BY Harry C. Blaney III

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No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

As I write this, I am watching the British television and the polls have closed. The results of the EU referendum are too close to call at this time. This is a look at the pre-vote period and day of the referendum. More to come after the votes are in.  Some results are beginning to come in, but the official notice will be made at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Wednesday night, I watched the UK Channel 4 debate on the referendum. Voting “Leave” in effect would impact Britain’s full engagement and influence in Europe. In short, such a vote would mean a diminished Britain divided amongst and almost at war with itself. A Leave result would refute John Donne’s great lines quoted above.

The worst of it is that so many lies have been told during the campaign, including on the Channel 4 program, almost all of which have been from Leave advocates. These statements have been made simultaneously by people of one-time high rank who should know better and those that clearly had little more to say than racially-tinged shouts and disparaging remarks about Europe and their opponents. In addition, Jeremy Paxton, the debate’s moderator, added to the one-sided and caustic environment.

In my four decades of observing British politics closely, including living in the country from time to time, I have never seen a more nasty, emotional, and heated debate. The moments of hard truths, frank assessments, and citations to the history of Britain’s role in Europe have been drowned out by yelling, cutting people off, lopsided time for one side, and lies which have never been really questioned by a moderator. The odd thing is that an 80-odd-year-old former actress said the most when she made a poignant point about British sacrifice and commitment over time to Europe and the perils of leaving Europe on its own by withdrawing.

Meanwhile, key leaders blanketed the country on Wednesday by making speeches, appearing for photo-ops, going on TV programs, and, in the case of Boris Johnson, even kissing a fish! But the debates and my brief interactions just talking to people on the street have indicated the widespread anger was the key today to British politics.

The problem is that the campaigning in this referendum has been based on not just delusion, but also on the stirring up of hate, bigotry, and fear of the “Other.” Now, thanks to some shortsighted leaders that have used prejudice and fear to gain support for their cause of far right and neo-fascist ideologies, Member of Parliament Jo Cox has been killed and Britain stands on the precipice of leaving the European Union.

 This phenomenon also exists in the United States, as evidenced by the words of hate we saw in both the Charleston and Orlando killings and even beyond to those who deliberately continue to enrage citizens to unspeakable acts.

Watching the debate here and in the U.S., there are so many large-scale, disastrous consequences of this trend towards the right. At this critical moment of time, we need to deeply reassess our basic humanitarian values, as well as the safety and durability of our democratic institutions. The influence and power of the right-wing media in this UK debate, but on both sides of the Pond for this can’t be forgotten among these institutions.

Nothing less is at stake, not just in the UK’s Brexit vote on Thursday, but also in the U.S. election this November. Attention needs to be paid to the xenophobic tendencies and scapegoating of minorities and the EU for the problems which are within ourselves and our national governments.  The key danger lies in our inability to perceive the disastrous trajectory we are on.

See our Brexit Page for further coverage.

We welcome your comments in the box below.



  1. Chuck Woolery June 23, 2016 / 11:38 PM

    The Brexit Club: A short term solution to a global failure. But also a global wakeup call.
    Most progressives believe the UK should stay within the EU. As a political ideal of a greater union between progressive nations working for greater long term economic and national security interests — it is a very good idea. In the short run? Leaving the EU is the right move.
    For decades the EU confederation of states has improved security and prosperity for nearly all Europeans. But now multiple caustic global forces are surging against the numerous and largely unguarded exterior EU borders. Borders that were never designed to cope with the threat of desperate and needy refugees, infectious diseases, cyber threats or climate change.
    The increasing flow of refugees is the crisis at hand. Millions of refugees created by the growing instability in the Middle East and Africa are displaced. Many are slowly but surely percolating through some of the EU’s unprotected boarders and even though some that are protected.
    Once inside the EU these refugees have essentially earned a free pass to any other EU nation. It’s like a Mexican crossing the Texas border gaining virtually unlimited access to any other continental US state. There should be no doubt that the vast majority of refugees will in the long run contribute to both the prosperity and the security of the US and EU nations. But, if just one in a thousand refugees turns out to be a violent extremist the destruction they can cause will horrendous. And the physical destruction the yield will pale in comparison to the fear and the political backlash each additional attack will generate.
    Worse yet, we cannot count on all violent extremists limiting their means of mass murder to assault rifles and small bombs. Eventually they will use truck bombs, IEDs, and drones combined with chemical and/or biological weapons. Security is an illusion for soft targets. And all civilized nations are mostly soft targets. Just two moderately trained assailants with hand guns in a moving train car could kill 50 to 60 EU citizens before the next stop, and perhaps more after the doors open. In 1995 a domestic cult in Japan killed 12 people, severely injured 50 and caused temporary vision problems for nearly 5,000 others with a relatively simple chemical attack in a Tokyo subway. At least the UK can effectively close its borders now to some of this coming chaos. And it is coming.
    This security failure was not in the creation of the EU as a confederation. A primary failure was limiting that union to so few states. And, the greater failure was of every other federation of states, including the US, to adequately invest in a world where all nation states put the protection of human rights above the rights of nation states.
    In essence we can blame the nation states that created the UN as a confederation of states instead of a full-fledged federation. A federation where ‘we the people’ in a constitutional preamble would be ensured in a bill of rights. The persistent ideal of putting the protection of all human rights superior to that of states rights. But instead, the powerful nations after World War II rejected every proposal that could have empowered the UN in this direction. And the world is as it is today because the deceptively destructive concept of national sovereignty still reigns supreme.
    Six years ago when a three year long drought started in Syria and the farmers came into the capital seeking jobs and food for their families, what would have happened if the UN had had the capacity to assist in feeding them? Or, intervened earlier and assisted them in thriving on their farm land?
    The UN and the rest of the world didn’t respond to their most fundamental basic human needs. And now the UK must vote to move backward in order to protect its own people. And terrorists disguised as refugees won’t be the only threat. Pandemics, climate change, cyber intrusions or a natural disaster that could bring hunger back to Ireland are not entirely unlikely.
    The idea that each of us (and our nation) is somehow independent of the events and destructive conditions anywhere in the world is a lethal illusion. It always has been. Yet our government and global institutions are based on this flawed mental construct.
    The greatest of all human achievements is likely the global eradication of smallpox. All the world’s wars, revolutions, murders, genocides and natural disasters in the last century killed fewer people that Smallpox alone. And, if just one nation, city or family had effectively rejected the global vaccination campaign to eradicate it, Smallpox would still be with us today. The horrifying news is that if just one nation, rogue group or lunatic scientist biologically engineered a weaponized small pox virus, something the Soviets had already achieved in the 1980s, every human on this planet would be in danger.
    That is possible but not inevitable. What is inevitable is the loss of our world’s antibiotic arsenal. A woman in the US and some US farm animals were recently confirmed to be infected with a new strain of bacteria that is immune to the world’s last and most powerful antibiotic. Without a major scientific breakthrough infectious disease experts now estimate that by 2040 minor infections could be killing more Americans than cancer (which is now the second greatest cause of death in America). Another inevitable mass killer is a new strain of the flu. In 1918 the Spanish flu in 18 months killed more people than all the combat deaths from both World Wars. And, these are only two examples of the thousands of microbial threats we face. Threats that constantly evolve and are exacerbated by climate change, war, poverty, crime, malnutrition and lack of clean water – all the lethal conditions that a world federation could prevent or better respond to if the protection of human rights were superior to the rights of nation states, corporations and/or religious extremists.
    So should the UK leave the EU? Yes. In the short run it is a wise move. But if the world continues to reject the reality of our irreversible global interdependence, there’s not a border or military in the world that will stop the catastrophic effects that our children or grandchildren will inevitably experience. Things change. Can we?

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