You would have thought that since David Cameron had shown he could identify the key problem, his own goal should not have been a surprise. When for example he summed up the defining characteristic of the British people in his Bloomberg speech of 2013 committing the next Conservative Government to a referendum he should have been warned how the opposition to his dour economic prognostications would take shape:
Those words from his speech again:
“It’s true that our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation — independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.”
Throw into that mix a growing local frustration with the increasing flood of foreigners and refugees, a dash of helplessness on the part of the victims of economically threatened local industries, and a growing realization that the clumsy EU bureaucracy was insisting on UK accepting unpalatable responsibilities and non British slanted regulations which were bulldozed through with scant regard for the UK citizens’ nostalgia for good old British pride in past centuries of exceptionalism. No wonder so many in Britain were ready to protest.
It is true of course that over the last 43 years the EU had provided a ponderous economic boost to economic well being in the UK.
Unfortunately complicated accounting exercises are far removed from the daily realities as interpreted by a predominantly Euro-skeptic press in the UK. Back in the 1980s there were somewhat easier choices to stir the public. The Sun for example was in its element with its headline “Up yours Delors” exhorting its “patriotic family of readers” to stick it to Jacques Delors the then EU President of the Economic Union and tell him where to stuff the new European currency (the ECU). By the time the referendum was due most of the tabloids had long since given up on investigative journalists and their Brussels news desks and were in no position to identify the careless errors and even downright lies that both sides of the referendum brought to the table.
Campaign promises have an awkward habit of coming back to bite the promise makers in the nether regions. The 350 million pounds paid to the EU each week did make the Leave campaign pledge to direct that money to the NHS a genuine no-brainer. By the time Cameron’s team had tried to show that this was totally misleading in that much of the money was returned to Britain in the form of subsidies etc, the talk-back hosts and Tabloid editors had long since lost interest. Mind you the Leave campaign leaders had made a tactical error with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage both having themselves photographed next to the NHS sign, because the subsequent denial that that was not what they meant is hard to accept for those in the Leave camp who now claim they were misled.
Although, before the recent referendum, an increasing strident press had been parading the faults of the EU before the British public and in particular stressing the tide of refugees fleeing the destruction of their homelands, the realities were always more complicated. One blind spot was that it was NATO friends and allies who were behind the bombing and shelling the cities to drive the refugees out and into Europe. Certainly there were some dramatic failures with some Euro-nations struggling for economic survival and there was increasing unease about the repeated requests for bail-outs on the part of the better performing economies like Britain and Germany.
So is it good or bad that Cameron has signalled that the UK is leaving the EU? The pound promptly lurched down and even if it returns to its previous value the current uncertainties and unknown relationships yet to be established makes investment in the UK problematic in the short term future.
Although the more overtly patriotic British are no doubt pleased, the retention of essential trade ties with European are still hypothetical. The EU leaders have already signalled that any future trade agreement will carry a minimum of accepting free entrance of immigrants from Europe.
In the lead up to the referendum Norway was touted as an example of how a non-EU nation could enjoy the economic advantages of the EU without being a member. Those who made that statement were being disingenuous in that Norway is still required to conform to all EU regulations including freedom of movement of those seeking employment.
Since for many of the Leave faction the whole idea was to restrict entry to immigrants this insistence that Britain must retain the acceptance of migrants is probably a bridge too far. Some might argue that the European nations will preserve the current ties if only for their own self interest. At the same time the key decision makers might well be irritated by the current rhetoric such as the self congratulatory I told you so message to the EU from the more intemperate organizers of the leave campaign eg Nigel Farage’s rant in Brussels, and deliberately block British interests in reprisals. That is a set of decisions still to be played out. My personal money would be on a stern message to Britain that they should not be seen to benefit from the likely walk-out if only because the Commission will believe the nations currently wavering over continued membership need such a message.
No doubt many in Britain will be horrified that the apparent Scottish “Stay” majority are now saying that they see in the recent “Leave” majority in England sufficient cause for splitting from Britain. The other group who are clearly disturbed are the numerous European immigrants to Britain who are now finding themselves targeted by a sudden increase in xenophobia. In the last few days a spate of anti-foreigner messages have been passed to Muslims and those who are visibly non white. The Poles in particular seem to have been recipients of some of the worst of the anti foreigner messages and a spate of anti German tags are being seen in the city streets. Even if the legislation can be modified to the politicians satisfaction it will take a lot longer to smooth over the current community relationships.
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