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Britain's turn to 'determine the fate of the European Union'

British Prime Minister Theresa May on June 4 after the London terror attack. Photo/Getty Images

All the while the number of Britons who believe the Government is on their side has halved in 10 years. 

One ordinary Sunday afternoon, in an ordinary park in Berlin, a friend made a shocking announcement. Before the end of spring, he would be German, having traded in his British passport for a German one.

We wondered whether it was the sauerkraut or the meat salads that had proved irresistible. Perhaps he had fallen for the long grey winters, the sullen locals or the unnecessarily complex bureaucracy. “No, no,” he explained. “I’ve been away from the UK for too long and I can’t vote there any more. But I want to have a voice.”

He said with some enthusiasm that his decision was driven by what he sees as an increase in extremist politics in Europe and elsewhere; he wanted to be able to vote against that, and if he couldn’t do it back home, then he would jolly well do it in Germany.

RelatedArticlesModule - Britain election

There’s been a bit of this about lately. It seems that over the past few months, everything has become political and people actually care. Today, even some of your least-bothered younger friends are more interested in a hard Brexit than hard drinking, and to them, a party with a manifesto looks more entertaining than one with a DJ.

The numbers of Britons aged 18-34 registering to vote in the snap election on June 8 more than doubled in the week before enrolment closed. Significantly, more young people (18-25) registered than any other age group.

And it’s not just the yoof. Word arrives in Berlin that one older relative in the UK has joined a political party – for the first time in her 60-odd years. This is a woman who once said it was rude to argue politics at dinner. Now she’s distributing leaflets to affluent strangers in suburbia. Ask her why and she speaks of selfish, lying politicians, of experts ignored and locals disenfranchised, of the futility of Brexit – and why a riot might be a good idea. Then, being English and a retired teacher, she politely apologises for ranting.

It just goes to show how angry people are, says another friend from London. Surveys back this up: 30 years ago, four in 10 people trusted the British Government to put the needs of the nation above their own; today that number has halved.

The ex-teacher’s husband emails to confirm the sentiment, adding that never before have they displayed a political banner on their front lawn. But there’s a big one out there now.

“If there is one good thing about all this, it is that people are becoming more politically active,” adds the soon-to-be-Deutscher in the Berlin park. “They understand it means something.

“I’m just worried about afterwards, when they’ve been active and engaged, and then nothing changes and the bloody Tories still win. What happens then? How will people feel?”

It’s a good question. Everyone admits to election fatigue. Many Britons are well aware that despite recent poll results – gains by the Labour Party – and any impact the terrorist attack in Manchester may have, Theresa May’s Conservative Party still seems likely to win. Those opposed to Brexit also know that there’s probably no way the decision is going to be reversed either.

It seems that every other week, one nation or another gets handed the unpleasant job of “determining the fate of the European Union”. Yet right now, it seems as though everybody is still taking that job seriously. Even the least electorally engaged locals have unanimously answered the riddle one wit recently posed on Twitter: what takes five minutes and can change the rest of your life? Sex – and voting.

Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news website Niqash.org, based in Berlin. 

This article was first published in the June 10, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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