The morning after the EU referendum vote, I woke up earlier than usual and immediately turned on my TV. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The British people had voted to leave the European Union – a result that I had feared, but never actually expected. My first reaction was disappointment. Huge disappointment. Why on earth would they vote this way? I could barely take it in. I got ready for work and, when I arrived at school, found my students in a chaotic state. ‘We are worried for this country. We are scared for our future’, they told me. It was impossible to discuss any other topic. Instead, we embarked upon a long discussion about the possible effects of Brexit. I was surprised, and at the same time greatly encouraged, by how much passion there was in their arguments, and how indignant these young people were at being part of a country that, essentially, had ‘given up’; unable to foresee a relationship within the European Union (EU) – a relationship that compels all member states to find effective communitarian solutions to the issues they face.
During the pro-remain campaign, dire financial consequences were predicted by respected economic institutions such as the IMF and the Bank of England. But a crucial deciding factor was one long-standing national concern: migration. This provoked among the majority the most common of human fears: the fear of losing one’s job and personal security. Yet, among those who voted to leave, there were some who were not even clear what the EU was and what it had contributed to their disillusionment. Even though the UK has never been traditionally ‘Euro-phile’, it became apparent that there was a groundswell of opinion that much of the nation’s ills stemmed from the unsolved dysfunctions of EU politics and the ‘threat’ represented by migration and its poor management.
From this perspective, we may interpret Brexit as the last, evident symptom of an EU crisis – a state of affairs which had already been defined since the internal divisions provoked by the arrival of thousands of refugees undertaking perilous journeys from the global South. Even more than Brexit it was the recent impact of migration, often demonised by the negative rhetoric of the media, which significantly put into question the political legitimacy of the EU – not only in terms of democracy and human rights, but also in relation to its spiritual tradition and historical identity.