You may already have heard enough about Brexit to last you a life time. If so, skip this uncharacteristically long one from me. However, quite a few people have asked my opinion. So I decided I wanted to figure out what my opinion actually was. The way I do that is to write about things, so here goes. I wrote this about 5 days after the vote but have only just had the time to post it now.
I’m Going Under Cover
I think I am going to change my accent. 15 years of living in Canada has already given it a funny lilt. Sometimes I am mistaken for an Auzzie, or a South African. In light of the Brexit vote this isn’t such a bad thing. Moving forward I will play along because, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed to call myself a Brit.
I was 23 when Britain joined the EU. However it was many years before that when I started traveling through Europe with my family. We’d drive south to Dover, cross the channel on a ferry, and then down through France and in to Spain. Armed only with the Relais Routiers we’d stop at little B&B’s, eat local food and hang out at the beach. These are some of the fondest memories from my childhood and have had a huge influence on the person I am today.
These early experiences of “foreignness” (France and Spain are very different today than when I was 7), gave me a curiosity about other cultures. I spent years travelling and working in different countries before settling in Canada. Nonetheless, moving to live and work in Canada was a huge cultural eye opener for me. Canada is truly a multi- cultural country. I interact with a far greater variety of cultures now than at any point in my previous, nomadic, life.
How did I get it so wrong?
Even though I’ve lived in Canada for about 15 years, I stay in constant contact with my immediate family in the UK. But, when the EU referendum in the UK was announced, I barely took any notice. In my mind, who would vote for something so completely regressive? How could anyone possibly understand what leaving would mean? Why (unless you are a white supremacist) would you agree to do anything the UKIP party thought was a good idea? Nigel Farrage is a national joke.
Shows you what I know. Now I am shaking my head in disbelief and trying to figure out what possible reason more than 50% of an entire nation would vote this way. And this is what I’ve found.
The question about the payment thing
According to the Leave campaigners, being an EU member was costing the UK, GBP 350 million a week. British funds that could otherwise be much better spent on funding the National Health Service. That was a hotly disputed number even before the vote. The number ($50 million a day) was plastered all over the “battle bus” that Boris Johnson used during the Brexit campaign. Odd now that the Leave campaigners are distancing themselves from that claim. In fact, Nigel Farrage of UKIP is quite certain that he never said this money would go to the NHS. A quick look at the Brexit campaign’s website now will show you that this is a bit of a trend for the Brexit side. You will in fact see that none of the pre-campaign statements/promises are there anymore. Just a lovely note saying “Thank You”. Accountability, anyone?
The Syrian Refugees are Coming!
Another cornerstone of the Brexit campaign was linked to Turkey’s application to be a member of the EU. The Leave side warned of the terrible dangers this held because of all the Syrian refugees Turkey was harbouring. Refugees who had fled to Turkey in fear for their lives. The story went like this:
- Turkey becomes a member of the EU
- EU member countries open their borders to Turkey
- Syrian refugees FLOOD the EU from Turkey and end up in the UK
- Syrian refugees then drain the UK economy and steal British people’s jobs
- The UK bursts in to flames and sinks in to the Irish sea.
OK, so I made the last bit up. Fact is, Turkey has been trying to get in to the EU since 1972. They have still only managed to meet 1 of the 25 requirements to do so. One politician I was listening to estimated the process would take until 2030. Hardly an immediate threat is it?
Britain for the British
The argument for the Leave side I found most embarrassing was the “Britain for the British” thing. Meaning, ‘we don’t want any of those non-British people coming in, stealing our jobs and diluting our culture’. Let’s suspend belief for a moment. Let’s say this argument’s appeal has nothing to do with xenophobia, misplaced nationalism or a fear of otherness. I would then admit that, if I were chronically unemployed, I would be angry to be told that immigrants were landing jobs because they were prepared to work for less money. I think that may be oversimplifying the argument, but you get my point.
However, I don’t think that leaving the EU is a solution to that problem. First of all it is a minimum wage issue. I don’t remember reading either side saying minimum wage legislation would be tabled as a result of the vote. I also can’t find (though it may exist) anything to says the EU prevented the UK from passing minimum wage legislation.
Immigration, it’s a thing, people!
The second thing people conveniently overlook is that no-one could or should, actually stop immigration. For our current version of Capitalism to work, countries’ economies need to grow. So in a country where birth rates are not keeping up with the number of people dying off, you NEED immigration. All the Syrians Germany “allowed in” are a drop in the bucket compared to their rapidly declining population. The UK is no different.
Along the same lines, there is a hard fact which seems to have escaped a lot of people’s attention. That is we were all bloody immigrants at one time or another!! A large part of my family ancestry is Irish. Were those immigrants (starving, poverty stricken and poorly educated) any more or less worthy of a new start than those seeking a new life in the UK now? If everyone that was “not from here” left, society would grind to a halt.
So, let’s say all the above points were actually valid, what has the Brexit vote done for us so far? Well, let’s think.
First off, if free trade ends, I wonder how much all that administration is going to cost to harden borders. How much time will it take to renegotiate all these free trade agreements, individually, with each nation? Then add the possibility of Ireland and Scotland voting to become independent from the UK. Any English Government is going to be embroiled in all of that business for the near future. I wonder if the cost will be more than the money we have been paying to the EU? What does it mean for the implementation of other, important, social and economic legislation?
UK versus the world
Then there’s the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). This EU – US trade agreement, which has taken years to negotiate will no longer apply to the UK. An EU free UK will have to negotiate its own arrangements with the US and Canada. Way to go UK, you are now on your own!
There is so much uncertainty around the Brexit decision that the financial markets experienced their biggest drop ever. All the major rating agencies have taken away the UK’s former “triple A” credit rating, and the GBP has even fallen against the Canadian dollar – 30 cents in 5 days – a 15% drop.
Finally I think the free movement of people, ideas, and commerce was what made the UK an amazing place to be. I have always been proud to say that the UK was part of Europe, in my mind that was akin to saying “I am a citizen of the world”. Maybe that won’t change, but something about the protectionist and nationalistic undercurrent to the Brexit campaign makes me think that this won’t be the prevailing sentiment.
Babies and Bath Water
I get that there is this bizarre nostalgia for “what Britain used to be”, but it is simply that, nostalgia. The world has changed, and the UK has had to change along with it, as a part of the EU or not.
The dissatisfaction with the social and economic situation in the UK will not be solved by roundly blaming our relationship with our largest trading partner. It certainly won’t be helped by feeding racist ideology and a fear of foreigners, which I sense was driving much of the vote.
Now in the aftermath of the vote, there is so much hyperbole that it is difficult to sort through for the common sense. So many of the people who voted to leave are now standing up and saying they didn’t know what they were voting for. Seems to me there was some irresponsible campaigning by the Brexit side and I feel as though the UK threw out the baby with the bath water when it voted.