I always thought leaving the EU would be a cause for celebration, but the sight of Donald Tusk accepting the Article 50 letter this week just made me feel a bit sad, and that we had let down our friends and neighbours.
One of the things Brexit has done is made me realise how European I feel, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I always found Vote Leave’s whole Commonwealth shtick a bit disingenuous, because we have far more in common with the Dutch and the Germans than with most non-European countries, even those we did forcibly make part of our empire against their will.
Sure, the Asian economy is growing but India accounts for a tiny percentage of our trade compared with Europe, and if relaxed migration rules are the price we pay for more, then exchanging free movement with continental Europe for a country with 250m below the poverty line is just moronic.
But one of the results of the vote might be that Britons become better Europeans; this is not exactly an unintended consequence, as Daniel Hannan has argued the point before, but it’s still somewhat counter-intuitive. Contrary to the thesis that Brexit has made the country a backwards-looking cesspit of hate, polls show that Britons have become more friendly to EU migrants since the June 23 vote.
Maybe strong fences make for good neighbours, or the upsurge in nationalistic rhetoric has made others more strongly pro-migrant in response; I have seen one academic paper showing that the election of xenophobic parties leads to more public warmth towards migrants, and it may be an instinctive human urge to protect the vulnerable; or perhaps people have got their xenophobia out of the system.
The Leave vote was, in my view, directly linked to the Blair government’s decision to turn on the immigration taps from 2000, not just of A8 migrants (who only ever constituted a minority), but from around the world.