Can we avoid the worst of Brexit?

Added on Friday, June 24th, 2016

BeatrizGarcia Dr Beatriz García is Head of Research at the ICC. In this blog, she considers the impact of Brexit on UK cities and the global cultural stature of the UK — arguing for the central role of culture in securing the now endangered future of the European project.  

I wake up to the not totally surprising but still mystifying news of a Brexit. My first thought is: research on Europe is more needed than ever now. Can the UK have it both ways, protecting the best out of its relationship with European institutions, while abandoning the common EU project?

I wonder about the impact on British cities , in particular. A high proportion of UK cities have voted ‘in’. Edinburgh by 74.4%, London by 75.3% (both with an over 72% turn out). Glasgow and Liverpool, Leeds and Belfast have also voted ‘in’. One guesses the economic case for London, a case for identity in Scotland and Northern Ireland but also a case for culture, and the importance of the EU supporting their cultural renaissance in cities like Glasgow and Liverpool. Leeds aspires to follow their lead and become European Capital of Culture in 2023. Will this now be interrupted? There are measures in place to allow non-EU cities to host this title, as was the case with Stavanger, host of the title alongside Liverpool in 2008. But this is now up to the generosity of our EU counterparts. Will they prove to be more mature and magnanimous than the UK is showing itself to be today?

The UK is turning its back on one of the most defining 20th century collective projects, a project that has triggered and facilitated tremendously high levels of cultural and educational exchange, enabling the difficult transition from industrial to post-industrial economies across the continent and making Europe a global referent for urban cultural renaissance, with UK cities leading the way. Let’s see how this looks like, now, in the 21st century, if we go down a fragmented ‘each-to-their-own-interests’ route and allow ourselves to be fooled by the notion that, in an era of ‘globalisation’, we are all equal partners.

The European project is built on complex historical foundations but has such a rich and enormously promising cultural basis to develop from. It is clear today that the cultural angle has not been shouted sufficiently about during the EU’s first decades of life, and Europe is paying a price now. I trust this will change, particularly now the EU has announced it will place culture at the heart of its international relations programme.

Ultimately, this will be another UK loss, but I trust we can work towards preventing the worst. The UK is Europe and it needs European backing. Let’s move on but not ignore nor forget the best (and often under-appreciated) dimensions of EU cultural and educational exchange to date. Rather than feel above everyone else, in the aftermath of this referendum result, the UK may need to learn to be more humble and appreciative of its immediate neighbours if it wants to keep playing the global cultural actor role it seems to take for granted.

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