A few months ago, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to quit the European Union. An unexpected outcome, even for the ‘Brexit’ supporters. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, there were all sorts of speculations about what the result meant for the UK, for Europe, for world trade. In the months since, the situation has not really become any clearer – can the UK ditch the ‘bad’ and continue with the ‘good’, what will happen to the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and the US (I refuse to mention the T word!) This inability of politicians, analysts and other so-called experts to unambiguously state what the consequences of a Brexit would be was one of the reasons why the arguments both for and against leaving were emotionally charged, disputable and more often than not based on ideology rather than facts.
The arguments used by the leave camp were basically two-fold: many people’s concerns about growing immigration and what this would mean for their jobs, communities and social services; and the loss of UK sovereignty to the mighty dictator of Brussels and the European Parliament. Immigration I’ll leave to one side (there’s been plenty written about that over the past few weeks), but the idea that Brussels was ‘lording’ it over the UK I find an odd one. It suggests that the UK was subjected to actions totally beyond its control and that the government had no influence on the laws and rules coming out of the EU. Clearly this was not so, as the UK was a fully paid up member of the European Union and as such always took part in negotiations and was able to influence decisions just as all the other member states are able to.
‘Lording’ suggests there is an unequal relationship, one in which the Lord, in this case the EU, tells the vassal, in this case the UK, what do to. With the vote to leave the EU, 52% of the British people were saying, to cite the OED, ‘We have had enough of the lording of the better classes!’ (i.e. we’ve had enough of taking orders from unelected EU diplomats). This implies that the UK had an inferior position in Europe. Yet, if there’s one thing the UK has never suffered from it’s an inferiority complex! Indeed, an apparent headline from the 1930s about the British attitude to Europe reads, ‘Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off’. Whether a real headline or not, the fact that it is still cited today rather proves that the UK is not one to underestimate its influence in the world.