Apart from baldness and a bad back, one thing that comes with age is a sense of perspective. Looking back shows us that the life-changing decision that kept us from sleeping wasn’t such a big deal after all. While the opposite can also be true, and we see that if only we hadn’t passed up that fleeting opportunity we might now be rich and famous.
The same applies to events happening around us, and in those cases sometimes not even a lifetime is enough to tell whether the event was truly important or not. A good example that springs to mind is when in 1972 Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French Revolution, which had happened almost 200 years earlier. “Too early to say,” he replied, with Wildean-lke wit.
(As a rather disappointing aside, it turns out that Zhou Enlai was actually responding to a question about the 1968 Paris protests, the effects of which were still being felt a few years later. It ruins the story, and while he may not have been taking a long view of European history after all, I think the point still stands.)
I bring this up because I’ve come across a lot of people these days who appear to know for sure that Brexit is either a bad thing or a good thing, that the British people have seriously messed up by leaving the European Union or have finally freed themselves from unaccountable tyranny that was holding the country back. That Brexit, which became official at the turn of the year, will have profound effects on both the UK and the EU I don’t think is in doubt. What is in doubt is whether it will eventually turn out to be a good or a bad idea.
Recently, I’ve had a number of people confidently telling me where Brexit leaves the UK, and most of them are pretty pessimistic. In fact, one Catalan acquaintance seemed to take particular relish in describing how the British economy is doomed to ruin and how much of the population will be thrown into poverty. That’s upsetting considering my family and friends live there; I obviously don’t want to see them tipped out onto the street, although I take some comfort in the fact that no one really knows; it’s just too early to say.
What we do know is what the more mundane and immediate effects of Brexit will be, from going there to study to conducting business, even though there are many details on such things as travel, documentation and trade that still need to be worked out. You can get a taste for some of the new rules and regulations surrounding Catalonia’s relationship with the UK in our article on pages 16 and 17.
Meanwhile, I look forward to a bit of perspective and, hopefully, I’ll be able to inform that acquaintance that my sisters haven’t been forced into prostitution to feed their kids and that my best friend hasn’t had to give up his job as a barrister and been reduced to stealing from lorries.
As for the French Revolution, I think enough time has passed for us to call it: things looked bad for France for a while, but it’s ended up as one of the wealthiest, most cultured and advanced societies on the planet. There’s hope for the UK yet.