The time is nearly upon us: The 31st of January will be the day the UK departs from the European Union. It has been a long and difficult road getting here, and one might reasonably think that this is an ideal time to let go of our Brexit voting identities, Leave vs. Remain, and rediscover our common identity as citizens and friends. Not everybody sees it that way, however. Some Leave supporters, including the Leave.eu campaign, are calling for a nationwide ringing of church bells on the following morning, February the 1st, to celebrate the occasion. This is, to put it mildly, a terrible idea.
The ringing of bells may be appropriate to celebrate big, non-political milestones such as the turn of the Millennium, or events such as the end of a war, which have the support of most of the country. Brexit is neither. On the contrary, this one issue has done more to divide the people of the UK than any other issue in a generation.
I was among those who rang the bells to celebrate the Millennium, which seems to me an appropriate time to ring bells. Things would have been very different if the Millennium had been at the centre of a bitter political argument which split the country in two and still inspired passionate responses from both sides even as the bells began to chime. Rather, the turn of the Millennium was one of those events which serves simply to mark the passing of time. It was solidly apolitical.
The end of a war is slightly different – as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means – but the dividing line in a war is between one nation and another. Other than a few fascist sympathizers, it is hard to imagine large numbers of people in the UK being truly unhappy when the war against Nazi Germany was won in 1945. Soldiers and civilians had been killed in large numbers over several years, and the arrival of peace must have been a genuinely joyous and unifying occasion. The defeated opponent was an external one. By contrast, the only opponents in the Brexit fight were internal, our friends and neighbours. Even family members were pitted against one another.
A country may endure such fractures when they come in the form of short election cycles every now and then, but the Brexit fight has been a constant source of division for years now. This is not a healthy state for a country to remain in for so long, split like a pane of glass with a crack running through it. Ringing bells to celebrate Brexit would only serve to antagonise Remain voters, and further harden those ‘Brexit identities’ at a time when we should be discarding them. At a time when we should be moving on together, it would further drive us apart.
I voted Leave in the referendum of 2016, and I am quite content to accept my side’s victory in a sportsmanlike fashion and go home. I would not wish to rub our success in the faces of those who voted differently, and if I were still a bell ringer I would refuse to ring for such nakedly political purposes. On the 31st of January, I will be going out for a quiet drink with one of my fellow Leave voters, and after that I will give up the ‘Leave’ label permanently and get on with the rest of my life.
If anyone else wishes to mark the occasion, I strongly recommend they do the same.
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