The British Prime Minister Should Say Sorry for Risking Brexit

Brexit protest
Two activists kiss each other in front of Brandenburg Gate to protest against British exit from the EU, in Berlin, June 19, 2016. The referendum has damaged trust in Britain. Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

The problem with navel gazing—tempting as it may be—is that at some point reality kicks in and we realize that what we are able to do does not depend just on what we want but on what others around us are ready to accept.

For all us who live in the U.K. reality will kick in on June 24, and it will be a shock. Because—guess what—there are people at the other side of the Channel. And they not only exist, but those people from the continent actually have a lot to do with us.

They are the customers of British companies; their suppliers; the people who host British tourists who go to their countries every summer; some of them even run companies in the U.K. including in strategic areas such as energy, transport or water.

They are the people that hold up non European immigrants in Calais; the ones that share intelligence with us; the ones that we call for in moments of need (like when we asked them to help with the reconstruction in Iraq after the U.K. and the U.S. messed it up).

They are the ones that come to play in the British football clubs; the ones that host many British elderly people in their countries during retirement, and provide sanitary and social services for them. Yes, all those people exist, and it so happens that they have as much of a right to decide how they will relate to us as we have to decide how we want to relate to them.

If on June 23 the U.K. decides to leave the European Union, those people will not any longer be members of our common club. They will instead become our competitors overnight.

Of course they will trade with the U.K. and allow us to travel to their countries. But make no mistake, if the U.K. leaves, the predominant interest of countries such as Germany, Italy, Ireland and France would be to attract as much business and investment as possible from the U.K. to themselves. They will not do it to "annoy us," but just as a matter of fact, because competition is what happens in the business world between those who are not members of the same club.

Other Europeans will continue liking the U.K., admiring the Queen and enjoy spending weekends in London shopping at Harrods—but that will not make them disregard their hard financial interest in attracting British-based businesses to their territory. Why should they?

It also happens that those people on the other side of the channel are actual human beings who have feelings as well. Since we have spent months just thinking about ourselves, rather than engaging with the outside world, we may have forgotten to consider how those people actually feel about how we have treated them—regardless of whether the result of the referendum is "Leave" or "Remain."

How did they feel when European immigrants have been blamed, by a vocal minority, for everything that goes wrong, from immigration to sexual assault? Does it hurt them when we consider them as a cost but we never acknowledge the cost of the British people—many elderly—living abroad? Did they think that the U.K. convening the referendum at the point when the EU was at its weakest, still working out the recovery from a serious economic shock, shaken by the refugees crisis and brutally hit by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), was a kick under the belt?

I am a European migrant who lives in, admires and loves the U.K. I sincerely hope that this country will decide to remain in the EU. But regardless of the result of the referendum, we are all going to have to spend time and energy regaining trust. Trust among ourselves and with other Europeans as well. All those people on the continent know that the British Prime Minister has put them at serious economic, political and personal risk. Many politicians have apologized in the past for infinitely less than this. An apology to both British and Europeans, regardless of the result of the vote, would not go amiss.

Miriam Gonzalez is an international lawyer specialized in international trade​.