Priyan Rajapaksa draws parallels between Brexit and marital unions

It’s fashionable at the moment for every man and his dog to provide an opinion on Brexit… so here’s is my ‘bark’ from New Zealand (wearing my Sri Lankan cap). Britain being part of the European Union (EU) was merely a marriage and not a very happy union. So isn’t it better to have an amicable parting than continue to live under one roof, throwing pots, pans and the occasional brick at each other?

I lived in the UK for a few years in the late 1980s and travelled as often as I could to continental Europe. It struck me even then that this was an ill-suited union. Ironically, I was going through a separation at that time. It was the benefit of a quick and amicable divorce that inspired me to humanise Brexit.

Although Christian Europeans worship the same God from two opposing sides of the altar as Catholics and Protestants, the commonality ends there. The languages, work ethic and attitudes to life are quite different. Southern Europeans are similar to Sri Lankans and enjoy their siesta, while the northerners work themselves to hell and live on Prozac.

Sri Lankans are well aware of the difficulties of welding together our ethnic groups and religions into one manageable unit on a small island, balancing the conflicting (self) interests of petty-minded political and religious leaders.

To those who have taken the Eurail and coach tours through the many countries of Europe, creating a single unit from 10 culturally disparate countries may appear a pipe dream. Increasing the number to 21 transforms the dream into the nightmare it has become.

To put it in a South Asian context, the concept of the EU is as ludicrous as all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries having one government. Established in 1985, we can cooperate, play games and provide officials the opportunity to meet, but we have yet to progress to visa-free travel within SAARC. At least the EU achieved that.

In Sri Lanka, people marry for three reasons – viz. arranged unions, for love or shotgun weddings. Arranged marriages are between couples of similar social standing, wealth and often of the same caste. In Western society, commoners marry for romantic love while most blue bloods (who know better) tie the knot to keep their blood blue and ensure their wealth is not distributed among the hoi polloi.

It has been said that ‘when poverty comes in through the door, love flies out of the window.’

The UK-EU union was an arranged marriage, if ever there was one, between two consenting adults of comparable wealth. In 1973, then-PM Edward Heath achieved with a pen what the Pope, Napoleon and Hitler could not achieve by the sword – the surrender of British independence.

Since 1066 and the Battle of Hastings, the English fought to keep the Europeans out of their land. Suddenly with the stroke of a pen, the garlic-eating barbarians were at the gates of London. It has never been a comfortable cohabitation, with Britain seen to be pumping in funds to keep some Europeans who lost their colonies and source of wealth in a lifestyle way beyond their means.

“Much of our high standard of living has been a result of our ability to take what we wanted from the rest of the world – and the loss of that ability would mean that our lives would become significantly less comfortable and luxurious,” says Lynn Harry Nelson, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History of the University of Kansas.

At the end of World War II, Hitler’s Europe was divided between the American and British spheres in Western Europe, and a Russian sphere in the East. The EU grew out of the western sphere. Its founders tried to achieve by documents what others had attempted by war – i.e. a united Europe.

The economic aim of a common market went along well as long as it was confined to those countries with a similar standard of living. They could all sit for dinner at one table and make good conversation albeit through translators.

Relations have never been easy. In 1960, French president Charles de Gaulle – seeing British membership as a Trojan Horse for US interests – vetoed its membership.

The British thumbed their noses at the EU until 1973. In turn, Britain being a net contributor to the EU, resented paying subsidies.

Following 1981, its proverbial mother-in-law Brussels brought lesser than equals into this family of equals. As with any extended family meeting, the divisions surfaced. The rich are seldom comfortable sitting with their poor relatives. Maybe it’s a sense of guilt of their wealth or a fear that they’ll be tapped for a loan.

There will be costs and benefits, both incalculable, depending on one’s stay or go point of view. In the words of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, “it is not an amicable divorce; but it was also not an intimate love affair.”

Well there are no children from the so-called marriage. So like two mature adults, spare us the gossip, pack your bags and leave as soon as you can.