People in the UK today are voting on whether to leave the EU, in what has universally become known as the “Brexit.” Current polling shows the referendum will be very, very close, and the political situation is extremely volatile. Over the weekend, a liberal, pro-Europe MP was brutally murdered by a member (or at least supporter) of a far right party who gave his name as “Death to Traitors” in his first court appearance. Ironically, the murder may have hurt the exit campaign. On the other hand, the BBC is now running a story that if the Brexit succeeds, it may prompt London – which will almost certainly vote to stay – to demand its own exit from the UK; Northern Ireland and Scotland might follow suit. I haven’t seen anyone say that further devolution is likely, but it would be on the table for discussion. In the meantime, British far right parties like UKIP have supported the exit, claiming that there is too much immigration and too many regulations emanating from Brussels. It’s an occasion for right-wing nationalism to gain political power and prominence. In other words, Brexit is the UK’s Donald Trump, with two primary differences: the Brexit vote looks like it’s going to be close, and the new mayor of London really is Muslim.
I’ve lived in England on two separate occasions – once in London on a semester-abroad as an undergraduate, in Fall 1992, and for a year in graduate school (1997-98), reading in the Bodleian library in Oxford. Fall 1992, of course, was when the Maastricht treaty establishing the EU and setting the groundwork for the common currency was debated and ratified. The UK joined, though it stipulated that it would not join the Euro, and demanded a number of other specific concessions as conditions for membership. One of the main anti-Europe arguments was that there were too many regulations emanating from Brussels, and the no-campaign selected British Beef as a good example of the sort of industry that did not require foreign regulation. Not long after that, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, aka “Mad Cow Disease,” went from a minor to a major news item. BSE, which one contracts mainly by eating infected meat, is invariably fatal, has a very long incubation period of several years, is essentially undetectable prior to symptoms (I will never be able to donate blood because I lived in England when I did), and is virtually impossible to destroy – it withstands temperatures of 600 degrees. It also turns out to have started in England, where the British Beef industry had been feeding rendered carcasses to cattle as a protein supplement. The EU banned such feeding practices in 1994, having previously banned beef from England into other member states.