The skies above Britain are particularly tempestuous for June. The sun barely shines and the atmosphere is grey, heavy, and full of menace.
The increasingly odious debate around the issue of Brexit from the European Union, is, thankfully, about to reach its bitter, conclusion. Following the unprecedented act of barbarism last week in which Labour MP Jo Cox was assassinated in broad daylight, the prevailing mood of this already fractious country is now one of foreboding.
British politics has not seen the assassination of a sitting MP since Conservative Ian Gow was murdered by the IRA in his home in East Sussex in 1990, and the hate-filled nationalist impulse that has been an undercurrent throughout the campaigning has been thrust starkly to the surface.
Reports suggest that Cox was murdered due to her vocal support of refugees. Despite the media’s hitherto refusal to label her killer a terrorist on account of his actions being committed in the name of British nationalism and not Islam, it feels as if, with this particular action, we have crossed the Rubicon. We suddenly inhabit a Britain divorced from reality, devoid of the subjective truths which we all took for granted just a week ago. Terrorism of this flavour was assumed impossible, and for it to happen in such public circumstances to a compassionate, humane representative of her constituents is a stunning, traumatic event, the type of brutality we associate with ISIS. And it all happened on the streets of a quiet market town in Yorkshire.
In the aftermath of the killing, many were quick to admonish the tone of the rhetoric of the Brexit debate, which has descended into unabashed and blatant scaremongering. The flippant way in which immigration has been used in certain quarters of the Brexit camp as a scare tactic has to a degree mirrored the repulsive parochial ravings of a similar breed of populist across the Atlantic – all ‘reclaiming our country’ and ‘making (said country) great again’.
Yet it is the idea that this creeping language of hate has fostered the conditions which culminated in Jo Cox’s murder which has disturbed Britain the most.
Despite MP’s having promised to conduct what remains of the debate in a more civilized manner, the adrenal bellicosity shows no sign of abating. Views that not long ago would come necessarily packaged in cautious political correctness and shrouded in subtext have now become flagrant and bold. Both sides are increasingly partisan, and the faces of politicians are puce with ire; palimpsests of bygone fear-merchants and demagogues.
Despite its manifold flaws and a pervasive sense across much of Europe’s citizen’s that the EU institution is overbearing, unduly bureaucratic, and largely unaccountable; the formation of the European Union and the conceptualization of moving from the nation state towards a larger, continental community was arguably the greatest victory for idealistic progressivism the world has ever seen.
As it transpired, the experiment stalled and the EU has become a facilitator of unregulated free-market capitalism, the post-2008 effects of which are job losses, widespread austerity measures and a creeping and pernicious re- invigoration of the far-right.
With the rise of parties like Jobbik in Hungary, Nationale Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, echoes from Europe’s past are becoming more cacophonous. Since its inception, the European Union has – so far successfully – intertwined the economic agendas of the more powerful individual member states so as to prevent the type of chaos that twice overran the continent in the previous century.
Yet hatred is bubbling and the noise is becoming louder. The air is filled with uncertainty and fear. Who knows what lies beyond next week?
Britain, for one, feels like a country on the edge of a cliff from which there may be no return.