD were gaining support in opposition to Merkel’s immigration policy, and in Austrian Presidential election there was an expectation that a quasi-fascist candidate would be swept to power.
A year on however, this has not happened. France elected a president so pro-European he walked out for his victory speech to ‘Ode to Joy’. In Germany, support for the AfD continues to fall in opinion polls ahead of the Federal elections in September. In Austria, the Green Presidential candidate won a majority not just in one election, but in a subsequent challenge. There has been no domino effect and Europe now looks stronger and more united than it ever has in recent history.
Contrast this with the UK, where Tory mismanagement of the Brexit process has led to a nation more divided and more isolated. Firstly, we have the mismanagement of the issue of EU citizens in the UK’s right to remain. There was overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens. This, coupled with disquiet among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. All that Theresa May’s refusal to grant these rights did was to alienate the people of Europe and to leave the three million EU citizens in the UK and their families deeply concerned for a year. If the United Kingdom had made an open and generous offer on citizens' rights immediately after the referendum, as even Vote Leave recommended, the diplomatic picture would be very different today.
Theresa May repeatedly claimed there would be no snap election before calling one when she felt her poll lead was big enough. She launched her campaign asking people to ‘strengthen her hand’ in the Brexit process, but in fact she wanted to destroy any opposition to the hardest of Brexits. Robotic and distant, she refused to debate other party leaders and when she did appear, it was only to trot off a few three-line catchphrases that said very little. She did this in the belief that it didn’t matter. That she could hold democracy in contempt because her poll lead was big enough and people would only vote for her. What resulted was a hung parliament, meaning we are now in a situation where the government has to rely on the backing of the DUP, a Right-wing anti-LGBT, anti-women party, to pass any legislation.
A year on from the decision to leave, negotiations began this week on what Brexit will look like. Theresa May is leading a battered and disunited minority government into a standoff with a united and cohesive European Union. She is seemingly determined to have a hard, chaotic Brexit that will put jobs at risk. This, despite the election showing she has no mandate to take this course.
It is our hope that she listens to those who are calling for a different approach, and decides to work with the EU, not against it. Maybe by doing that, we will be in a better position this time next year.