I was hoping to start this blog, written on the original date for Brexit, noting that, in contrast to most other UK citizens, I had begun the day outside the EU but had, during the course of the morning, re-joined the Union. The delay in the date for Brexit messes up that neat little opener but the experience of walking across the Green Line in Nicosia, from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to the Republic of Cyprus is a sobering reminder of the way that festering resentments within communities can spiral out of control.
There are few certainties in UK politics at the moment but, based on voting patterns in the referendum, it is very likely that over 40 per cent of the population is going to be dissatisfied with the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. I have made my own views clear in this blog and I know that some of my readers disagree with my views. This post is not about the rights and wrongs of Brexit but about the aftermath, and how the country as a whole treats that large proportion who will almost certainly be disappointed by the outcome.
The situation in Cyprus is complex but there are parallels to Brexit in that, after 1945, the key political question concerned a union (with Greece in this case) that would have left a significant minority of the population feeling disenfranchised. On the other hand, there is one key difference from the UK in 2019 in that the disenfranchised minority were ethnically distinct. In 1974 the failure to find a mutually-acceptable settlement led eventually to invasion by Turkish forces and the partition of the island which persists to this day. We in the UK should be thankful that there is no such clear “them” and “us” distinction as our politicians pick their way through the morass of possibilities.
But the absence of a physiognomic, linguistic or religious differentiator in the Brexit debate does not mean that differences – and resentments – will not persist long after a final settlement is agreed. That means the country, once it has resolved the present Brexit stalemate, will need to think seriously about a reconciliation process to heal the divisions. Time, alone, will not necessarily be enough; indeed, time may even sharpen the divisions, especially if the economy is not buoyant in the post-Brexit years. I live in a liberal bubble where almost everyone I encounter is pro-EU and opposed to Brexit; however, if the UK does end up leaving the EU, there is no point in brooding over what might have been. We will need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and move on. And hug a Brexiteer. Judging by the press reports, many of them are going to be just as disappointed as the Remainers. At least we will have that in common