Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Brexit – Putting the UK on the Road to Ruin
KUROIWA Toru / Emeritus Professor of Toyo Eiwa University

October 28, 2016
As a people, the British are well-endowed in emotional faculties, giving the world Shakespeare and Byron. Yet, they shy away from expressing their emotions outright and frown upon those who make a scene by bursting into tears or laughter in public. Emotions not only get in the way of rational thinking; they cause discomfort in others. Parents are often seen telling their children: “Don’t panic,” teaching their young that it is rude to display one’s feelings.

As far as I know, there were three occasions in the postwar era when even the usually reserved British got caught up in a rush of extreme emotion.

The first occasion was VE Day, which marked the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. Overwhelmed by joy, swarms of Britons took to the streets and joined in the revelry, drinking and singing in celebration. The euphoria of that night is vividly portrayed in “A Royal Night Out,” a recent film that follows the escapades of Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

The second was in August 1997, when the British public was engulfed by grief following the accident in Paris that killed Princess Diana. The plaza in front of Kensington Palace, which had been her residence, was buried in flowers, and extraordinary scenes took place there, of strangers hugging each other and weeping together.

And the third occasion was the national referendum on Brexit, which was held to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. The referendum gave vent to the intense aversion that was being felt by the British public: “No” to being robbed of their jobs by immigrants, “No” to having social welfare snatched away by immigrants, and “No” to immigrants themselves. As a result of the vote, the UK is now set to leave the EU.

They say that in the aftermath of the referendum, not a few Brexiters regretted the unexpected outcome. That is akin to a young woman who suddenly feels ashamed after an emotional outburst, or a supervisor beset by a sense of guilt after raising his voice to reprimand a subordinate. Acting on our emotions often comes with an aftertaste of limp embarrassment.

While the emotional eruptions in the first and second instances had been transient displays of either joy or sorrow, the third instance is one that will have a lasting effect on the future of the United Kingdom. As soon as Brexit became a reality, I received a furious email from a friend of mine - a prominent political scientist in Oxford, who expressed his indignation as follows:

“The catastrophic referendum result is undoubtedly the worst political experience of my life in over 70 years. I feel like having undergone a bereavement. It's not so much the economic consequences that everyone is talking about, nor the wildly exaggerated concerns about immigration, but the cultural costs of having the future of Britain dictated by a narrow-minded, provincial, xenophobic, nationalist-conservative resurgence of fantasists headed by a collection of very unsavoury, manipulative and deceitful politicians that will set our country back 50 years, with the prospect of similar happenings in other European countries that will endanger the stability and development of the whole of Europe. That's not the Britain of whose values one could once have been proud.”

On my part, while I imagined Brexit would have a significant impact on the British economy, I hadn’t thought of the serious possibility that the cultural impact of the decision could permanently damage the relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe. As my friend pointed out, the historic declaration of British opinion could have far more serious consequences for the UK and Europe than we can hope to imagine. One day, the UK and Germany may find themselves at loggerheads again. Brexit may have laid the ground for both Britons and Germans alike to forget the lessons of World War II in the years to come, and to rekindle their view of each other as the “mortal enemy.”

Toru Kuroiwa is former European Bureau Chief of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

黒岩 徹 / 東洋英和女学院大名誉教授

2016年 10月 28日


 第一は、第二次大戦でナチス・ドイツに戦勝した夜、多くの英国人が街に繰り出し、喜びのあまり酒を飲んで高歌放吟したときである。その喧噪の騒ぎを最近の映画「ロイヤルナイト 英国王女の秘密の外出」が生き生きと描いている。





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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Brexit – Putting the UK on the Road to Ruin