May’s behavior is emblematic of the hubris of the pro-Brexit camp, who, before the referendum last June sold the British public a falsehood about a more prosperous, fair, and global Britain outside the EU, empowered to determine its own destiny on its own terms. This is a pipe dream; the reality is that whatever deal Britain gets will be determined by the EU.
Today, President of the European Council Donald Tusk made clear the EU’s draft negotiation position. “Once, and only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal, can we discuss the framework for our future relationship. Starting parallel talks will not happen,” he said. This essentially rules out May’s key objective of negotiating a parallel trade deal as Britain settles the terms of its divorce from the EU. Tusk also made clear that the EU—not the U.K.—would decide when “sufficient progress” had been made, a stance echoed by French President Francois Hollande. EU leaders may well feel that Britain needs to be punished to dissuade other EU member states from leaving, as recent reporting has suggested. But today, Tusk said the EU would not punish the U.K. because Brexit is “punishment enough.”
Despite evidence to the contrary, May, curiously, talks of Brexit as if it will bring Britain closer to the global community. She has called for a “global Britain” that will be a fairer society. “I want us to be a secure, prosperous, tolerant country—a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead,” she said on Wednesday. But post-Brexit referendum, Britain has become less, not more, tolerant. Hate and religious crimes recorded by police in England and Wales rose 41 percent after Britain voted to quit the EU.
In May’s vision, “leaving the EU … is this generation’s chance to shape a brighter future for our country,” as she said in her speech on Wednesday. That generation, of course, largely rejected Brexit, with 75 percent of 18 to 24 year olds and 56 percent of 25 to 49 year olds voting to remain; the majority of the over-65s in Britain voted to leave.
So far, May has shown contempt for younger Brits like me who wished to stay a part of the EU. At last year’s Conservative Party Conference, May dismissed “those who still believe Britain has made a mistake in leaving the EU” as “just patronizing members of a liberal metropolitan elite.” This is not case: 16 million, or 48 percent, of all Brits voted to remain in the EU. Now that the country is headed for a hard Brexit, there’s no one to speak up for them, with the Labour Party falling apart and Britain’s liberal center in decline.
For me, a refugee who came to Britain as a child from Somalia escaping war and famine who has struggled to become British, the decision to leave the EU is a decision to reject a body of shared, European values. The Britain of multiculturalism, open to the world, is now in real danger, replaced by one keen to blame migrants, progressive politics, and diversity, for its ills. The country I wanted so much to belong to is a memory.