So Britain (well, Wales and England minus London) voted to leave the European Union today. I’m pretty pissed off about this, because I rather like Britain, have lived in London for a while and also like to visit on occasion. I probably won’t be doing that again anytime soon, cause I don’t feel like visiting countries which make it very clear they don’t want me there.
I’m also pissed because clueless Americans like this dude writing for The Atlantic, who should really take a hard look at their own country, blame Angela Merkel and her refugee policy (which I wholeheartedly support) for the anti-EU vote in the UK rather than the xenophobic propaganda peddled by rightwing politicians and large parts of the UK media and the economic inequality caused by decades of incapable UK governments (Was there ever a good one? Not as far as I remember and my memory goes back to Thatcher’s first term).
Now I do feel sorry for those who voted “Remain” and get dragged out of the EU and into the economic mess the UK has made for itself against their will. And coincidentally, I noticed an uptick in requests to translate UK birth certificates in the past few months, as UK citizens who have been living and working in Germany for years or decades, are often married to Germans and have children here, are looking to apply for German citizenship, because they are worried that they will be subject to restrictions after the UK leaves the EU and because they want to retain the freedom to travel, work and live without restrictions in the EU. Meanwhile, EU citizens living in Britain have many of the same fears and probably rightfully, too, given the massive xenophobic undertones of the “Leave” campaign. I certainly sympathise.
But regarding those who voted “Leave”, I don’t have much sympathy for them. It seems that those who voted “Leave” honestly believe that the UK is swamped by refugees and immigrants (even though the whole UK has taken in fewer Syrian refugess than many medium sized German cities), that the EU is threatening their sovereignty (Uhm, the Queen is still there and so is David Cameron, at least for now), that no longer contibuting to the EU will automatically mean more prosperity (even though it will also mean the loss of all those EU subsidies the UK used to receive) and that leaving the EU will magically return their country to some imaginary golden age of the past that never was.
But this isn’t going to happen. Britain isn’t going to get its empire back. The UK is never going to look like Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs again (and the very point of those shows was that the Victorian/Edwardian era was built on massive inequality and exploitation). Nor is the UK ever going to look like the cosy honest and hardworking working class folk idylls of Call the Midwife or Made in Dagenham again (and once more the point was very much that those supposed idylls weren’t so idyllic). And it certainly won’t look like the Midsomer Murders, which is probably a good thing, given the exorbitant murder rate in those cosy rural communities.
Those days are over, if they ever existed in the first place, and they’re not coming back. The British mining and steel and textile industries aren’t going to magically rise again and what’s left of the British steel industry is already seeing the effects of the Leave vote. Meanwhile, a lot of the industries that still exist are going to be negatively affected. The international banks residing in the City of London are already considering relocating to Frankfurt or Dublin or Paris. Airbus might well decide to scale back its plants in Bristol and Broughton or close them altogether. BMW might also decide that even if the Mini is marketed as a quintessentially British car, they don’t necessarily need to manufacture it in Oxford, especially since some models are already built in Austria. Ditto for General Motors and the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port. Because giant multinational corporations depend on being able to move products and components across borders with minimum hassle and if the UK creates unnecessary hassle, they will simply go elsewhere. And the ones who will be most affected by this are the very same angry white working class voters who apparently overwhelmingly voted “Leave”, because they wanted to take their country back.
But the country they’ll get won’t look like Downton Abbey or Midsomer Murders or even Call the Midwife. Instead, it will look like a Ken Loach movie (who coincidentally called for Britain to leave the EU, while at the Cannes film festival, which is supported by EU funds, where he received the Palme d’Or for a movie about unemployed Britons that was very likely also supported by EU funds) or the beginning of Threads (which starts with a panning shot of Sheffield where it looks so grubby I assumed the apocalypse had already happened), grimy, grey and depressing, because all of those EU funds which supported urban renewal schemes in impoverished parts of the UK are suddenly gone.
So here’s your future, Britain, trapped in an endless Ken Loach movie. Hope you enjoy it!
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ETA: Regular commenter Mark points out that at Cannes, Ken Loach did criticise the EU, but ultimately spoke out in favour of “Remain”. My phone rang in the middle of that interview, so I must have missed that part.
ETA2: At the Guardian, the one decent major British paper left, Kate Lyons reports about various racist incidents all around England in the days following the referendum, several of them aimed at children. At the Huffington Post, Chris York collects even more reports of racist incidents and attacks. So much for “This was totally not a racist decision, they just dislike the EU bureaucracy.” Cause for many of those voting, it was.
ETA3: J.R. Tomlin points out this article, also from the Guardian, in which Fintan O’Toole points out that the UK leaving the EU would not only leave an EU outer border running straight through the middle of Ireland, but that border controls and patrols (gotta keep all those nasty migrants out, don’t you know?) might also endanger the Irish peace process.