As you might expect from the kind of adrenaline-junky that typically writes for this paper, I attended London’s International Model United Nations conference this weekend. MUN is one of the few truly international societies that you can join at almost any secondary school or university. As a result, weekends at large conferences, like the one held in London a couple of weeks ago, will be brimming with young Europeans.
Asking these young people what they think of Britain’s recent decision to leave the EU was an interesting experience. The overwhelming response was what can only be described as somewhat priggish disdain. A common joke made at the expense of British MUN-ers is that we’re the only ones not educated in a foreign language, presumably because of a uniquely British provisional arrogance. Brexit (the event and the awful port-manteau) emerge from this same mixture. Their disdain comes from the threat that our exit poses to the European political project. The priggishness comes from a mixture of amusement and irritation aroused by our own belief that we are enough of an economic power to go it alone. I didn’t know how to respond to their views.
It’s always been a staple of populism to pour scorn on elites who see their countrymen as narrow-minded and prefer the company of foreigners. Pat Buchanan, perhaps Trump’s closest living political relative, used to deride politicians who are “more at home in Paris, France than Boise, Idaho.” Spending time at these sorts of conferences, (a junior of and a pretender to real international conferences) makes one realise that this must, to some extent, be true. This is fine in principle but there was something narrow-minded about the responses I met, most of them wholly unwilling to acknowledge that the EU might have any flaws. As we enter negotiations with the EU, we would be wise to avoid letting ourselves be defined by the prejudices of our interlocutors across a widening channel.