To quote the late comedian Les Dawson “I feel about as comfortable as a turkey perched on a packet of ‘Paxo’ listening to Christmas carols.”
The theme ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ prompted a few postings on social media. I wrote this article in response to a vitriolic attack from a friend of a friend on Facebook. Social media does that kind of thing. It brings out strong opinions from people who genuinely have not thought too deeply about anything in their lives. I was told by this insightful individual to “go check the facts” and reminded that England (not Scotland or Wales apparently) was a great country. It had been successful in the past before the EU and had the balls to be so again. So here goes with the fact checking…
Up until now, I had not given the matter much thought. I wrongly assumed that only truly stupid and racist people would have voted to leave the EU. Racist, because the main arguments for leaving hinged on xenophobic hysteria whipped up by the extremist brain dead right wing press plus a little help from UKIP. Too many asylum seekers, entering Great Britain illegally in order to turn the UK into a Muslim state and cash in on the generous benefits and healthcare system. I disregarded this argument because it seemed to me that Syrian or Afghan refugees were not fleeing from an EU country. Surely it was a matter for individual governments and nothing to do with the EU as to whether they should be allowed in. The control of illegal immigration was clearly a matter of border control and in that regard, the UK was well positioned to protect its borders on two fronts. The first being that Britain never was party to the Schengen Agreement which was a treaty to abolish border controls and free movement of EU citizens between member states.
If you wanted to enter the UK by whatever means, you would be expected to show your passport and would need a good reason to be there. The second is that the UK is an island. The only way to enter the UK would be through some kind of gated entry point such as an airport, ferry terminal or via the channel tunnel. Therefore, the matter of immigration control should have been solely a matter of policing the borders properly. Something the Foreign Secretary at the time, Teresa May failed to do to an adequate level. If there were any failures, they were caused by the lack of political will to address a serious concern of the people who voted her into office and of course good old fashioned Whitehall inefficiency. A very British born problem and one not engineered by the EU.
It could be argued that a large part of the reason there were so many refugees in the first place had to be because of joint UK and US initiatives in Iran. This ignited the Arab Spring, the destabilisation of the heavily armed (thanks to the UK) Syria which in turn gave birth to ISIS. Hardly a problem created by the EU who are still having to deal with the mess caused by the delinquent foreign policies of George W Bush and its “Special Relationship Partner” the UK under the less than sure-footed leadership of Tony Blair. There have been calls for him to be prosecuted as a war criminal over the misdirection of parliament. Specifically, the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the search for which lead to the needless death of many of Britain’s finest young soldiers. I mention this because it is a clear illustration of how the ‘establishment’ is quite comfortable with lying to the electorate. Government and its sponsors have historically had a casual disregard for the lives of those willing to die in order to maintain the lifestyle of the already wealthy.
Customs officers were quick to protest that they were not being provided with enough resources to man the UK borders properly. There were times when it was possible to enter the UK without being challenged at all. So the matter of immigration, for me at least, did not factor into any equation and neither did it for Jeremy Corbyn the labour leader, who despite his own personal reservations had adopted the official Labour Party line and had campaigned on staying in Europe. I felt he was a little unconvincing, but he made his case whilst also speaking little if at all about immigration.
I will not go into a great list of the reasons for staying in the EU, as no doubt this will have been hashed over again and again in the UK press. There was propaganda and lies on both sides of the argument. So much so that a friend wrote to me saying that having heard the argument, he was not convinced either way, but he was going to vote anyway!!!
Briefly, my own argument for the UK staying within the EU are two-fold: Firstly, the EU has enjoyed the longest period of peace since its foundation in November the 1st 1993. A peaceful block of trading nations working together for mutual security and prosperity. The second was economic. The UK’s largest market for its manufactured products remain the EU. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain shipped 44.6% of its goods to the EU in 2014 and that amount has been increasing by between 3.5% and 6.5% every year since. However, the UK imports more from Europe than it exports leading to a trade deficit which reached 15.4 Billion pounds in 2014. All of this trade has been free of import charges but will now be the subject of a yet to be negotiated trade agreement that will include tariffs and possibly be linked to immigration quotas. It is entirely possible that Britain could be faced with having to agree to take more immigrants than it has in the past, just to be able to continue to trade with its biggest trading partner. The cost of living will certainly increase because up to this point the UK has been buying more goods from Europe than it ships. These goods will have to be purchased in Euros.
It was obvious to me that leaving would put the whole future of the nation’s youth at risk. From my own and perhaps a slightly selfish point of view, I live in Spain and quickly realized that many ex-pats could soon find themselves unable to access healthcare under the reciprocal agreement. There are many retired ex-pats in Spain that have never contributed to the Spanish Social Security system but have received free heart surgery, cancer treatment, hip replacements etc under the reciprocal EU agreement. This could and most likely will be withdrawn being replaced by costly insurance schemes which many will not be able to afford.
It will be the same for travel to Spain which will no longer guarantee free healthcare under the European Health Insurance Card. My elderly father for example, will most likely not be able to get health insurance and therefore may find that he is unable to visit us in the future. I don’t think that this is a prospect he is especially worried about, as I am almost a 100% certain he would have voted to leave. This fact oddly underscores the perplexing reality of the referendum vote. It was not a vote about the issues. It was a protest vote against Europe and all the politicians that have let their constituents down over many years of office.
The UK voters told both Europe and their leaders exactly what they thought of them. Was this bravery or stupidity? Nigel Farage claimed that the BREXITeers were showing British spirit in what sounded like a rather hollow victory speech. From my own experience, I would say that it is always good to be strong and brave. However, it is more important to keep a cool head. Especially, if you are strong and your actions could cause lasting damage to someone who was formerly an old friend.
Another concern for me was the destabilisation of currency. The first thing that happened on leaving was that the value of UK stocks fell back. The very same stocks which underpin many pension schemes. Of course, the exit is a two-edged sword as along with UK stock values heading south, so did the value of the pound. Pensioners living in Spain in addition to the loss of access to free healthcare will most likely find themselves living on less income as the pound starts to see its true value erode. The value of the Euro also suffered from the departure of the UK. Investors worried about other countries also wanting to leave. This gave the illusion that the fall in the value of the pound had been modest, but when compared with the US dollar a different pattern emerges. Commodities such as oil are purchased in dollars and a weaker pound means more expensive energy costs. The cost of living will increase by iron law.
I had also dismissed the argument that now the UK was no longer required to pay into the EU that the country would be billions better off. This did not take into account the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher or the fact the UK will, without doubt, be subject to the trade tariffs and currency issues mentioned earlier. Some markets may be blocked altogether. For example, why would France (a country founded on agriculture) buy farm produce from the UK when they could now sell their own lamb and dairy within the EU at a lower cost.
What about jobs? Airbus is one of the largest employers in my old hometown of Bristol where its Filton plant employs 4,500 people and a further 5,000 in Broughton. The future of these employees is now under threat as Airbus projects are founded on European collaboration. The same with the European fighter project. Amazon and Google had built new headquarters in London, but both have said that they may no longer take up residence, as the UK is no longer a primary European access point.
I quickly discovered from some of my Facebook friends that their decision to leave was not founded on any type of economic logic. Neither were they worried about the peace dividend. It all boiled down to either a hatred of foreigners or not liking being told what to do by bureaucrats in Brussels. In truth, I shared some of their concerns, especially with regard to the questionable implementation of the ‘Human Rights’ directive that made it difficult to deport Islamic extremists who promoted a Jihad (Holy War) against the very people that had allowed them to make their home in the UK.
Brexiteers hated EU interventions such as the ‘working time’ directive that attempted to regulate hours that employees were forced to work. In fact, there are 12,000 directives, mostly aimed at making society fairer and equitable which may now be rolled back. Most of the workers’ rights rulings were created to make the workplace safer or a better environment. German factory workers are amongst the most productive in the world and yet they work shorter hours and take more holidays than those in the UK. They also earn more, considerably more. It seems to me that if the argument for leaving is to be free of EU legislation, this would put the UK on a par with China. Employers would very quickly start to exploit their workers. Longer hours, no minimum wage etc. The UK is now engaged in a race to be first to the bottom of the pile. UK manufacturing will soon be competing with sweatshops in Vietnam and the far east on equal terms. I have yet to be convinced that this is part of the magical formula for future prosperity.
Speaking as a former employer myself, I cannot pretend that I liked the constant edicts from Brussels telling us how we should run our business and look after employees. Therefore, I have some sympathy for the deregulation that some in the UK believe BREXIT will bring. However, much of this legislation came about as a reaction to the ambulance chasing legal system in the US. The resulting constant lawsuits from staff who had tripped or developed repetitive strain injuries because they had not been sent on a VDU awareness course, prompted legislation from the EU. Legislation which could just have easily come from our very own parliament.
Health and safety regulations seemed to have gone way too far when I found myself being asked by an inspector if my staff had been trained in the use of hazardous chemicals? He was referring to a tin of spray furniture polish that my own mother (who in those days was also Company Secretary) had left on her desk. The list of brainless criticisms was quite extensive and included having cleaners bring special cones with warnings about wet floors and having to demonstrate to me their familiarity with the use of the said dangerous chemicals. Trip hazards, manual handling courses and the emasculation of the emergency box which should not contain sharp objects or even an aspirin, all played their part in making me no longer want to run a business in the UK or anywhere for that matter. I longed for the days of the enterprise culture that was initiated by the much vilified Margaret Thatcher. The clock can never be turned back and we live in a different world to the bad old days when you could do more or less as you liked when you employed people. I really do feel that the EU helped make Europe a better place and whilst it drove us all mad at times, we probably would have all been at war without it. For me, leaving the EU is completely senseless. It is like trying to make time travel backwards or stop the tide from coming in. You can try as hard as you like, but the results are either frustrating or impossible to achieve.
Then there is the thing I hated most about the negative ‘Leave’ campaign. The Little Englanders! Those militant far-right fascists that act as if the UK still runs an empire. An empire founded on slavery and which had to go cap in hand to the US when confronted by an imminent invasion by Nazi Germany during the second world war. I hear some of them say let’s make England great again. Similar words to Donald Trump. More on him later. However, I am old enough to remember the three day week, power cuts and the closure of the coal mines. It did not feel good at the time. Rubbish was piled high in the streets and bodies queued at the morgue as there was no one to bury them. This was not a great time for the UK and yet under Edward Heath, the UK was finally allowed to join the Common Market in 1973. The UK’s membership had been vetoed by the French leader Charles de Gaulle in 1967 who was never a fan of the British. The UK’s entry was not popular in other quarters either and now the somewhat hasty departure will no doubt be welcomed by those on the far right of Europe.
The Little Englanders don’t represent the real English people, but they are vocal. We have been shown clear examples of their behaviour during the Fifa football matches in France only last week. So what now? The UK will be lead by the likes of UKIP and Boris Johnson and in my own opinion is now headed down the plughole to a regressive and uncertain future.
I now realize that those of us that did not vote for this will have to make the best of it. I cannot change anything, but it does not mean that I have to like it. For the first time, I truly feel that to be British is to be looked down upon by the rest of Europe. My Spanish friends think that the Brits have totally lost the plot. They are angry because they see the referendum as similar to the behaviour of a spoiled child, who has a tantrum each time they are asked to play nicely. They see the BREXIT vote as destabilising and bad for business.
When you come to Spain in the future, you may not be allowed to work here or buy property. You will be welcome if you are wealthy, healthy and young, but when I look at the expats in my own town, not many of them fit that description.
A week earlier a friend had written to me to say that he thought the UK was going to vote to leave. I was surprised, but he said that the feeling was that politicians had become so full of their own importance, they had stopped listening to the people that had elected them. Most voters did not know the name of their MEP let alone the president.
They did not give a fig for the EU,
they did care about uncontrolled immigration.
He said that Muslim families would have five children to our one and that many Brits were worried that soon white English people would become a minority and may even disappear like the morning mist. They hated the idea of living under Islamic law. A law that promoted intolerance and discriminated against women rather than a secular free society. This was not a vote to leave Europe, it was a vote to protest against political failure at the highest level. UK politicians were not able to put the genuine economic arguments across because they were hated themselves and now it was time for the true Brits to take back control.
Speaking personally. I do not regard a 2% majority as any kind of mandate to justify such drastic action as leaving the EU. There should be a much bigger majority to carry any democratic sway. Furthermore, there should NOT have been a referendum in the first place. We elect politicians to make the difficult decisions for us. Only David Cameron, a failed Prime Minister under the influence of his old Etonian Buddy, George Osborne could have turned such an important decision into a lottery and opened up the vote to people who were incapable of understanding the issues. According to Google, the most popular search term the day after BREXIT was “what is the EU?” A term keyed in by people living in the country that had just voted to leave.
Finally, I note that we are told that the UK wants to take its time leaving. Maybe in two years. Simon Manley, The British Ambassador to Spain spoke to the ex-pats saying, “Don´t worry, everything will remain the same for at least two years.”
Having lived in Spain for nearly 13 years, I am pretty certain this is not how they think. Spain is NOT OK with any of this and neither is the rest of Europe. The far right in Europe want the UK out now and will make it very uncomfortable if they try to hang on. Without wishing to sound too melodramatic, the UK must be punished and the punishment will be swift and enduring. Why, if for no other reason than they want to make an example of what other countries can expect should they deem to do the same. I know the Little Englanders will be pleased about this, but I for one view the future with concern.
So far the only official response from Spain has been chilling. “Thank you Great Britain, you have just moved the Spanish flag one step closer to Gibraltar. You will no longer be able to shelter under European Directives. It is a bi-lateral issue now.” I predict an awkward time ahead between Spain and the UK. There will be no hiding behind the soft apron strings of Germany or France. Some of their members will enjoy watching Spain try to give the UK a real spanking. Entertaining as this spectacle would be for the viewers at home, a monster is watching from across the other side of the pond. Cue sinister ‘Jaws’ theme music as a ghostly spectre rises from the greens of an oceanside golf course in Scotland. Oh No, NOT Godzilla. It’s ….. DONALD TRUMP!!!!!
Happy BREXIT day….