Brexit - What Now for Europe and the UK?
Brexit - The Future of the EU Under Threat?
On June 23rd 52% of people in the UK voted to leave the EU. Brexit is now a reality. What will the future hold for Europe? Some extreme forecasts suggest that other countries such as Denmark, Greece and Italy will also hold a referendum with remain or leave on the ballot paper. If the vote is leave will the EU then collapse? Can France and Germany, economic giants, keep it all together? And some historians say that the existence of the EU helps keep the peace in a historically volatile Europe.
Run-up to Brexit
For the people of England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, UK, Europe, the pressure is well and truly on. We're to have a referendum to decide whether or not we want to be IN or OUT of the European Union.
The debate is already red hot and opinions are polarised. This issue is definitely getting under the skin of the British like nothing I've seen in my adult life. On mainstream t.v., on the BBC, you can feel the tension as hostility towards Europe and the fear of uncertainty starts to bite.
For example, recently we've heard loud voices telling us that, if we leave Europe, World War III will be triggered. Huh!!?? And in contrast those who want us to leave say that if we remain the UK will be swamped by 75 million Turkish people looking for work. Doh!!
Even the USA has become involved in the issue, President Obama stating clearly that he wants the UK to remain a member of the EU, to help keep the markets stable. I haven't heard from President Putin of Russia yet - he probably wants the UK out of Europe!
The powers that be in Brussels and Strasbourg want the UK to get ever closer to being European, they don't want us to stay as 'part-time' members.
For me, the nagging question has to be asked - As an English person can I ever truly say I'm a European? Answer, no. I'm English, simple geographical fact; I was born in England therefore I will always remain English. I may travel, even live, on mainland Europe but I could never call myself a European. I'm just culturally unable to bridge the gap?
But hang on, I'm also British. I hold a British passport which means that I'm a citizen of Great Britain, the UK, a union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, held together rather smartly in the Union Jack flag.
Wherever I go in the world I show my British passport. To all officialdom and others I'm British, a Brit, a Briton. There is no mention of England. I may call myself English but for all intents and purposes that's just me reinforcing the fact that there's an area of Great Britain called England.
But wait a moment. Am I not becoming a European too? After all, the UK is a paid up member of the EU - European Union - and we used to share the same land mass.
For most of my adult life I've known about the European Union, initially a Common Market in which the whole of Europe could trade in peaceful fashion. The people of the UK voted to enter this union in 1975 and since then we've been trading away like crazy, forging ever closer links with our continental friends.
Crucially however, the UK did not join the Euro in 2002, the single currency set up to speed and smooth business transactions. The UK kept the pound sterling £, which so far seems to have a been a wise decision, given the recent financial crisis affecting nations such as Greece, Italy and Spain..
Fast forward a generation and we've reached a crunch point. Uneasiness in the UK over issues such as immigration, border control and lack of democracy has risen to such heights that David Cameron, the British prime minister, decided that the only way to put the unrest to bed was to hold a referendum.
David Cameron wants the UK to remain in Europe and work for reform, which is definitely needed. Other strong politicians want to leave. The fight is on for the votes, to win the argument for or against.
I was surprised when David Cameron declared the referendum as the only way out of this situation. It's such a do or die method and he seemed such a lightweight politician - but I guess it was his way of saying Put Up or Shut UP!!
Once the votes are in, each vote counted and a decision declared we can then forge ahead, one way or another - remain and become stronger in Europe, brexit and become weaker in the world?
Vote Leave.....Vote Remain
Vote Leave Stereotypes
Eurosceptics, Brexiteers, Right Wingers, Old Empire Cravers, Nationalists, Monarchists, Little Englanders, Stay at Home Cynics, Lager Louts.
Vote Remain Stereotypes
Europhiles, Left Wingers, Socialists, Greenies, Republicans, Humanists, Eurostar Addicts, Immigrant Lovers.
Whatever the EU result - The English/British will always Love to Queue!
Continental people have a sex life;the English have hot-water bottles— George Mikes, writer, How to be An Alien, 1946
Typically English, So British
We all need our stereotypes. We all love to caricature others. So, what does it take to be a typical English person?
- you have to dote on the Royal family, bow and curtsey when they approach you, wave flags as they pass serenly in a limousine, never speak until spoken to, and sing the National anthem through tight lips and gritted teeth.
- laugh at yourself on a daily basis, giggle for no reason, smile at old people, swear and curse for the fun of it, run away from new fangled things, say you like it when you don't, be a rabbit in a lion.
- the class system is engrained into your psyche so be snobbish about almost everything in life except in rare circumstances art and the price of asparagus; look down on others, ignore the lower classes, do charity work and carry on as if nothing is wrong. Oh, and never question why the House of Lords, the second chamber to the House of Commons, has remained undemocratic for centuries.
- make sure you love dogs - leave their turds on the pavement for others to admire or carry them home in a plastic bag. Don't forget, your dog is the reason you speak to those dreadful people across the road when you meet them on the street, because they have a dog too.
- instinctively understand words like stroppy, cricket, geezer, Flying Scotsman, digestive, telly, allsorts, north south divide, lovey dovey, strewth, cor blimey.
- eat a huge fried breakfast at least once a month - two eggs, two rashers of bacon, two sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, black pudding, hash browns, and fried bread. Wash down with a barrel of strong tea.
- cry when a National Treasure dies, cheer when a foreign dictator is executed, applaud cold, damp, horrible weather, grumble, say 'don't know', 'feet up, cuppa tea, watch the soap', never eat horse meat, aspire to be a princess or celeb, secretly admire the shadowy side of life.
Independent UK or Part of Euro Superstate?
If the UK votes to leave the European Union the country will become totally independent. If it votes to remain it will eventually become part of a European Superstate. The basic arguments for and against remaining are as follows:
- has full control - over legislation, border, finances and so on.
- sovereign nation - governs itself.
- home grown democratic process.
- will not have full control.
- will not remain a sovereign nation.
- dependent on European Parliament.
5 Scenarios : If the UK leaves the EU
If the Brexit supporters have their way what could be the repercussions for Europe?
- other European countries might demand a referendum and cause chaos within the EU.
- the trading markets could get nervous, the Euro become unstable.
- inflation and hyper-inflation for poorer countries could follow.
- tourists and others coming to the UK from within the EU would need to apply for a visa or permit.
- tensions within the EU bureaucracy and various extreme parties could lead to fragmentation.
5 Scenarios : If the UK Remains in the EU
If the Remain supporters have their way what could be the repercussions for the UK?
- increased political union with EU, meaning more faceless bureaucracy and waste.
- decreased ability to self govern, erosion of sovereignty.
- net migration figures rise leading to more pressure on public services.
- potential for more business as Turkey and four other countries join the EU.
- renewed confidence in Europe means more influence on important issues.
More English, Less European?
It's all about identity. If we leave the EU will this give a boost to the right wing nationalists? If the vote is heavy in favour of leaving what kind of government will form as a result?
If the Brexit camp win what message will this send to the world? That the UK has become more insular, inward looking and unwelcoming? We don't need you Europe, you're too arrogant, cowardly and foreign? We can manage by ourselves merci beaucoup.
England is a Country or Not?
Officially England is not a country. It's a constituent part of the UK (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) which was formed way back when Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 without any heirs.
Next in line to the throne was a certain James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. This was back in the time when religious and political fervour was bubbling away - between the Catholics and Protestants mainly - and things could have got out of hand if a chap called Guy Fawkes had successfully blown up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Luckily he and his gang of terrorists were found out and duly tried and executed. This event is still celebrated today in England (not in Scotland) on November 5th, Bonfire Night so called, when effigies of Guy Fawkes are burnt on huge fires and everyone has a great family night out.
You see what a complicated history this tiny island has and we're nowhere near the end. But I'll cut a very long story short - Scotland and England and Wales were united as Great Britain in 1707, and in 1922 these three were joined by Northern Ireland ( the south of Ireland went its own way and became a separate state, Ireland or Eire).
So, I live in the UK, Great Britain, the British Isles, England. However there's a catch. When I watch international sport I watch, for example, the England football team, the England rugby team, the England cricket team BUT I do not watch the England Olympic team because there isn't one! I watch Team GB, Great Britain, a union of the four countries aforementioned.
To Vote or Not to Vote
Many British are stubbornly indifferent to elections, they just don't turn up mostly because they think that nothing will change no matter who or what they vote for. The turn out for general elections is always below 50% of those able to vote. Sometimes it drops to below 40%.
I always vote, I don't want to miss out on what is a direct way of expressing a democratic right.
The coming referendum however could be different. Political commentators are forecasting a 60-70% turn out, which would be a revelation. I get the feeling that more and more people are starting to realise the importance of this referendum and they want a piece of the action, leave or remain.
Europe : Fact No 1
It is every EU citizen's right to move and settle anywhere within its territory. Around 13 million EU citizens currently live in another EU country. Two million Britons live in Spain and France for example. Family members have a right to join those living in another EU country.
Europe, Free Movement and the Schengen Agreement
I've been to Europe many times. I'm married to a Dutch woman and we return each year to her home country to celebrate their New Year so I know what it's like to drive on Belgian roads! I've eaten Dutch food, including their raw salted herring.
I have two good friends who live a short distance from that bureaucratic beast we know as Brussels. The Belgians, them Belgiums as my father used to say, speak a beautiful, soft, lilting version of Flemish, which the Dutch have amplified and coarsened into Nederlandse!
Driving up towards the now invisible Dutch border (with the old border station like a ghost of times past), through France and Belgium, you can enjoy the freedom of movement without having to stop for passport checks and the like. This is good news for those who have to do business in Europe or like me have family there. From the ferry terminal to the ends of Europe if you so prefer.
As a member of the EU all Brits have this freedom to travel across these invisible borders, no hassles, no official searches, nothing. And the same goes for truck drivers from within the EU.
The Schengen Treaty was agreed in 1985 and now includes 26 countries. This meant that all internal borders were abolished, allowing this freedom to move - to travel for leisure, to do business, to go work.
With recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the many millions of displaced people seeking new lives in Europe, the Schengen treaty has come under great pressure. Many countries have tightened border controls as a result and new rules mean that this freedom to cross borders has been severely curtailed.
The UK is not part of the Schengen agreement so has control of its own borders. However, any EU citizen looking for work is still allowed free movement. As you might expect, this has allowed many poorer people from countries such as Bulgaria and Romania to seek work in the UK, where wages are up to 5 times higher.
Eurosceptics have voiced strong opinion about the sheer number of East Europeans coming into the UK. They claim that wages are being driven down and public services like the National Health Service are stretched to breaking point. They claim that East europeans come to claim welfare benefits.
Others say that economic migrants help the economy in the long run because they work hard and pay taxes back into the system. Many work for one, two or three years, sending money back to family, then return to their home countries.
Who knows the truth? You hear one set of figures from a reputable source, then another. I can only go on what I have seen and heard in my local town. Yes, there are more young east Europeans looking for work - I see them in the library, in the malls, coming in and out the Polski supermarkets.
Are they all scroungers, leeching benefits from the taxpayer? No. Are they all educated, well spoken university graduates come to help the UK prosper? No. Are they causing me any serious hassle? No. Are they here in the UK legally? Yes. End of story?
Europe : Fact No 2
If you're an EU citizen all you need is five years continuous legal residence in a host country, then you can stay there permanently. (Articles 19 and 20 of the EU Directive)
Britain and Immigration
This is the number one issue for many British people. The latest figure for net migration is 333,000 (December 2015 migrationwatchuk.org), roughly split halfway non EU and EU. Brexit supporters claim that this figure is unsustainable, a result of our being a member of the EU with its freedom of movement principle.
Recent surveys suggest that EU migrants are coming to the UK:
a) to work - 70%
b) to study - 20%
c) to see family - 10%
Many of the workers who come to the UK fill low paid jobs that British people seem to shy away from, like agricultural and catering work. Puzzling but true. Would things change if we left the EU and restricted the number of immigrants? The work would still have to be done. Who would fill the gaps?
Future England, Future Britain, Future Europe
The stakes are high, the decision crucial. But no matter the outcome there will always be the quote of one George Orwell to fall back on:
"....but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same."
Englishness, Britishness is a strange kind of hybrid. On the one hand visionary, musical, comedic, literary, artistic, soulful and romantic, on the other traditionally loyal to the point of madness, fixated with nostalgia, prone to aggression, dour and soulless.
Evolution works on all levels. The idea that we can be stronger outside of Europe, effectively ignoring our neighbours and allies, is I think, outdated and regressive. Survival of the fittest in the modern world means joining with others to counteract threats and dangers, such things as terrorism, climate change and financial uncertainty.
If we remain in the EU we can continue to gain advances in science, education and worker's rights. Above all, we can influence people within the EU and assert our traditional British values of tolerance, fairness and human rights.
As for the economic arguments for and against, I've put them all to one side. Why? So called experts on the economy say this, then say that. There is no knowing who is right because who can accurately predict the future?
Weighing everything up, and with European peace a priority, my vote will be to remain.
And one last thing....
If the Brexit supporters win the day then don't forget that the present government, David Cameron and most of his cronies, will soon lose power and the confidence of parliament. Who will then govern the UK?
There's little doubt that the three stooges Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Ian Duncan Smith will fill the senior roles of Prime Minister, Chancellor and Home Secretary. There are other luminaries such as Chris Grayling and Jacob Rees-Mogg waiting in the wings who would love to put their ideas into action.
I wouldn't be surprised if UKIP gain many new supporters whilst Labour will continue to slide down the greasy pole.
Imagine, Boris Johnson as the top dog. Help.
Would you vote to remain in or to leave the European Union?
© 2016 Andrew Spacey