View from Deutschland


For a prediction on how divided the UK will be in 2040, perhaps one can look at German sentiment today, almost thirty years on from reunification. While reunification and Brexit are hardly equivalents, they represent seismic shifts for Germany and the UK respectively. Brexit is the lesser of the seismic shifts, depending on what deal the EU and the UK reach in coming months.

While 75 percent of Germans who live in the East recently said that they considered their country’s reunification a success, only half of Western Germans agreed. With Eastern and Western Germans blaming each other for past mistakes over the past two years, that frustration seems to have increased. Younger citizens, especially — who do not usually identify themselves with their area of origin as strongly anymore — have grown worried about the persistent scepticism on both sides.

So, what about the hardcore anti-reunification crowd? The equivalent of the UK’s Remoaners.

There are still gatherings, mostly in Eastern cities like Dresden, each year on the anniversary of reunification. But only a handful of protesters appear. The hardcore crowd has mostly died and their offspring are used to working in the West or having family members live and work in the West. Most people have got used to the new situation and there is certainly no talk of splitting the East from the West as it was thirty years ago.

Back when reunification happened, the Eastern Germans were like aliens to many Western Germans, as their Trabants puffed their polluting smoke around West Berlin. Now they have mostly assimilated. Politics has changed, as the Eastern Germans tend to have rejected communism so wholeheartedly they tend to vote for a stronger brew of free market politics in the AfD, which bases its popularity on an anti-immigrant ticket. (This may seem surprising given that East Germany did not really unify with the West, as it was effectively annexed by the West and the East Germans were, in the eyes of many West Germans, the immigrants themselves thirty years back.)

As a German I see Brexit as a natural consequence of a unified Germany. When unification happened one of the loudest voices airing discontent about one Germany was Margaret Thatcher. The UK, whether it admits it or not, is still a Thatcherite nation at core. Germany was bound to extend its influence in Europe to such an extent that domination of the EU was its destiny. The UK was a useful counterweight, but the UK is potentially far greater than a counterweight and would always stand on its own in the end.

I celebrated German reunification as a young man in Magdeburg. Perhaps I was then like the forgotten young men of Burnley or Wigan now. Forgotten but now found.

It is my guess that the UK shall have a bright future that encompasses more Brits than EU membership allowed. Israel made golf courses out of the desert and the highly competent and imaginative UK is far from starting out again, let alone in a desert. Most Remainers will come to live with Brexit but blame any bad news on it just as any bad news in Germany is still seized upon by the anti reunification crowd. The Remoaners will still be protesting in 2040 but, frankly, they will be an even odder sect than they are now, and their voices will no longer be heard.