Friday, March 4, 2016

The Brexit

I don't know how much it's making news in the states, but we have our own version of an election controversy here in Britain -- the June referendum on the "Brexit," or whether Britain should leave the European Union.

Being a fairly recent immigrant to Britain I can't pretend to understand all the complexities of the issue. (And, I should point out, I can't vote in the Brexit referendum.) But basically, a segment of the British (and specifically the English) chafe at the bureaucracy of Brussels. They especially chafe at rules affecting border control and immigration, which allow job-seekers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere virtually free access to Britain.

People here complain about Europe dictating, for example, the size and shape of bananas. But from what I can tell, immigration is the main driver of the campaign for Brexit -- a fear that Britain is being swamped by Romanians and Poles and immigrants from beyond Europe who happen to make their way to the continent and then easily navigate its open-border policy.

We even have a Donald Trump-like standard bearer, at least tonsorially speaking, giving voice to the Brexit campaign -- London mayor Boris Johnson.

Our friends and former Notting Hill neighbors Chris and Linda appear in favor of the Brexit. Chris often says of Britain, "We are an island nation." It's a phrase he repeats so often that Dave and I make fun of it. By that, Chris means that Britain has a history of going its own way and giving a two-finger salute to the rest of the continent. (Whether that's true or not is debatable, but Chris uses those very words.)

Indeed, Britain never committed entirely to the European experiment -- it kept the pound, rather than switching to the Euro -- but seceding from Europe would still be plenty complicated. As Roger Cohen pointed out in a pro-Europe column in The New York Times, it could even lead to a breakup of the United Kingdom, because Scotland -- restive already -- supports Europe and could use the split to fuel a new campaign for independence.

As I said, I'm no expert. But I tend to agree, on principle, that staying together is better that going it alone. It seems to me that if there are issues about open borders and immigration and jobs, working within to solve those problems -- even within the calcified structure of Brussels -- would be better than breaking away entirely.

It is interesting, though, that the United States and Britain are both wrestling with similar immigration issues and mentalities during their respective elections -- isn't it?

(Photo: A red door in Marylebone, last month.)


  1. I hadn't been up on this news. Thanks for breaking it down for me. I tend to agree with you that open borders with Europe bring more benefits than not.

  2. In 1975 I voted against our entry into the European Union and I shall probably vote similarly in 2016. The architects of this so-called "experiment" were always focused on big business and economic matters - not upon ordinary people, identity, history or cultural matters. Like a huge juggernaut, the EU has trundled into areas where, in my view, it never had a mandate to go. I feel a much stronger allegiance with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India and America than I do with Slovakia, Lithuania and Hungary.

  3. I certainly can't say what is best for Great Britain but I can certainly say that humans have such an entrenched fear of "the other." I wonder if one day there will simply be no borders?
    I doubt it.

  4. I'm the hold the opposite view to Mr Pudding, but that is nothing new!

    I voted to join the Common Market as it was then. It felt as though we were breaking out of usual isolationism and actually becoming a part of a Europe with a brighter, more hopeful future.

    Yes, the EU focuses a lot on economics matters, but then that was the point of the exercise. The brief has grown over time, taking in fiscal union, the legislature, human rights etc, but as an ordinary citizen, I don't feel the EU has any impact on my day-to-day life and certainly not culturally.

    As you say, the crux of the whole debate is immigration and the question of who controls our borders. I suspect that those who make that argument are the same as those who feared immigration from India, Pakistan, the West Indies etc.

    I will probably vote to stay because I think we stand to lose more than we gain, but it really is a complex issue, too complex for a simple yes or no decision.

  5. I'd much rather follow the EU controversy than our freak show election season. This is most likely because I have no skin in the game there, whereas here we have one foot into Armageddon.

  6. At east our friends in Britain and the rest of Europe remain civil for the most part and manage to argue actual points rather than spewing political garbage and racist crap...the same cannot be said here. Equally interesting is the fact that we rarely have any in-depth news regarding other countries whether about issues such as this or anything else these days...

  7. I have no opinion on this. Britain is not a Schengen country so I always have to show my passport when I enter - same with Ireland btw.
    But I have quite a few British colleagues and friends working/studying/researching in Germany and other EU countries who are now getting worried about being stranded abroad without work permits or having no access to family at home and all sorts of other issues, insurance, tax etc. There is quite a run for German citizenship now among our friends as Germany allows dual passports. Also, I've been told it will affect research projects with EU countries, no more funding etc. which will cause a lot of trouble to existing teams.
    I know the banana business is stupid (in fact it was dropped be the EU several years ago - together with the cucumber regulation) but there is a lot of exchange and cooperation going on with EU countries on many levels that will suffer but are probably not of any interest to the popular opinion holders.

  8. You have a good handle on this situation. It's not black and white. We have to be willing to take the good and the bad together. We can't get rid of all the bad as it brings about other problems.

  9. Not sure how it would work, England is very expensive, would the government and the dole, whatever, keep all of the immigrants afloat? Taxes increase? The USA is so far away from the European nations becoming overly crowded, and there is so much room and money here, perhaps England would just be a stepping stone to legal immigration to the states...IF, if, umurkans could get over their bigotry, racism, fear and greed.

  10. I hadn't heard much about this, so thanks for the heads up. Like John, I need to read up on it.