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Brexit and the Loss of Faith

by John Aquino on 04/13/19

Brexit (British exit from the European Union) is, to me, reflective of anger by those who feel ignored and abandoned by governments and those around them, of suspicions by those who, while they feel neglected, others, not always like them, are prospering; of a yearning for a national pride some people feel has waned; and, most especially, of a loss of faith. My thoughts have been assisted by those of (probably) William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Matthew Arnold.

There are signs of the same feelings in European countries other than the UK. I also have friends in the UK who have told me that the 2016 and 2018 U.S. elections are evidence of this as well. 

In March 2016, I was covering the biotechnology/pharmaceutical and medical device industries for Bloomberg BNA (now Bloomberg Law). I heard from UK contacts of their concerns about the Brexit vote that was scheduled for June 26 that, if passed, would require the UK to leave the EU and that, my contacts felt, would damage UK biopharmas and medical device companies and medical research. When I interviewed executives and researcher, their predictions were that if voters supported the referendum, which, at the time, they thought unlikely, the result would be almost apocalyptic .My article is at . 

On the morning of June 26, I woke up at 4 a.m. ET, turned on the television, heard that the vote had supported Brexit, and called for my prearranged UK interviews. Their reactions were different from those I talked to in March, perhaps indicating a fear of causing a panic. The British biopharma industries would survive, and medical research would continue to lead Europe, they said. My article is at

For all the courageous talk of three years ago, as of March 11, 2019, the European Medical Agency, the European equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration and which was based in London, is now located in Amsterdam, which has both symbolic, employment, and strategic implications for the UK. Estimators of the effect of Brexit on the biopharma and medical device industries and on medical research confess uncertainty because the effect is dependent on the negotiations and agreement of the withdrawal, which have been dragged out until at least October 2019. Uncertainty scares investors away, which dries up innovation. And this same uncertainty has affected most other UK industries, as well as the relationship between England and Scotland, Wales, the Irelands, and the rest of Europe. Many of those who voted for Brexit are admitting that they didn't anticipate the implications. But suggestions of a re-vote have been quashed.

When we have spoken with friends from England and have raised the issue of Brexit, several of them have taken the same approach, with just a touch of "misery loves company": you in the U.S. are going through the same thing with President Trump--a call to nationalism, a fear that immigrants are stealing jobs and resources, and a desire for laws that would restrict U.S. entry. At the same time, as I have written in this blog, the Catholic Church is in crisis over its handling of the priest pedophile scandal. Overall, there is a loss of faith in the U.S., of faith in those in authority, the government, the Catholic Church.

When I think of concern about immigrants flooding the country, I recall the prejudice against our Italian and Irish ancestors my wife and my parents told us about. I remember a passage in the unfinished 16th century manuscript play Thomas More that is often attributed to William Shakespeare where More deals with a mob demanding the expulsion of immigrants: from England

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise 
Hath chide down the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies on their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to th' ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings of your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawls,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: You had taught
How insolence and strong hand shall prevail,
How order shall be quelled; and by this pattern,
Not one of you shall live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With this self same hand, self reasons and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

Thinking of the dream of a unified Europe and of a desire for a restoration of nationalism, I remember reading a passage from a speech given by the U.S.-born/England residing poet and playwright T.S. Eliot that he gave in 1951 (The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot, Vol. 7, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019): "It seems to me on the whole [to be] a very good thing that each people, in a family of nations such as Western Europe, should regard itself in some respect as superior to all others. This makes for good and even affection relations....In short, it is not only not true that to be a good European it is necessary to be less an Englishman, or a Frenchman, or any other nationality; it is also not true that to be a good European one must have equal and impartial affection for every other European country." It seems to me to be a reasonable approach to current concerns, whatever the country is.

Meanwhile, we must deal with this loss of faith. As Matthew Arnold wrote in "Dover Beach" about the ebbing "Sea of Faith," we must be "true to one another" as we stand "on a darkling plain/Swept with confused armies of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Copyright 2019 by John T. Aquino

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