The Guardian view on Brexit and our partners: a letter to Europe. Editorial

 Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

Protesters in Parliament Square during a demonstration against Britain’s decision to leave the EU on Saturday. ‘Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.’ Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

guardianEDITORIAL, 3 julio 2016 / THE GUARDIAN

The shockwave from the Brexit vote now reverberates through Europe. The dismay felt by so many in the UK is shared on the continent. Some of you reached out to us before the referendum, asking us to stay and stressing our common interests. Now it is our turn to appeal to you. Rebuffed by the result, and alienated by the crude triumphalism of Nigel Farage and other leavers, you may consider any request an impertinence. Your citizens have been among those targeted by the xenophobia unleashed. Continental Europeans may feel we do not deserve an audience.

Almost half of those who voted sought to continue our membership. The Guardian was one of the most determined voices on this side of the divide. But we, like the rest of the 48%, must now respect the verdict that we dreaded. You assumed that British pragmatism would triumph. We share your shock and anxiety. Tempted as you are, don’t write us off entirely. Many Britons seek the closest possible partnership with the European Union, and it is more urgent than ever to continue cooperation through every viable means.

Some of you are angry. Britain was already seen as an unwilling partner, dragging our feet and demanding endless concessions. Many more now see us as a wrecker, too: gambling with a fragile European economy; imperilling an institution created to safeguard peace. Others feel pity or contempt for a nation that backed Brexit on a series of fantasies and lies, already retracted, or schadenfreude as the cost of the folly becomes evident. You may wish to punish us, or simply tell us: good riddance. Britain should not expect special treatment. Nonetheless, at this precarious moment, we ask you to pause – in all our interests.

Above all, we need time. Britain voted against membership; we did not vote for an alternative. The public has not fully confronted the choice it faces between turning its back on the single market, or accepting continued EU migration in whatever form. For sure, make it clear to Brexiters that they cannot have the rights that come with the EU without the obligations. Spelling out Britain’s choices may help us to be more realistic. The country has decided against continuing down the same path, but our new route and eventual destination are unclear. There is a great deal to think through, and further decisions to make. They could involve parliament, perhaps even a general election. You hope for certainty and stability, but pressing too hard for the invocation of article 50 could force us to rush into choices that you may also regret. While Britain chooses a captain for turbulent waters, you will be preoccupied with your own decisions, cast into starker relief by the referendum vote. The UK no longer has the right to express any preference as you determine “how much” and what kind of Europe you want.

Seeking to punish us to prevent further exits is an understandable urge. The right policy will be that which prevents Britain’s exit becoming a ruinous catalyst. Across Europe, there is disengagement from mainstream politics, anger towards the elite and a hunt for foreign scapegoats, and in many places these have coalesced into anti-EU sentiment. We shared your alarm as Marine Le Pen’s Front National and other far right parties celebrated the British decision.

Large numbers of people feel ignored and ill-used, with little sense that they are benefiting from integration. In the UK, lies about straight bananas and exaggerations about the EU’s opacity fuelled feeling against the institution, compounding a sense that the political classes are out of touch with ordinary life and have often put profits before people.

The UK must establish new bonds at home without turning its gaze entirely inwards. Let us continue to work with you wherever we can. We don’t expect to take the lead or make the rules; we can still offer expertise, resources and intelligence in areas such as security. Cooperation between our citizens – cultural collaborations, academic exchanges – in the long run does most to bring Europe closer, and will be more crucial than ever. Remember that younger Britons who voted were overwhelmingly pro-European, and help us to nurture that spirit and the opportunities it may one day present.

Britain, once outside the EU, cannot and should not expect a swift return. It would be politically dangerous at home; it would require generosity on your part. But those facing Brexit with reluctance hope that one day we may rejoin the club. Please, bid goodbye in sorrow, not anger; and for all our sakes, do not bolt the door.


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