Gentlemen and Hooligans
Unstructured Thoughts on a Very British Exit
23 June 2016 Britain votes to leave the European Union, an instution it joined 43 years previously, when it was known as the European Econonmic Community EEC. The EEC was created in 1957 afer the signtaure of the Treaty of Rome. Prior to this, France, Italy, Holland, West Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, the founding members of the EEC, had been in a trade fédération, The European Coal and Steel Community, created by the Treaty of Paris in 1951. As early as 1949, France and West Germany had signed trade accords in a spirit of rapprochment after the Second World War.
So ; you get the idea, for once in its history, a continent that has been ripping itself apart since the Napoleonic era, finally decide to get together in a trading organisation and make money not war. Imagine it as warring neighbours finally getting together and exchanging veg rather than isults across the garden fence.
Britain In Europe
And so we come to 1973, when the British Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath takes Britain into the EEC. We want a slice of the action. In 1973, Britian is in a pretty dire state . After an early 70’s economic boom fuelled by cheap credit, Britian is in serious economic decline, add to this massive public sector strikes and the energy crisis and …
Well in 1973 we are in the grip of the first oil crisis and the miners have gone on strike. British industry is working on a three day week to save energy, there are food shortages in supermarkets, power cuts are the norm and long lines of cars queueing for petrol at service stations become a regular sight. In 1974 there are two changes of government within 8 months. In 1975, the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Dennis Healey goes cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund for a huge cash bail out because the UK is bankrupt – Yes, the early 70’s in Britain were not good times, and so it is from energy starved, strike bound Britain that we cast a jealous eye across the Channel. The French and the Germans are doing okay. Those nations destroyed by war are doing better than the Brits. Hang on, we won the War didn’t we ????
A personal note on 1970’s Britain. In 1974 I went on a family camping holiday in France. The pound was worth 8 Francs meaning that us poor Brits could hardly even afford to shop in French supermarkets, we took most of our food with us, yet in France everyone had electricity and there were no petrol queues – life seemed normal.
Joining the European Economic Community will bring better times, and in a 1975 referendum on the question, 66% of Brits give a resounding YES to Great Britan’s membership of the EEC. Even Mrs Thatcher herself voted YES.
The Brits would of course have joined earlier, as early as 1969, however French président General de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s entry. The wiley old General didn’t dislike the Brits, he just didn’t trust them – especially that Churchill guy.
So, that was 43 years ago when living in Britain was still very much like living in the Second World War
The decision by the British people to leave the European Union – has been qualified as a « historic event » – the sinking of the Titanic was « historic » as was the fall of France in 1940. Historic events don’t always make for good history.
Why have the Brits voted to leave an instution, which at first glance at least seems to have brought them nothing but benefits over the last 4 decades ?
Well, the Brits (including Mrs Thatcher back in 1975) were very happy with the free trade, it was in the late eighties when those on the Continent wanted to go a little further that the Brits got cold feet. We didn’t want to get ino bed with these « foreigners »Yes I’ll come up for a coffee, but I won’t have sex, or at least I might consider it, but only if I can choose the position and the colour of the condom, and if you want to do anything kinky, then I’m out of here. » No better way if summing up the British position than a spot of metapohorical flippancy. This from the nation whose aristocraticy has reproduced itself ovr the centuries with the phrase « lie back and think of England. »
Ok, the Brits didn’t want to play ball (or balls) with the Europeans. But why ?
Well, this is where we get into the realms of « Britishness »
Lets look at some of the terms of reference
« Splendid Isolation » – referring to that time from the battle of Waterloo (June 18th 1815) to the signature of the Entente Cordiale in 1904 when the Brits more or less disappear from the European continent for roughly 100 years to concentrate on Empire building.
« The Dunkirk Spirit » – May 1940, the Gremans have thundered through France and the tatters of the British Expeditionary Force sit, marooned and awaiting imminent capture on the beaches in and around Dunkirk in the North of France – appeals are made for all owners of seaworthy craft to leave souhtern England and head for Dunkirk to rescue the soldiers of the beaches. In what was called « Operation Dynamo » hundreds of owners of small boats evacuate nearly 300,000 Britsh and French troops from in and around Dunkirk – so the Dunkirk Spirit – to do the impossible in the face of impossible odds.
« Stand alone Britian. » Those early days of the Second World War when britain stands alone, resisiting Nazi Tyranny.
There are more, but for the last couple of hundred years, the British attiude to Europe has been « better off without », add to this the near xenophobic mistrust of foreigners.
I’ve possibly gone too far in this last one, but the Brits have always cast a beady and mistrustful eye across the Channel as if those foreign types are up to no good and it is better no to get involved.
So, first factor in determining the success of the Brexiteers – this idea that Britain can go it alone. We built an Empire, we won the War, we won the 1966 world cup. It’s a kind of easy and popular generational nationalism based on past glory.
Talking of générations Consider the age of those who voted in the referendum, There are young voters of just 18 who have grown up in the peaceful, globalised Internet age. In the early 80’s it was quicker to get to the Moon than get to Paris from London and phoning home from France to the UK felt like getting a radio message into outer space. Now, the entire planet is one click away and getting anywhere is far easier than it used to be – though on my last travels around the UK driving to Scotland proved far more problematic than driving to Barcelona or Amsterdam. The French part of the journey was fine, the snarl ups started as son as we hit Dover.
Back on age – the génération of my parents – now in their early 80s. Mum grew up in Glasgow in the thirties – the Clyde was bristling with shipyards – she went to the launching of the Queen Mary. Britain had an Empire, and living in Scotland, multiculturalism was all about getting on with the English family who had just moved in next door. This was the War-winning génération. These were the kids born in Empire. These were kids indocrinated in mistrust – just an example – looking at a couple of my mum’s old school history and geography books I retrieved after her death – in history it’s all knights in armour and archers slaughtering the French at Agincourt and Crécy. In geography it’s all pictures of piith-helmetted missionaries administering to local native children who are referred to by the « N » word. I suppose this génération voted on its historical world vision – the last peole to have known Britain when it was « Great ». Remember too, that this génération have always seen Europe as a source of conflict, their parents had fought lived through or in the First World War, they were born and brought up in World War Two. Need I say more.
I might « tag » on to this génération those in the mid sixties to late seventies age group. As for the 50 somethings like me ??? We experienced the doldrums of early 70’s Britain, we were indoctrinated by teachers who had been born in the War but we were the first generation to emerge from the Dark Ages and reap the rewards of European intégration.
Looking at the electorate there is are also numerous regional, political and class divides and within this the fact that many people were not so much voting against Europe, but the pre-dominance of London. Take the example of a lady interviewed by the BBC in a fish and chip shop in Sheffield. She complained about the « London » government foresaking her city – a former powerhouse of the steel industry. She talked about the prédominance of all those « posh » people in London who think of northerners in terms of cloth caps and pigeon racing – for sure, this referndum has opend up some serious regional divides in England. « All the money goes to London » the chip shop lady lamented, « we get bugger all up here. »
This was where the Labour party came unstuck – its leader, Jeremy Corbyn half heartedly campaigned for the UK to remain in Europe, expecting loyal Labour voters to follow the party line no matter what, – they didn’t, but then this also reflect the shifting change in the Labour Party, which is now far more Chattering Class than working class – Left thinking, politically correct, London based intellectuals and bourgeois bohemian types now hold the reigns of power in the Labour Party and as this referendum result shows, they have successfully alienated légions of their traditional supporters.
So, not just a vote against European but a vote of North against South.
Of course this doesn’t expain why vast swathes of the south of England voted for the Brexit – this is where the migration factor comes in to play.
There are roughly one million Poles in Britain, working in all sectors and working in many of those sectors where the Brits just refuse to work – cleaning, agricultural work, catering and service jobs. « What do we do now ? » asked one Polish lady also interveiwed on the BBC. « We haven’t taken jobs, we just do the the jobs no one else wants and after this vote we just feel so unwelcome. »
What happens if all the Poles, Czhecks, Romanians suddenly go home ? Well there are those sectors of British industry that might just grind to a halt. Like the Spainsh waitress living in London who said « this city is run by foreigners. »
Immigartion was the big issue – image after image of columns of Syrians, Libyans, Albanians, Afghans, piling up in the Jungle in Calais the xenophobic campaign led by the Uk Independence Party. That has been the most offensive and devicive part of the campaign – fear of the foreigner. Thse towns like Boston on the east coast of England, where there has been a sizeable Polish community for nearly ten years, voted 70% in favour of Brexit. Dover, the largest UK Channel port where immigrants from Albanai and Serbia have been piling up for years voted 62% in favour of Brexit.
Fear of the foreigner, fear of terrorists, but the terrorists have been here for years. They were British. As far as I can remember those who perpertrated the 7/7 bombings in London were all UK born and bred
Within the immigration issue came the idea that once out of Europe, the UK could once agin control its borders and set immigration quotas and why not stop immigration all together and why not send all the existing immigrants home ? The Brits (or the English) fear being swamped and losing their identity – but don’t cry victory too early chaps, once the UK has left Europe, the immigrants will keep coming. Did you know that the UK Border Force that controsl the UK coastline has only five clippers assigned to the task and three of them have been mothballed. In France though, we have 20 boats doing the same job 24/7. This isn’t the EU, this is a UK government economy drive.
I could go on, but what happens now ?
In simple Brexit terms, British politicans now need to get round the table and negotiate with their (soon to be former) European partners. Naturally the Brits will want to keep all the trade benefits, but what statu sis given to Britain in Europe dépends on just how well or how accrimoniously the négociations go, and just how generous or pragmatic other EU member states are willing to be after this giant slap in the face.
As for Brexit arguments about controls on immigration and former EU membership money (that figure of 350 million pounds a week) going into the national health service, well if it happens, it won’t be for anothet two years at least, if ite ver happens at all. Already Brexit campaigners are busy haunting our TV screens, uttering phrases such as « well we didn’t actually say that » or « well i twas perhaps an oversimplification of the issues. » I just think that the Brexiters have led a « jam tomorrow » campaign promising what they cannot ever deliver.
However I am more interested in the ramifications for the Union – those historic douments and accords that bind the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the principality of Wales. For sure, the Scots will eventually get a second referendum, and perhaps not within two years, but certainly within a génération, they will get their independence. As for the thorny question of Northern Ireland – which voted to remein in the EU – I like the Sinn Fein idea of a referendum on a united Ireland. Oh yes, if we get going on the « Irish question » again, the regtrograde step of Brexit will only look like one small step back compared to the leap back in time that Ireland will represent. Our current peace in Ireland will just be a short historical lull in hostilities. We talk about Islamic fundamentalism and the war agaist Daesh, this will be second division stuff when we open up old wounds. Why not let the Irish, like the Scots decide on their destiny. They want to be part of Europe, let them do it. And of course when the UK does leave, there is the qusetion of all that Eurpean funding that gets pupmed into Northern Ireland.
In England the vote has revealed some cataclysmic regional issues – the power and prédominance of London and the forgotten North. Te régions want power and they want their say – more money from London for the régions and more elected regional assemblies with proper tax raising powers – why not a fédéral model along the lines of the German model ?
I think that our natonal glue is about to become unstuck. What realy keeps us together ?
I might surpise you all, when I say it is the Queen. At 90, she has become a national « grandmother » – she manages to some degree to bind us all in momentary shows of patriotism. It is said that the monarchy is more popular thane ver – wrong. The Queen is more popular thane ver, and when she goes, I reckon the monarchy will get reduced to something along the lines of the Dutch or the Swedish model.
End of monarchy, end of Union, the break up of Britain into a regional or even tribal society, perhaps not, but the UK left Europe also because of top heavy administration and paperwork. By the time the new governance of Britain is sorted out, I think you’ll be in for more paperwork than ever.
Finally in politcal terms ? Well Cameron is out and, short of a meteroical politcla disaster, Boris will make it as leader of the Conservative party, though this doesn’t mean that everyone will vote for him to be Prime Minisiter, but if Boris is the new face of Britain, I guess we’ll all be living somewhere back in the nineteenth century – having said this, he did make quite a half decent Mayor of London, but that is London and not the new fractude Britain. I’m not sure if the Conservative party will be able to pull together after this referendum, and I certainly think that the Labour party as we know it, is dead in the water. As for UKIP, they were only a single issue party. They’ll eventually get absorbed into the Conservative party now they have no raison d’être
And in everyday terms ? Well EU Helth and Hygiene and Enviromental regualtions give us clean beaches, clean restaurants, decent air quality – if you want to go back to shitty beaches, be my guest.
All things considered, it was the Englsih who voted for the UK to leave the EU and for thos reason, I don’t think that we can talk about « Britishness » anymore, because in a few years I reckon that Britain as it is now will cease to exist, and «Britishness » will become a historical concept.
And now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, then the EU is all you will hear about for the next two years as the UK negotiates to leave and in doing so, the national political landscape is redrawn. Yes folks for the next two years ; Europe ill never be out the national media, and those who aligned themselves in support of Brexit will tear themselves apart as they try to negotiate a very British withdrawal.
So, I hear the Brexiteers screaming that this is a revoulution, the people have taken back the power from Brussels and Britain is once again « Free » to determine its own destiny. I don’t know why, but I can’t help thinking of Cromwell or even the Glorious Revolution of 1688. How retrograde is retrograde ? In the latter it was a Dutch monarch who ended up on the Throne and as for Cromwell – well I will let you draw your own historical judgement, but « God’s Englisman » wasn’t as « Christian » as that.
Believe me folks, in a few years, you’ll all be clamouring to join the EU again and if the EU give you a bad Brexit deal, don’t be surprised.
In conclusion, I personally found this a fractious, fratricidal, accrimonious and xenophobic campaign that brought out all that is worst in English nationalism. I can fully understand why any foreigner feels unwlecome in Britain after this result. I wrote on a Facebook post that I wasashamed of my country. I think one should always try to be proud of one’s country, no matter what, but this is difficult at the moment when the Brexit result has confirmed all those more négative, nationalist sides of England – a nation of gentlemen and also hooligans.
Thankyou for reading my lengthy and ustructured diatribe