The UK and Europe. What’s next?

Waking up on Friday morning to see 52% of the population had voted to leave the EU came as a shock, leaving me with feelings of disbelief, anger and sadness. This is the biggest peacetime decision to impact the United Kingdom since the end of the Second World War, as far as the consequences are concerned. Many voters appear to have made their decision to vote ‘leave’ based on wanting to stick two fingers up at the establishment, or concerns about immigration. I can sympathise with the first, given most people despair of our politicians, or are completely disenfranchised with Westminster; something needs to change. On the second, I can see why people worry about ‘how crowded the UK is becoming and the strain of our infrastructure’, but think we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, and encouraged a dangerous and growing trend in xenophobia; thankfully the great majority of the UK population, on both sides of the vote, are by no means racist, and pretty level headed most of the time (just don’t push them too far).

It’s clear we’re in for several difficult years, and that we’re all going to have to work very hard to make it a success. Hopefully it can work and I’ve some thoughts on that later on, so if you want to get to the positive bits you might want to skip the next section.

The ranty bit
It’s clear there have been lies, disinformation and false propaganda spread by both the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ campaigns. Only now are the mainstream media and politicians starting to talk straight about what could happen, and what the actual facts are where they’re known. I acknowledge there were a number of experts who did talk sense beforehand, but they were unfortunately ignored or overlooked by most.

It’s sickening seeing Leave campaigners now back-tracking on statements they made prior to the referendum. I don’t think I need to go into detail as it’s easy to find, and I’m trying to limit the length of this post as it appears most folks aren’t willing to commit time to reading lengthy articles which might actually contain sound reason and factual content; I failed on limiting the length of this post by the way.

It’s massively frustrating seeing some Leave voters now wishing they hadn’t voted that way, as they hadn’t really understood the consequences beforehand. Or saying they’d never thought the Leave vote would actually win. I can’t blame a lot of them as it’s a really complex issue on which, I believe, there should never have been a referendum, and on which there has been so much spin.

It’s disheartening seeing people think that all the red tape is now going to be slashed, even though our own Government and Civil Service invented a lot of it. Do you really think things are going to get easier for UK businesses, both large and small?

Related to the above, on the red tape front, I’m concerned that a lot of the initiatives and rules put in place to combat climate change, protect nature, and improve the environment, for example air pollution action, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting endangered species and habitats, will now be scrapped or put on the back-burner, due to more pressing economic and social concerns; although I believe the environmental challenges we’re facing are still far more pressing that anything else.

I’m frustrated that people think this will reduce immigration, when in all likelihood it won’t, as we’ll still have immigration from outside the EU, and if we want to sign trade deals with European countries I’m sure we’ll have to sign up to freedom of movement. Not only that but I wonder how many Brits living abroad will need to, or be forced to, return to the UK now. That could run into the hundreds of thousands, which surely will put additional strain on our infrastructure.

It’s saddening hearing about a growing tide of racism and xenophobia in many places. There are  lots of stories about inflammatory remarks being made to people who have come here to live and work from the EU, or further afield, many of whom just want a normal life away from harm’s way, and who contribute positively to our economy and culture. Stories I’ve read about so far include remarks like ‘you best start packing…’, a banner promoting repatriation/deportation as well as stopping immigration, polish children in tears after comments made to them at school by other children, offensive graffiti and just general abuse over social media. There are a lot of scared people in this country at the moment, on both sides, and scared people are more likely to do extreme things. A small but dangerous segment of the population seem to see the referendum decision as giving legitimacy for overt racism and abuse.

I’ve just bought a new house, and thankfully been able to fix my interest rate for a couple of years, but am very worried that potential interest rate rises, brought about by us leaving the EU, could make it hard for me to afford my mortgage in future. How on earth are young people going to stand a chance of getting on the housing-ladder if interest rates make it even more expensive; they’ll already be in massive debt if they’ve been through university anyway?

On the voting demographics front it’s sad that the younger generation, who are going to be impacted most by the changes, and who voted for the most part to Remain, are going to have to live with the implications for a lot longer than the older generation, a lot of whom voted to Leave, and who in many cases are comfortably well off with little to worry about on the pension or housing front.

It’s barmy that people in Wales, and other regions who received a lot of EU funding, are now saying there mustn’t be any cuts in grants, when many of them voted to Leave. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work that way; you can’t have it both ways and I suspect the government won’t be able to assign replacement funding as they’ll be too busy stopping the UK going bust. It’s a real shame a lot of the regeneration is now under threat. It’s also a shame that many people in these areas voted Leave on the basis of seeing ‘too many immigrants’ living on their doorstep, when I read earlier that the opposite is the case, madness.

I need to check this, but it appears the UK may have already slipped from being the 5th largest economy, to being the 6th, due to the pound sliding. There are also jitters around us losing our triple A credit rating, which will impact our ability to borrow money cheaply. This in turn could impact the very people who voted to Leave, with cuts to public services and taxes going up. The well off, such as many of the people who run the country, won’t be affected; again, shot ourselves in the foot.

I’m hoping this doesn’t happen, but we could well see the cost of imported goods rise due to changes in the exchange rate, as well as tariffs being imposed. This could lead to food price increases which will hit harder on people already vulnerable to changes brought about by an EU exit. Personally I think food is too cheap anyway, but that’s because of unsustainable or damaging farming practices; I’d rather food prices went up because of improvements in that area, and not because of leaving the EU.

It’s sad that a lot of businesses, both small and large, will probably be adversely impacted by the changes. There may be tariffs to contend with for exporting goods abroad. Borrowing money to start or expand your business could get harder if investors pull out of the UK; some already are. Unemployment could rise as a result, especially if some multi-national companies, for example financial institutions, decide to move elsewhere.

It’s slightly ironic that the banks and investment companies who have been blamed for so much in recent times, and to be fair did make a lot of mistakes, are now so critical to the future success of this country. London is the financial centre of Europe, but will it continue to be so once the UK exits the EU? You can blame the bankers all you want, but at the end of the day they employ thousands, and make a lot of money for this country.

Then there’s what’s going to happen to the UK. Scotland wants another referendum on their independence, and it seems likely the vote leave side will win this time, despite concerns about where their money will come from with oil prices being low. One wonders if Wales will start considering the same; personally think that’s unlikely but who knows.

The EU itself may be doomed, as more countries consider leaving to follow their own path. The UK referendum result has strengthened the position of many Leave campaigns in other countries, and unfortunately given legitimacy to views on the far right of politics, such as the National Front in France under Marine le Pen. It feels like a backwards step for Europe and the rest of the world, with barriers being put up instead of taken down, and the risk that we slip into more dangerous times (see Brexit Bomb blog if you want really dire predictions). I’ve had a few European friends contact me asking what’s going on, with sentiments of confusion and shock at the decision we’ve taken. It’s uncomfortable and slightly embarrassing, but I’ll continue to build bridges wherever possible and they’ll stay on my Christmas card list!

There’s been a lot of talk from many of the younger generation about quitting the UK and seeking opportunities abroad, and I can’t say I blame them. I personally think there won’t be much of an impact from this, but it’s sad that many are at least considering it; we could end up losing good people. It’s also more likely that less people will want to come to the UK, so we won’t benefit from the skills, economic boost,  labour force, and socially enriching cultures they bring with them.

And what are we left with? Some dodgy politicians who lie, change sides for their own political ends, are completely out of touch with the general populace, and who in some cases have racist overtones. Brilliant! Watching the news programmes today most of them still can’t give a straight answer to a question; do they know how irritating that is? One thing for Farage; at least he does give straight answers, even if I don’t believe them.

So what’s next?
One thing I’m not going to do, and I’m sure a lot of us aren’t going to do, including many on the Leave side of the vote who’ve seen just how rubbish a lot of our so-called leaders are, is keep quiet about this. The ‘silent majority’, a lot of whom are middle class hard workers trying to earn a decent living and support their families, should speak up more often, or stop moaning about how politicians aren’t in touch with their constituencies. We’re all encouraged to keep working hard, pay our taxes, take a family holiday and distract ourselves from real issues by prioritising the X Factor, football or celebrity gossip in the tabloids. If we want things to change we’ve got to make sure our elected representatives know we want things to change. I’m going to get on with trying to make things work, but I’m not going to shut up as some people seem to want us to do. Not speaking out when you think something is wrong has caused very bad things to happen in the past, just look at the history books. We’re good in this country at resolving issues via debate and reason, so there’s no need for violence, but make sure you don’t just tow the line and keep quiet when you see ignorance, racism, lies, or just a breakdown in common sense, causing problems. We’ve all a duty to speak up, and the Leave decision is not a mandate for allowing racism and xenophobia to spread; it’s truly distressing hearing some of the media reports about what some people are doing or saying to foreign nationals in this country.

As I mentioned earlier I’m particularly concerned that a lot of environmental issues will be sidelined now, and green initiatives shelved because of money. ‘Red tape’ introduced for very good reasons to protect the environment, endangered habitats and species, might be slashed. I’ll continue to write to my MP, sign petitions and support organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund, and Green Peace to make sure that doesn’t happen. I hope everyone else will do the same on issues they feel passionate about, and to hold their elected representatives accountable. Don’t keep quiet, speak up!

 

Personally I think talk of a second referendum isn’t very constructive; I’m pretty it’s not going to happen. What we can do is use the upsurge in interest in politics to demand electoral reform in whatever form that may take, and to demand that our politicians listen and take us more seriously. I’d love it if we could prosecute them for proven instances of deliberately misinforming the public, as appears to be the case with some of the statements made in the referendum campaigns; e.g pictures on buses saying they’ll spend £350m a week on the NHS instead.

 

We can try to keep the UK together, and convince our countrymen in Scotland to stay with us should there be another referendum. I know it’s tempting to wish them all the very best, and to think about moving up there should they vote out and apply to rejoin the EU (I’m tempted, love Scotland), but the break up of the UK would be yet another backwards step for humanity, leading to more barriers and complications; all arguments that have been made before. As an aside, and not really supporting the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK, if Scotland does leave the UK they do have an opportunity perhaps to take over from London as the English-speaking financial centre of Europe. This could significantly boost their income and allow them to stand on their own two feet. They already have a lot of expertise in that area, and who knows, if London does disappear beneath the waves due to Climate Change perhaps a move to Edinburgh would be a good thing; although not sure Edinburgh is actually much higher than London…sorry for the tangent.

To help keep the UK together, and above water (no pun intended), we need to get off on a firm footing as far as the economy goes. So we’ve all got to keep working hard and looking for new opportunities for growth and stability. Keeping in contact with European partners, suppliers, customers and friends seems vital for this, as does reassuring them we’re not all crazy and really do want to keep trading with them. I don’t buy that we can just increase trade with other parts of the world; hopefully we can, but the fact is you’re more likely to trade with countries closer to you, due to transport costs and similar preferences. On the London being the financial centre of Europe front, hopefully we can diversify outside the EU to present new opportunities to foreign investors looking for somewhere to put their cash; not sure how this would work without introducing dodgy tax breaks but worth thinking about.

We need to get new trade agreements set up, build not break, and try not to take 10 years about it; some experts have suggested it might take that long to sort out new deals, and I’m not sure what will be left of our economy if we wait that long. We do have a strong economy, and many world leaders have said they want to continue to trade with us, so we need to use that to establish practical and worthwhile agreements. We’re a huge market for foreign companies who want to export goods abroad, not the size of the EU but still huge. Looking ahead if we can prove that this will work, with deals that benefit all parties in that agreement, then maybe other countries will follow suit and we can set up a new trade organisation, based on principles of free trade but without the rules that have irritated so many, and caused alleged problems, since we joined the EU; please can we keep the rules helping to protect the environment though. We’re going to need to some good politicians and negotiators to get these agreements set up, so I’m hoping people will continue to vote and speak up when the right deal isn’t being made, bad decisions are taken, or common sense fails. The demise of the EU might turn out not to be a bad thing if we can create something new and improved out of the ashes, with the UK as a founding member; that could be really exciting.

 

Lastly, on the keeping together front, we need to keep embracing our cultural diversity and welcoming people of other nationalities to our country to live and work, so we in turn will be welcomed in their countries to do the same. Having seen so much of Europe last year, and met so many great people, I know we’re all fundamentally the same and have so much to offer one another. We’re still all European, and a break down of relations if xenophobia and racism increase would only take us in a bad direction. If you don’t know your neighbour and are nervous because you’ve heard them speak another language, go and talk to them, pretty sure you’ll find out they’re nice people with very similar motivations to you.

So I think there’s hope, but we’re going to have to work really hard to make it work, and in the short-term (next 10 years) it’s going to be difficult. There are also lots of risks which could impact this, as should be evident from the above; one for those risks is people not really wanting to make it work, either because they’re British and p*ssed off with the direction taken, or European and wanting to make Britain pay – yes, people can be that petty.

One thing for sure, it’s going to be a very interesting next few months and years, and in any case, we’re all going to have to make big changes soon to react to the impacts of climate change, so one way or another the future isn’t certain. A cabin in the woods in Canada still seems quite an attractive proposition to me!

Soon I’ll get back to blogging about adventures and stuff, promise.

 

4 thoughts on “The UK and Europe. What’s next?

  1. Phil Towers

    Great post James – I agree, although finding it difficult to be positive and completely understand Scotland and a United Ireland needing to happen now…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. AndrewGills

    Well said. As someone living on the other side of the world who doesn’t follow politics or news, Brexit had come as quite a scary thought about how much we take democracy for granted and how little thought many of us put into voting.

    What’s saddened me is the number of Brits who live in Australia or who are long term travelers who have bought into the racist anti-immigration argument. They only seem to target Muslims and Africans as their fall guys. Ironic when they live outside the UK and are, essentially, the foreigners “taking locals’ jobs” abroad (not that I agree with that concept, hence the quotation marks).

    Good luck with the fall out of Brexit. Hopefully life will roll on as it often does.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. SelfPropelled Post author

      Thanks Andrew, I hope so too, and many of us in the UK will be doing our utmost to try and make things work. Sorry to hear some Brits abroad are behaving badly again, hopefully it’s a minority.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

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