Brexit. How I learned to stop worrying and love the EU17 Jun 2016
Ok, facetious title, but it’s hard to live in Europe and explain what the fuck is going on in the UK right now. But the UK is nothing if not contradictory.
London, that most amazing melting-pot of cultures, where people of every nation, colour and religion live and move shoulder to shoulder - largely in good humour - has become the most financially unequal city in the country, vasts swathes of which are bought-up with dirty money, knowingly laundered through British-owned off-shore tax havens, making it close to impossible for these communities to remain there - together - for very much longer.
The vaunted wellfare state and NHS - the “pride of the country” - is slowly sold off as neoliberal “austerity” economic policies cut funding, privatise through the backdoor, and attempt to force unsafe and unfair working practices on the very people whose passion and skill the nation’s health relies on.
Even the higher education system, one of the oldest and most respected in the world - and something I personally benefited from - is now so costly that I couldn’t afford to put my own children through it, instead they’d be saddled with monstrous debt and questionably improved prospects.
An Englishman’s home is his castle? Well, not anymore, these days it’s a pyramid of landlords and letting agents, fees and hidden taxes, the cost of which is so far out of reach for the young, or average earner, that anyone that missed the lowest rung in the ’90s can only look on as others profit. “Right to buy” put social housing in the hands of my parent’s generation, houses that were never replaced. The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, but could only build 140k houses in 2014, in a country where a mere 10% of the land is considered urban, but holds a population of 64 million.
The UK once considered itself the centre of the world, the hub of the largest empire in history, and yet it’s never shy of showing its fear of the foreign. Unregulated newspapers, owned by billionaires, are free to write lies and falsehoods, stoking the fire of racism, blaming everything from depressed wages and the lack of “jobs for nationals” on “out of control” immigration. And it’s been writing this rhetoric, unchecked, for most of my lifetime. And it is rhetoric. Carefully crafted to serve the corporate aims of a few.
In reality the British have been tolerant of diverse religions since the Tudors. Our language absorbs words from French, or German - any language - on a whim. Our national dish is Indian. Jamaican music is at the root of Jungle. Black American music at the root of The Beatles, or ”Britpop” [spit]. The royal family is German! Some of our finest athletes are of African, or Asian descent. So, in my opinion, immigration has been a net-positive for the UK my entire lifetime, and it’s exposed me to much that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen unless I’d traveled the world. We’re even seen by others - anecdotal from the majority of Americans and certainly Finns that I’ve met - as a model of integration, something to be envious of.
At its best the UK devours culture, remixes it, extends it and spices it with invention, to give back something new. We can be funny, self deprecating and popular across the world - even Jeremy Clarkson. We’re the nation of stiff upper lips, pride, politeness and sportsmanship, but these are virtues that some English people use to cover up an undercurrent of arrogance. Be it the echoes of lost empire, or the wars we supposedly “won” - the Russians are always written out - or hell, even the constant reminders of that fucking World Cup, some English love to feel superior. How quickly we’ve forgotten the “sick man of Europe” moniker we had for nigh on a decade. We paint the support of others as our nation’s success. No, we’re English! Our language? Dominant in business. Our legal system, copied across the world (or was it left, like a shit-stain of imperialism?). It’s by feeding this attitude that right-wing media can thrive.
The timing of Brexit couldn’t be worse if, like me, you want to Remain. And not just for the obvious economic reasons… England isn’t really a nation of flag wavers, there’s an England sticker on the door of the pub that shows the football, and you might see the bedraggled strings of a St George’s cross on the aerial of a car, but they’ve been hanging on since the last world cup and are looking worse for wear. Compared to the U.S. it’s flag free until the Queen shows up, and even then it’ll be the Union Flag.If anything, the English are mostly brought up to be British (or at least I was, and the irony of that in the context of this rant doesn’t escape me). Scotland, Ireland and Wales certainly show pride in their flags, and for good reason - but every two years, be it a World Cup or the Euro’s, Little Britain remembers that it’s not actually British after all. To hold the deciding vote on whether to leave the European Union against the bi-annual outpouring of national pride is nothing short of upper-class, political ignorance on behalf of David Cameron.
The whole thing is a complete and utter mess.
I know Europe is undemocratic. But here’s the thing, the House Of Lords is undemocratic. So is the Civil Service. And so are British voting systems. Its the most surveilled nation on earth. Its security forces and much of its police work in secret or remain unaccountable for a generation. I can understand and sympathise with the view that the European commision’s lack of elections is a driver for people to vote Leave, and yet, I can’t think of many institutions you can improve by not being a member. Nor can I remember a time when the commission was able to pass a law onto member states. TTIP - and CETA, the Canadian equivalent - scare the shit out of me, but do people really expect the UK, a country that regularly works in secret on it’s “special relationship” with the U.S. to say “Nah…” to it? I don’t, and I wouldn’t expect the UK to be doing much to reform its own lack of democracy, especially while it’s “busy” trying to work out its legal status, post European-divorce.
I know Europe is likely to expand. I think this is a good thing. I’m not scared of brown people. Or LGBT people. Or even religious people. Humans have a long history of supporting one another. We coalesce, we work together. Many brains are smarter than one. Society requires a group of people, after all.
I know Europe is struggling, but then, most of the western world is. Why would a nation of 64 million people have more political sway, or nous, than a continent? Because of London’s financial institutions? Because of the pound? I very much doubt it, although the level of corruption endemic in the former will take it a very long way. Would the UK really form stronger trade deals acting in isolation? Well, I have no doubt that deals would be made, but I find the idea that the UK hasn’t already played a massive - if not leading - role in the shaping of current trade negotiations to be laughable. It maintained one of the least regulated business and employment sectors in Europe, while gaining access to a massive single market and traderoutes to the rest of the world. The job’s been done, and pretty bloody well for all sides, unless you used to work in a state owned industry.
Personally, I think the ‘better for business’ argument boils down to the corporate desire for more deregulation. More zero hours contracts. More downward pressure on the minimum wage. Lowering of barriers to hire and fire. But this would only lead to less security and more poverty. Higher crime, less social mobility. Sure, and increased profits for corporations, but at the expense of the rights of the people. That’s sociopathic. The British are better than that.
I know some find the thought of a European Army distasteful - that we’d get sucked into other people’s wars - but it was the Allies that created NATO and the UK is legally bound to fight for any member state as it is. NATO is in need of an overhaul, and Europe’s smaller members deserve a level of security outside of the requirement of NATO membership. Maybe the UK would lose its Nukes? Good. I fucking hope so! It’d go a long way to building some houses…
“We can define what it is to be British, without Europe banning our crisps” What the fuck is British, really? I find the very idea that somehow the location of my birth either defines my character or outlook to be as laughable as the thought that my starsign might. Grow the fuck up. Last I looked, I was human. So was every other man, woman and child on this planet. I’ve been fortunate to grow-up in a multi-cultural society, and I’m thankful for that. Now, as an adult, I’d like to be a part of the larger world, not the smaller village. Our grandparents defined what it was to be Human. I think we’re past the point of worrying what it means to be British.
To be honest though, I’ve already made my choice. I left the UK and I do not miss it. Looking at Brexit from afar blinkers me. I see all that I hate about that narrow-minded, vitriolic, right-wing, jingoistic shit that England often excels at (but that I recognise every country has). I live in Europe. I get to see first hand what state ownership, social conscious, collective bargaining and a semblance of regulation can provide. I’m fortunate. Others aren’t, so I’m happy to pay my way because the rising tide lifts all boats.
What ever the UK decides, I’ll remain. And I’ll change citizenship if I have to.
I’d been meaning to write something about the deranged attacks against the LGBT community in Orlando over the weekend, but couldn’t quite find the words. I wanted to show solidarity with the community over what was a brutal and horrible attack in a city I’ve visited a few times. A holiday capital. I wanted to write about the referendum for a couple of weeks, but didn’t think my view was really all that surprising, or useful, as an ex-pat. But the murder of MP Jo Cox, yesterday, kept me awake last night.
I’ve tried to avoid bringing these feelings into this post, but it’d be remiss not to acknowledge it. These are incredibly dangerous times. I firmly believe that the cocktail of neoliberal politics, unchecked media - driven by ratings rather than fact checking - and austerity economics is creating a dangerous atmosphere of radicalism, in all directions. With the world changing faster than at any point in my lifetime, now is not the time for isolationism.