"You mean we're voting to see whether we join the Common Market, like?" Yes, someone actually said that in the Brexit vote, which has seen the country slide into Bedlam in recent days, the two major political parties imploding, many demanding a second referendum and a post-Brexit Break-up of Britain on the cards.
The British are known for two things: a James Bond-like class and phlegm, an extreme paragon of good manners and sterling, upright behavior and more recently, with the possibility of cheap mass travel, the other side of the coin, the lesser-educated, uncultured, class-conscious sponging benefit-addicted underclass visible at soccer matches, railway stations which have been rendered filthier than a pigsty and at holiday resorts catering for the British, complete with the British Corner in the eateries, sporting fish and chips, sausage and chips, brown sauce, ketchup and English beer; tattooed, overweight, uncouth loutish and sluttish youths who cannot write, do not read and gabble an unintelligible tongue nobody can understand.
The first group is looked up to around the world, the second is sneered at but at the same time sustains the livelihoods of whole communities around the Mediterranean and further afield.
What the British are not known for, is going batshit nuts as a nation, with 64 million people running around screaming like headless chickens, a Hieronymus Bosch-type scene of Armageddon with weird creatures cannibalizing corpses, people tearing each other to shreds, a Hellish orgy of violence, chaos and wanton debauchery.
We see the mirror image of this in the UK today: there are tales of people fighting in pubs, fighting outside pubs, arguing in cafés and restaurants, shouting at each other in the shops and on the streets, we see a petition numbering several millions of signatures calling for a second referendum, we hear many people saying they only voted OUT because they wanted to stage a strong protest on the losing side. You can almost hear an audible moan "Oh, what have we done?" and you can see the look on David Cameron's face, his eyes looking as though he has been crying every time he appears, a look of "What have I done?" The Conservative Party has imploded, with the leader-in-waiting Boris Johnson dooing a U-turn and refusing to stand as leader, the main opposition Party, Labour, sees its Members of Parliament turn against the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has the support of the grass roots of the Party, who elected him. There are the Liberal Democrats saying "Vote for us and we'll lead you back in", there is the Scottish Nationalists saying that because 68 per cent of Scots voted for IN, then they should leave the UK and stay in the EU, ditto Northern Ireland, ditto Gibraltar.
Many in the echelons of the Eurocrats in Brussels, fed up with the United Kingdom's historically and at times hysterically Eurosceptic approach, took the opportunity to say "OK you want OUT, there's the door, use it, NOW... and close it when your tail has passed through", as close to a Euro-kick up the butt as it gets, as they rub in the fact that the other 27 members decide on Britain's Brexit terms, not the UK itself, if indeed the UK remains as a geo-political State and does not fragment into several micro-States.
So, starting from the beginning, some reflections. In his first term as Prime Minister, from 2010 to 2015, David Cameron did not have an absolute majority and had to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a Centrist Party very much pro-EU and led by the Europhile Nick Clegg. To the right of David Cameron, inside his own party, the 1922 Committee of Tory Members of Parliament were making cooing noises as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage, batted its eyelids at them and promised a referendum on Europe. The sovereignty question was, is and always has been, a fundamental cornerstone of the insular British political culture and one which would eventually come to the fore. As time passed, with Germany's tool Brussels becoming more arrogant, more prepotent and more omnipotent, the Referendum appealed to more and more of the type of person who stands up in a pub garden in the middle of the two-week Great British Summer, proclaiming that the British Banger (pork sausage) is the best in the world and Brussels is just jealous because they don't have them, amid cheers and rounds of applause from the second type of Briton described above, while the orchestra is conducted by the first.
So to close that door before it opened, eyeing an ansolute majority in the next election but fearing the fragmentation of his own party and Labour getting back in government, David Cameron took the Referendum as his and promised to hold one on condition people voted majoritarily for the Conservative Party in 2015. They did. Since at the time, the feeling was very much in the IN camp, he thought he had nothing to lose.
But the OUT campaign, led by Messrs. Boris Johnson, the blonde-haired ex-Mayor of London, from the same Eton/Oxford background as David Cameron, and some high-powered Tory ministers such as Michael Gove and Chris Grayling, struck a chord with many faceless, average Britons, playing a song with two lines: Control of our Borders and the £350 million-per-week for the National Health Service ("If we don't give that money to Europe, we can build a school and a hospital every week and have the money available for the NHS").
This means two things: the perception is that the British NHS is not up to standard and that there are too many immigrants swamping some areas. The trouble is that both of these precepts are wrong. Norway pays some 350 million into the EU budget every week to have the same free trading access that Britain will now have to pay for, but as an outsider looking in, rather than an insider with a foot in the control room. So the 350 million pounds will not suddenly be available as even the OUT campaigners now admit.
As for immigration, if the UK does not do a deal with the EU guaranteeing the livelihoods of all those working in the UK and allowing for free movement of people and the right to work, then millions of ex-patriate British across Europe will face retaliation from their countries of residence (especially those without Residence permits) and replace the guest workers paying into the system as disgruntled British citizens claiming benefits.
On the day everything was swept into the same box: the streets lined with Polish shops (how many of them exist in the UK, Five?), the park with Romanian gypsies camped under the trees, the Albanian pickpockets in the Underground (Albania is not in the EU and this was a result of accepting the Kosovar darlings, their behavior being why the Serbs wanted them thrown out), the immigrants in Calais (none of whom is from the EU) and the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali communities spread out around British cities, again nothing to do with the EU.
However, the IN campaign was not very convincing and on the day only 72.2 per cent of the electorate bothered to turn out, meaning that practically one third did not vote at all.
At the end of the day what the British have done is to voice the general dissatisfaction among common Europeans with the EU system which is trying to impose a European Super-State on the people without asking their opinions, without explaining the issues, and by tying together economies which were meant to stand alone, forcing synergies on vectors which were happy to live side-by-side like railway lines, not cross into intersections. They tried to force a myriad of diverse economies which had taken thousands of years to develop into a single Euro box.
Maybe it is time Brussels realized that the citizens of Europe, while wishing to live together in harmony, enjoying each others' cultures and celebrating their differences, having the right to move around freely, working and traveling, also want to retain some control over who or what comes to live in their communities and therefore control their own borders (although in the case of the UK, the borders are already policed and never ceased to be). They do not want a single Euro economy, nor do they want a super Euro-State. What the people of Europe always wanted, and the only thing they still want, is something like EFTA - a free trading area, coupled with the freedom of circulation, but with checks. That is possible within a European Union with none of the extra frills.
True, thousands of Eurocrats would lose their jobs if the house came tumbling down, many thousands. But who is in favor of unelected faceless bureaucrats practising Excel sheet management from thousands of kilometers away, deciding whose fishing fleets are beached, whose apples are trashed, who doesn't produce potatoes? Who is in favor of Germany ruling the roost, über Alles, postulating possibilities such as punishing Portugal, for example, when the only thing Portugal did was implement the policies the Troika told Lisbon to implement?
Hence the Brexit vote, basically a protest vote voiced by millions of Europeans. Perhaps the British did not really want to dismember the Union, perhaps the Europeans want the EU to remain. The notion remains that there may indeed be a second referendum, after all there was no magic two-thirds caveat attached to the first and no legal impediment to holding the second. Perhaps Parliament will not recognize the results of the first Brexit referendum. Perhaps the Brexit negotiation will go ahead and the parties will try to keep as near to a status quo as possible, so that the Master Plan for a Union is shaken, but not stirred, but with the UK painted into a corner watching the party standing outside in the rain looking in through the window. It seems that the one that is shaken is the UK while the EU remains unstirred. But for how long will the people of Europe continue to accept the model, which simply does not work, except for Germany?
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.