Lies do not usually stand the test of time, and much less so if they are based on obsolete concepts, even if these have the power to inflame our hearts. In a globalized world where humanity has woven a web of complex relations, a majority of British citizens have allowed themselves to be seduced by a pipe dream: recovering national sovereignty.
But reality is stubborn, and the complicated negotiations with the European Union have evidenced more than just the falsehoods behind this enterprise: they have also highlighted the infeasibility of a form of independence associated with the 19th century yet attempted 200 years later. Through their majority rejection of Brexit, young people in the UK have proven they have a better understanding than their elders about the present and future of a world where borders are blurry, where actors play in large blocs, and where economics, politics and culture have long since adapted to a global ecosystem.
Populism feeds off the hollow promises that it makes to harangue the masses. It then collects short-term results at the ballot boxes. But its own champions have been making contradictory statements from the beginning. Boris Johnson defends taking back “democratic control” by pulling his country out of the EU’s decision-making bodies. But at the same time he says that Britain is part of Europe and cannot turn its back on it. Last week, at a security gathering in Munich, UK Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson talked about the need to remain united even as his government negotiates the UK’s exit from the EU.
Catalan separatists embrace independence from Spain, and originally claimed that they wanted Catalonia to represent itself before European institutions. They want full sovereignty and self-determination, yet resort to the authority of Brussels and European jurisdictional bodies even as they reject their own best trade partner: the rest of Spain. Just like with the Brexiteers, it is not in the best interests of Catalan separatists to hold real negotiations, because these would expose the senselessness of moving against the direction of history to embrace a mirage of independence in a world where nobody is lord of their land anymore, and where sovereignty is shared through supranational institutions of all kinds.
The difficulties of breaking the ties with the EU, which the UK joined just 46 years ago, are not comparable to those faced in the past and present by territories linked for centuries to a nation, such as the province of Quebec in Canada and of course Catalonia. If independence is achieved, it will ultimately become a conventionalism with no ties to reality.
The good news is that some populist and eurosceptic parties, such as the far right in Sweden, France and Germany, not to mention the French left, have started to tone down their fiery calls to leave the EU.
English version by Susana Urra.