Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Brexit II

The debate over whether the UK should remain in the European Union is heating up as the date of the "Brexit" referendum approaches (June 23). The other day at work I heard a couple of colleagues, both British, discussing it in the hallway. Arguing about it, even.

And when Dave and I went to the Chelsea Flower Show on Saturday we ran into a contingent of "Leave" campaigners outside the gates, handing out fliers. That was interesting because so far, at least in London, the "Remain" group has seemed more visible to me. I picked up a brochure and read their arguments for leaving -- basically, as I said earlier, although they're couched in concern for the future of the NHS and national security, they mainly come down to immigration. "Imagine if Turkey joins this broken system?" the brochure warned, in italics.

As I've said before, being an immigrant and non-citizen myself, I can't vote in the Brexit referendum. But the "Leave" arguments remind me so much of the pro-Trump position in the United States. There's worry that public services are being swamped, that the culture is being corrupted, with a healthy dose of fear of brown-skinned people thrown in for good measure.

Accompanying this debate is a rising tide of right-wing and nationalist politics all across Europe. Anyone who knows anything about history ought to be worried about that phenomenon.

I just think you can't turn back the clock. A lot of people -- and I say this about both the UK and the United States -- want that "Leave It To Beaver" ideal, when everyone on television was white and women wore pearls to do the dishes and many of the world's disadvantaged had the good sense to stay in their own disadvantaged countries. But putting up walls doesn't work. Isolationism isn't the way to go. It never has been.

Is integrating immigrants into our societies difficult? Of course. Does it strain our resources? Yes. But then we need to invest more in those resources. We need a fairer distribution of economic gains so our own middle classes don't feel excluded. We need to engage more with other countries to educate women and stabilize population growth and political unrest, so that refugees and potential immigrants have reasons to stay home. After all, didn't the western world gain a lot of its wealth by plundering the rest of the globe? We didn't get where we are by growing potatoes.

If the machinery in Brussels and Strasbourg is broken, then we need to fix it. Reform isn't impossible.

In the end I think the best example we can provide -- in both the UK and the United States -- comes from being free, tolerant, open societies. Turning ourselves into gated communities is not the answer. It's sometimes uncomfortable to live that example. But it's also right.

(Photo: West Hampstead, yesterday.)


  1. Powerful articulation Steve. Thank you. As you say, you can't turn the clock back so that is why my pencil is poised over the Remain box - but not with any great belief in The European Union. It seems to me that Cameron did not achieve anything worthy of note when he went to Brussels earlier this year seeking reforms. On the ballot paper there should be a box that allows voters to write a sentence or two about desirable reforms. Besides why should it all be about "In" or "Out" - there could surely be a third position - "Half In/Half Out" like Norway, Switzerland or Iceland. I saw a "Leave" hoardings poster (American: billboard) near Northampton on Saturday. It said "Europe - Yes! European Union - No!" In the end, we can never truly leave.

  2. I can't begin to understand the politics of the UK or the European Union. All I can say is that this is a mighty fine piece of writing and I agree with you with all of my heart.

  3. I agree with you completely. We plundered the rest of the world, set up dictators to enable that plundering, it is our bombs whether or not we are the ones dropping them but in many cases we are that are destroying the towns and cities of these refugees. tax the millionaires and billionaires, invest in services. it is in this day and time impossible to be isolationist. it is a global economy and getting to be a global culture. the complainers don't seem to mind that we have imported our culture everywhere. I personally prefer diversity....in my country, my city, my town, and my neighborhood.

  4. Well said Steve. I also agree completely and wish we had leaders who could convince people that diversity and equality is the way to proceed.

  5. Wow, you should submit this to a newspaper for publication. It's beautifully written and well thought out. The thing that scares me the most about this crazy political era we are in right now is how everywhere you look, we are split down the middle and opposition views are becoming more violent by the day. Four months ago I was dead certain that Trump couldn't win. Now I'm really afraid he will and civility will break down even further if he does.

  6. borders - closed countries are not the future, I reckon, we live on a finite planet plagued by old notions, we must act responsibly, stop greeding and breeding , ironically,to survive as a species. What is mine is yours, a leg up to folks needing it, we have nothing to lose by being open and giving- problems arise with fear of lack, greed, bossiness, that human condition of believing that we are individuals against the other individuals-reinforcing walls. resistance to let go of imperialism. And then there is contrived religion that also must be abolished, science, please!Blowing up things because of an invisible guy in the sky- insane! Humans are insane. I love London for the very reason that It is like a giant baby dumped his muti, colored lego's out on the city, all sorts - each piece adding to the building of a wonderful thing!

  7. lego's being different nationalities,various partnering preferences, sizes - to be a bit more clear- all sorts.

  8. Wow ... I'm with everyone else: how well said.

    An interesting aspect that I'm not hearing much about (on the far side of the pond) is opinion in Scotland about Brexit. Was told by connections there that many Scots want to remain in, and should England vote to leave, it may precipitate another referendum on nationalism--which was fairly close the last time. Someone else mentioned that if England votes to leave, many banks HQ'd in London will have to shift operations too. Wish I knew more about it. So many problems on the political front over here that it is difficult to focus. Mary

  9. This is the best post I've ever read. You hit the nail on the head and you have the authority to do it. You.ve spent time with other cultures and that changes our lives for ever. England wants to leave the European Union for all the wrong reasons. Our past and present mistakes are coming back to haunt us.

  10. For the United States some days I wonder if we're going to have to fight for civil rights all over again. I had no idea there was so much prejudice and bigotry today. Just amazes me. How are we ever going to get a handle on it? I suppose the United States has always vigorously opposed immigration but it seems worse today. I actually think it only seems worse because I'm living it today. Reading history I see it's been worse. What a shame.

  11. The whole Brexit (or Bremain) debate is much too complex to boil down to a simple yes or no referendum. I suspect that even for those who carefully consider the various pros and cons, it will come down to gut feeling and emotion in the end. And voting based on emotion alone usually ends badly.

  12. Another excellent post Steve. Sometimes outsiders (non-citizens and immigrants) can see things more clearly and in a dispassionate manner and therefore are better able to keep to the middle ground when commenting.

    Ms Soup

  13. Steve Reed for President of both Britain and the United States!

  14. YP: Thanks for the kinds words. I feel like Britain already is "half out" having not opted into the common currency, but you're right -- there are further degrees of separation. I think the whole machine needs work and the UK should be part of that reform.

    Ms Moon: Thanks! Being a relatively recent immigrant to the UK I can't say I'm an expert, but I'm trying to figure it all out! The commonality with trends in the states and in continental Europe is intriguing and alarming to me. Something bigger is going on here.

    Ellen: Your point about the weapons is a good one. We gnash our teeth about war and conflict overseas, and yet pour millions of dollars worth of weaponry into these conflict zones. What do we THINK will happen?!

    Cheryl: It's partly up to leaders but it's also a function of being exposed to diversity and living with it, don't you think?

    Sharon: Thanks! My newspapering roots must be showing. :) I still don't think Trump can win. I hope I'm right.

    Linda Sue: Religion is an interesting player in all this. I generally feel about it the way you do -- that doing away with it altogether would be best! But you can't do that by force. Education is the best solution, and it will take generations. But the world is moving in that direction. (Which is what freaks out the fundamentalists so much.)

    Rafe: Yes, I've heard that too. It's been said here that the Scots are much more pro-Europe than the English, and Brexit could precipitate another effort by them to secede from the UK.

    Red: The BEST one? Really? Thanks, but I'm sure others have been better. :)

    Jenny-O: Thanks! :)

    Linda: It IS frustrating to still cope with prejudice after decades and decades of working against it. But you're right -- our society has confronted anti-immigrant sentiment before. I always think of MLK's quote: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

    Parrots: I hope people take the time to really think about these issues. But who knows.

    Ms Soup: As Parrots said, emotion plays a big part in all this for many voters. (For better or worse!)

    Elizabeth: Oh, Lord, now there's a job I WOULD NOT want! :)

  15. Hear Hear! It's the same in Germany only with slightly different scenarios but basically creating a strong enemy, a wall of hatred and stoking a sense of being left out etc.
    I sometimes think it's all down to hate. Suddenly it seems ok to be nasty and rude and in the end let's call it freedom of expression and if that does not cover it, there always blame to resort to. Blaming others, strangers preferably. Strangers who are not even near us. I have stopped ignoring racist and nasty remarks at work and elsewhere and I now get involved, asking people to mind their manners, show respect and check the facts etc.

    As we all know, the opposite of hate is not love but indifference. Love is still the best inspiration, though.