Anyone struggling to see the wood from the trees about the Brexit debate? I know I have been. I bloody hate the term, for the record. Taking this complex and important series of questions down to such an inane play on words is an insult to British sensibilities and the national psyche. The same inanity is reflected in the referendum itself, which offers two choices alone: ‘in’ or ‘out’. What a dumb, stupid idea.
British citizens are faced with one of the most important decisions in their lifetimes, which will affect generations to come. The fact this is being decided on such a fundamentally binary perspective beggars belief — there is no third choice, for example, “spend the next five years planning a sound economic future and then go for that” is not on the table. Nor, as far as I can tell, any other way of gauging national opinion beyond “make your mind up, you uncultured peasants.”
The UK population is, by the nature of this incompetently presented, badly managed and opportunistically twisted ‘decision’, being right royally done over but whatever the result, the consequences will be felt for years to come. So, what is anyone to do when faced with this situation? The answer, as we have been given no other choice, is to vote. But which way? Having read a crapload of writings from both sides of the debate, I’ve distilled out a number of factors.
The global banking collapse, and the subsequent UK government focus on ‘austerity’, is having a profound effect on our national psychology. Economies remain in recession across the world. Many banks are still struggling as organisations; but meanwhile an increasing proportion of wealth is in the hands of a decreasing number of people. Such folks care little for national boundaries, nor for the continued financial challenges of the many.
The collapse is generally accepted to be the fault of the banks and the regulators, the former who took advantage of a lack of financial oversight (including hiding risk) and the latter who failed to provide regulations to prevent this. The creation of the Euro led to a financial expansion in Europe; when the financial collapse happened, many countries in the Eurozone became vulnerable — Ireland, Greece and Spain among others.
UK immigration has increased considerably over the past 15 years, to the discomfort of many whose opinions on the matter were ignored. Until 1982 net migration (people in minus people out) was negative; non-British citizens were ‘coming in’ in the 10s of thousands. In 1996 this increased to over 100 thousand and in 2002, the number of non-Brits in the UK increased by 350 thousand, the figure staying above 250 thousand per year since.
In terms of the economic future, the general consensus among economists is that Brexit would be bad for Britain, if not the rest of the world. “Acrimony and rancour surrounded debates around austerity and joining the euro, but analysis from the Bank of England to the OECD to academia has all concluded that Brexit would make us economically worse off,” says a blog from the London School of Economics.
European membership costs. Figures of 350 million per week (50 million per day) have been confirmed as dishonest, but a figure of 23 million per day (according to fullfact.org) still sounds like a lot, even if it’s less than 50p/day per head of population. The question of whether such money could be better targeted is a good one, we generally rely on economists to help us through the detail. See above point on economics.
The political shenanigans have been hugely, astonishingly inappropriate. Only recently has it become clear that members of the Conservative party are essentially treating Brexit as an internal power play. Both sides have been fear-mongering; meanwhile other voices in the UK political debate are delivering little, through either not saying much being seen as a sideshow by the media. The overall result is a callous misuse of the UK democratic process to ply individual agendas.
So where does this leave us? Ultimately, we are comparing apples with, well, something completely different: let’s go for elephants. Immigration is absolutely the elephant in the room, as a significant proportion of the UK population are now saying ‘enough’ and mainstream political parties (from both sides) are finally listening. But confidence in politicians is at an all-time low.
As a consequence I am not at all surprised that people are wanting to leave Europe — this may appear to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut but for many, who feel they have not been listened to for over a decade, it offers a course of action which may result in being able to control immigration better. Even if the economic consequences are awful, people feel this is a risk worth taking or, simply, have given up believing what they are told.
This dynamic has been jumped upon by a small number of opportunistic politicians, who are quite comfortable with manipulating the population into thinking there is a place they will be better off. Do I believe the NHS will be better after Brexit? No, and nor do the Eurosceptic William Hague, nor John Major who likened the NHS in the hands of Johnson, Gove and Duncan Smith to, “a pet hamster in the presence of a hungry python.”
Which brings directly to my conclusion: I don’t believe the people wanting power care too much about what might happen post-Brexit. The ultimate debating positions are about either dealing with known challenges, or taking a step into an ultra-high risk unknown — with the risk including that the elephant, immigration, cannot be curtailed. However dirty the bathwater, we risk throwing out our future as a nation with it.
All due to a shitty, over-simplistic question on a shitty piece of paper. Damn right I am angry, and how I wish things could be different but they aren’t. I don’t think the really powerful care too much. US firms will move their headquarters — English-speaking Ireland is no doubt rubbing its hands together, but so will be other European centres. Mathematically and inevitably, some will shift.
The question becomes not whether things will be worse, but how bad they will be and whether it is a price worth paying. If the debate is about costs, then quite clearly any additional cost will be more expensive than necessary. If the twitterbit is really about immigration, then let’s tackle it head on, rather than just saying “it’s all going to be OK, don’t worry your pretty heads about it” which seems to have been the approach in the past.
As a deeply proud Englishman and internationalist, I want to see a strong country continuing to play on the world stage. At the moment, this is true. In the future, if we remain in Europe, it will continue to be, without a shadow of a doubt; if we leave, it might be but our future will be less certain. This is not a risk I am prepared to take, to gamble the futures of my descendants on a whim, manipulated by politicians whose main interest is to gain power at any cost.
A final shout-out to the clearly charismatic but ultimately psychopathic Boris Johnson. Boris is many things, but he is above all a historian, and this is his one big chance to make a splash. He will stop — no, he is stopping at nothing to achieve it. And I will not be his puppet.
Also published on Medium.