Brexit: Everything Is Not Lost

With Europe still reeling from Britain’s dramatically tight vote to leave the Union, I am witnessing disbelief, sadness and uncertainty among my British friends in Berlin. Not one of them agrees with what the majority of the motherland population has decided for them. Not one of them is ready to leave this beautiful city that has become their home. Not one of them can stomach the immediate aftermath: the racist acts, the ruined relationships, the tumbling Sterling and the terrifying power vacuum left by their Prime Minister.

But everything is not lost.

President of the EU Council Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may have urged Britain to act quickly and invoke the infamous Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty as soon as possible. In reality, it remains entirely up to Britain as to when they will actually set the process in motion. Neither David Cameron nor Boris Johnson, former favorite to follow in Cameron’s footsteps, have uttered any statements demonstrating an intent to accomplish this in a hurry. To the contrary: Cameron has explicitly stated that he will pass over the loaded gun to his successor, and it is likely that his successor would seem far from hasty to pull the trigger. The idea that a Leave-vote would put the UK in a strong negotiating position with the EU has proven to be painfully incorrect. Not one European nation has shown to be open to pre-Article 50 informal discussions. In fact several European leaders have made abundantly clear that the exit negotiations would not be the “cherry-picking exercise” the Leavers had been hoping for.

Even though Leave-campaigners praised democracy as soon as it became apparent that the votes had been in their favor, subsequently acting upon the voice of the people seems to be a whole different ballgame. At the end of the day, this referendum — voted for without proportionate representation, which left Remain-voters in London, Scotland and Northern-Ireland wondering about what democracy actually means — is not legally binding. In this context, the premise that British citizens have won back control of their country seems somewhat ironic.

After Article 50 has been invoked through a formal notification to the European Council, the process of the UK extricating itself from the European Union would take a minimum of two years. But we are far off from starting the clock. Several British politicians have doubted the democratic legitimacy of the first referendum and pleaded for a second, and Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to be committed to exploring every option to keep Scotland in the EU.

Yes, the damage has been done, the relationship between the EU countries and institutions has undoubtedly irreversibly changed, but nonetheless, the divorce is not yet final — even though the 27 block is already picking up the silverware.

In the meantime, we — the regular folk — have important work to do. We need to start the healing process following the bleak, divisive, injurious referendum campaign and the result it has inflicted upon us all, not just in Britain but in Europe. The knee-jerk responses of anger, fear and finger-pointing are understandable, but now it’s time to take a deep breath and open our eyes and ears. Painting those who voted Leave as idiots who, in the aftermath of the win, frantically started googling “what is the EU?” and wishing they could change their votes is anything but helpful, as well as inaccurate. All it does is over-simplify root issues, demonizing and dividing, when what we need now more than ever is understanding and unity.

We on a societal level need to not fall into the political trap of treating Brexit like an acrimonious divorce, but instead heeding this as a symptom of a deep-rooted, worldwide change we can only effectively tackle by working together.

We should condemn the terrible acts of racism in Britain being enacted in the name of a perverted idea of sovereignty and democracy, as well as the short-tempered responses of Europeans telling their British peers to just get out.

We are all worried, we are all confused, we are all unsure about what the future holds. We all have common ground there.

Published on on 01/07/2016