Brexit migration scenarios: from the politics of arrogance to reimagining solidarity
The total betrayal of the people around the issue of migration in the Brexit campaign (In and Out alike, as both camps are responsible for not having planned, for not having explained how migration works) glares as we contemplate the paradox of the four migration scenarios that are facing us now.
First, it has been repeated enough that access to the European Economic Area (EEA) can’t come without free movement of people because of the very ideas underpinning the EC market: mobility of goods, services, capital and people (i.e. the producers and consumers of said goods and services).
Second, while the UK’s existing membership of the EU allows the UK to maintain a rare exemption from the Schengen agreement as far as it pertains control of its own borders, entering a new agreement to access the EEA will most likely entail accepting Schengen in full. The irony of things is that a key outcome of the Brexit Leave vote would thus be the self-inflicted materialisation of the main fear they campaigned against: we could go from nationally controlled borders to complete open borders within the EU, thus allowing into the UK not only all EU nationals but also granting temporary similar mobility to all those non EU people that moved to Europe as economic migrants or as refugees.
Thirdly, even in a scenario where the UK was to regain complete sovereignty of its borders, should the UK economy magically pick up again (assuming no xenophobia will rise), then we could easily expect a rush of EU immigrants entering the UK before the final exit takes place.
Otherwise, fourthly, should the UK keep freefalling in a political and economic vacuum, mass emigration will leave the country further impoverished and hopeless. History teaches that autarky and isolationism are not the best recipes for facing the economic challenges of globalisation; moreover, how can the UK expect to confront alone other key challenges of our era such as the environment, security and terrorism?
The saddest thing is that in the meantime, as the whole of Europe, not just the UK, is engulfed in disarray and in the selfish irrational politics of arrogance and delusion, public debates have suddenly omitted the Syrian crisis; do we remember, do we care that it is still ongoing? that, as we speak, people are dying crossing borders and seas? And have we realised yet that the duty to protect refugees under international law – and even more so as Christians – remains even as we leave the EU?
Christian concepts have sadly been all too often misappropriated in defence of nationalist exclusivist visions of Europe and of individual countries. It is time to reclaim the universal message of Christianity where the ‘common good’ is to be shared, is focused on individual dignity but yet is not tailored to selfish individual interests. In this darkest hour, the experience of the Apostles can help: after Jesus’s death they withdrew, in fear, in dismay, in denial. But then, after Pentecost they were able to react, and came out with courage again, to announce Christ’s message of mercy and salvation. It was not an easy message; in fact it was a destabilising one for the social and political status quo of Judea and of the Roman empire. But it was crucial for laying the foundations of ideas and values that later developed independently also in a secular context: solidarity, equality, justice, human rights…
After the tragedies of WWI and WWII the EC (and later EU) project sought to incarnate these ideals to create an area of peace, democracy, stability and solidarity, and to say ‘never again’ to that violence. Economic integration was meant to be the instrument to achieve that. It was not an end in itself. As we reflect on the 100th anniversary of the Somme Battle one wonders whether all that blood was spilled in vain if Europeans (and with this word I include the inhabitants of the UK) are incapable and unwilling to come together again. Both the emphasis of the sole economic dimension of the EU and the venom directed at its heavy bureaucracy and red tape (which unfortunately exist but are not the sole feature of the EU) have hidden the ideational foundations of European solidarity and integration and the potential of reviving those values. As Pope Francis said in his Charlemagne speech in May, a ‘memory transfusion’ is needed. The idea of Europe needs ‘updating’, not trashing. Social and economic solidarity towards citizens and foreigners alike is at the heart of this project that needs to be revived and reinvented with passion and creativity and with the help of each and every one.
Academics have written on the potential - and also the frequent ineffectiveness - of the normative dimension of the EU, on its role to promote peace and to become a model of social democracy. I agree that there are several shortcomings, that the euro crisis could have been dealt differently, that the EU has been incapable of stopping ISIS so far in Europe or abroad. So, there is plenty to do to reform the EU for the better. But what needs reforming first are people’s hearts. If all that counts in politics is arrogance, how can people be inspired to pursue a career in politics at the service of society? If there is no intention, no passion for reconstructing a more just peaceful social order that puts solidarity first, reforming institutions and procedures will be in vain.
We have to acknowledge that the EU has delivered a social model that is envied around the world, that despite all the administrative red tape, it has demonstrated to be capable of solidarity (think of redistribution schemes such as structural and social funds), to bring people closer (be it for education, tourism, commerce, research), to protect the environment and people’s liberties and rights (see all the antidiscrimination legislation on religion, race, sexual orientation, age, disability, maternity, etc.). In this interlocked world, you do not do yourself any favours by removing yourself from and by demolishing a system centred on this type of cooperation. In fact it is an act of extreme irresponsibility to do everything to trash that system, to prevent, for instance, that further cooperation on the front of migration happens, and then blame the system for its inability to control migration. This is irresponsible arrogant illogical politics.
Yet, we should recognise that the dire situation we are in as an outcome of the Brexit vote is not just the politicians’ fault. True, many lies were sold by the political elite to an already grieving electorate that was shamefully exploited for an impulsive emotional vote. But there is little point in spending the precious time left before anarchy rises blaming the left or right, the German or the British, the UK PM or the EU Commissioner... We have all participated in this, in a way. We have all been somehow morally irresponsible: perhaps we haven’t done enough to listen and to inform, as global citizens, as teachers, as intellectuals, and - for those that believe in God - as children who were entrusted with the stewardship of the world. We are guilty of this outcome especially because we should have learnt from the past: we know all too well about the evils of Nazism and Fascism, so we cannot excuse ourselves for not having done enough (if at all) to stem (not just with words but with concrete actions addressing real people’s problems) the populist wave that led to the Leave vote. And we are now living with the dire consequences for the UK, for Europe as a whole and even beyond if we look at the USA in particular.
But we are not doomed forever by our inaction and wrong-doing, et least this is what Christianity teaches. As Pope Francis reminded in Evangelii Gaudium:
‘Often it seems that God does not exist: all around us we see persistent injustice, evil, indifference and cruelty. But it is also true that in the midst of darkness something new always springs to life and sooner or later produces fruit. On razed land life breaks through, stubbornly yet invincibly. However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history. Values always tend to reappear under new guises, and human beings have arisen time after time from situations that seemed doomed. Such is the power of the resurrection, and all who evangelize are instruments of that power’.
Thankfully, even in this darkest hour, people of good will exist: there are still individuals and communities that are active for the common good (for instance helping the disadvantaged, educating people, or welcoming refugees, as we witnessed at various events in June) and occasionally the political sphere is gifted with inspirational figures like the late MP Jo Cox, who took politics as service. Her tragic death should be a stimulus to react, to re-imagine solidarity (for our individual countries and for Europe), to re-engage with the res publica (intended as a concept of public good, not as a political system) especially at a time of apparent complete political disorientation.
Dr Sara Silvestri is Senior Lecturer in International Politics at City University London. She is also Director of Research at the Von Hügel Institute and Affiliated Lecturer with the POLIS Department at the University of Cambridge. She is a trustee of the Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice | email@example.com | @sara1silvestri