Brexit – letter to a young English friend

Brexit cartoonI don’t suppose you remember the old Flanders & Swann song with a refrain that ran:

The English, the English are best
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

I mention it because none of this is about the “Brits”, is it? It’s not about the so-called United Kingdom either. It’s about England and the English. They hold the whip hand and they really don’t give tuppence for all of the rest.

England made a complete fool of itself with the 1956 Suez invasion and again in 1982 in the Falklands. On that occasion I remember writing to your father, “How does it feel to be on the side of the bad guys?” The English lined up with the bad guys again in 2003 when they followed Bush into Iraq, guns blazing, without the faintest idea of how they would deal with the consequences. And England’s fourth great international cock-up since the Second World War has been 40 years in the making. Right from the start of the Common Market (as it was in the beginning) the English wanted special treatment and demanded it as of right. All along, they’ve kept Europe at arm’s length, interested only in what they could get out of it. England has never shared European aims for something bigger, something better. It’s no coincidence that the worst effects of globalisation (i.e. predatory financial capitalism) are due to the UK and the USA: the UK is culturally closer to the USA than it is to Europe. In 1997 Tony Blair – elected with a huge majority – had the chance to change things. He could and should have dragged the UK, kicking and screaming, into the Eurozone, Schengen, and full integration with the European Union. But he funked it, preferring to curry favour with his rich pals in the City. That was the beginning of the end. Now the City (home of the UK’s main “industry” – i.e. money) will soon find itself on the outside looking in.

In response to this article in the Guardian (“If you’re young and angry about Brexit, you’re right to be”), I wrote:

I’ve been living in France for the last 35 years – more than half of my life – and before that I spent 7 years in Germany. I speak three European languages fluently and I’m one of the few real “Europeans” I know.

So I’ve been able to watch England from the outside for the last 40 years and I’ve seen what a shitty place it’s become. How it’s put the brakes on every European attempt to improve the lot of ordinary people. How selfish it is. How all it cares about is money. How its inequalities outstrip those anywhere else in Europe except perhaps Portugal and Greece.

And my reaction is: fucking good, now bugger off and let the rest of Europe get on with it!

One of the replies I received was, I can see some sense in your comment but in coming to this particular conclusion you’re potentially condemning 17 million people who probably aren’t as you described.” To which I replied, “True. But I’m thinking of the 350 million others.” You, my dear, are clearly among those 17 million and you feel angry and betrayed. I can’t blame you for that, but I’ve been warning you for years that England was accelerating along the wrong path.

Undoubtedly Europe as a whole now faces several very difficult years. The English will seek to prolong the chaos, under the illusion that all those foreigners will eventually knuckle under and give the spoilt child what it wants. But that ain’t gonna happen. The rest of Europe is thoroughly pissed off with the UK and will be glad to see the back of it. In Le Monde Brexit is already off the front page – it’s done and dusted.

I’ve seen it suggested (here) that Parliament could reverse the referendum result by refusing to trigger article 50, on the grounds that “Parliament is sovereign”. Wrong. The people are sovereign. They normally delegate that sovereignty to Parliament through the electoral process, but if the government asks the people to make a decision and Parliament doesn’t object, then Parliament has nothing more to say. You and I know that the people were manipulated by a campaign based on lies and shameless xenophobia, but – be that as it may – the people have spoken. A referendum is a very blunt instrument – there’s always the risk it will lead to narrow margins and extreme polarisation. It can tear nations (and families) apart. But once the people have spoken, the politicians have no choice but to do as they’re told. For Parliament to even consider doing otherwise would be adding insult to injury and would unleash fury and internal strife, probably on a scale not seen since Cromwell’s time.

The French finance minister said the other day that he had the impression the UK “hadn’t thought this through and didn’t realise what the consequences would be” (does that sound familiar?). I find it quite extraordinary that Cameron and his bunch don’t seem to realise that they are now powerless. Only yesterday the prime minister (well… sort of) was bleating on about how Europe had to leave him room to manoeuvre on immigration. And as for that fool Johnson, how can he possibly claim that the UK will – as a matter of course – still have unfettered access to the single market? Theresa May for prime minister? She backed the Remain camp but didn’t take much part in campaigning and then advocated a withdrawal from the European convention on human rights! See what I mean? They just don’t get it.

You wrote, “I have been grieving about the fucking mess we are now in. This country no longer represents me.” And my heart bleeds for you. But not for England. As for me, I’ve started filling in forms to apply for French nationality – come and join me.

3 thoughts on “Brexit – letter to a young English friend

  1. There’s a good deal of truth in this, but many British people in Europe and many Europeans in the UK will be left high and dry. I for one would prefer to remain in Italy where I have worked and lived for 26 years, as, the UK has indeed become a shitty place, but working as I have done for a UNIDO subsidiary, I have never had the requirement to take up residency and consequently my status, when I retire and when my EU citizenship is stripped from me, will be uncertain.

    1. Never fear, David Cameron really really cares and we’re all in this together.
      More seriously, I’m not sure I follow. Why does working for a UNIDO subsid prevent you from taking up residence and applying for naturalisation?

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