I wanted to write this blog entry yesterday but, frankly I was too bewildered, too angry and too depressed to put finger to keyboard.
If you wanted to change the constitution of a tennis club, you would never be allowed to do it on the basis of 52 % of the membership, and yet we seemed to altered the course of our history and our own political direction, not to mention the lives of countless other people in Europe, on the basis of a simple majority of voters, many of whom were misinformed and lied to and are already regretting the votes they cast.. This is madness!
Over the past 24 hours I have received messages from friends in Germany, France and the United States all with the same bewildered message. One message from Germany read “I am shell-shocked. What? Why? How? Good lord, this is scary.” A friend from an Anglo-Asian family says she now does not feel that she belongs in this country, since the xenophobes prevailed.
Politically we have turned our backs on our European partners and plunged them and ourselves into years of uncertainty as we seek to unravel all of our laws and links with the countries with whom we have been working very successfully for the last 40 years. We have lost our Prime Minister, and possibly the leader of our opposition Labour party, we have devalued our currency, the country’s international credit rating has gone from “stable’ to ‘negative’ and we made vast numbers of our own citizens and Europeans living amongst us, many of whom have lived here for many years, question their position in British society, in order to “Take back control into our own hands” as we heard ad nauseam during the campaign.
And into exactly whose hands have been taken back control? Into the hands of a media savvy, publicity and power-hungry buffoon and a rabble rousing bigot.
Listening to Boris Johnson’s eulogy, as he praised to David Cameron’s integrity, his honesty and his fine leadership of the country as he quietly removed his dagger from the PM’s back, was truly nauseating.
And within hours, Farage, or Fromage as he will henceforth be known on my blog, was on television saying that it had been a ‘mistake’ to say, during the campaign, that millions of pounds saved by not contributing to the European Union would be spent on the NHS. The huge cash rewards that he and the other brexiteers promised might not be quite as automatic as might have been suggested. When paddling backwards becomes an Olympic sport, Britain will sweep the medals’ board.
Worse still, is this now famous picture of Fromage, standing outside parliament on the morning that the results were announced, telling everyone what a brave new dawn had broken. His gang of his supporters, all men, looked like a praetorian guard surrounding their leader. All that was missing from the picture was black shirts and armbands.
If I were a Polish plumber or a Romanian window-cleaner I would not wish to be on the streets of Thanet this weekend.
What has been particularly galling over the past two days is to see people interviewed on TV who voted Leave but who never thought it would actually happen and who are now very worried about what they have done.
They clearly voted to register some kind of protest against the Government, against the ‘establishment’, against austerity , against the bankers, yes, even against the EU, though my guess is that most people had no idea of the workings of the EU before this campaign. What they have achieved is an economic shock to the country that will probably result in even more cuts to government spending that will weigh most heavily on the poorer sections of society. There is no going back now. Saying “Oops, sorry” doesn’t achieve much.
President Putin is delighted with the result. Trump congratulated the country on its decision. President Obama is shaking his head in disbelief.
Marine Le Pan and Gert Wilders in the Netherlands are jubilant and strengthened. Both are calling for similar referenda in their own countries.
Scotland is planning for a new independence referendum and Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is saying that now is the time for North Ireland and Eire to be re-united. A destabilised North Ireland is all we need.
Having taken this crazy decision, Britain now has to trigger a two-year period of disengagement, during which the attention of all of our politicians and civil servants will be focussed on dismantling our existing diplomatic, financial and trading relationships and negotiating new ones.
Politicians in Europe are calling for this process to start as soon as possible in order to reduce the uncertainty and instability. However, our Prime Minister has just announced his resignation, effective, not from next Monday, but from the Tory party conference in October. This means that the whole of Britain and all of the rest of the EU have to wait while 150,000 members of the Tory party hold meetings in smoke–filled rooms to decide who their new leader should be. In effect it means that 27 other countries will have to deal with the fall-out from Brexit, including the turmoil on their respective stock markets, while the British Tories make up their mind to anoint Boris their new messiah. Not surprisingly, Britain is not exactly “Flavour of the Month” across Europe.
Jean Claude Junckers, the President of the European Commission has warned that renegotiating new trading arrangements with the EU is not going to be an easy ride. He said that this was not an amicable divorce. He then added “It wasn’t exactly a deep love affair anyway.”
This remark probably refers to several things
- Two years after joining the EEC, as it then was, we had a referendum to decide whether we should stay
- When the Schengen Agreement was made to get rid of border controls between EU countries, we opted out
- When the Euro was set up, we opted out
- When refugees from the Middle East and Africa began flooding in to Europe and the appeal was made for the burden to be shared, we became hard of hearing.
There was an interview on television last night with an old soldier, well into his eighties, with tears in his eyes, so happy with the results of the referendum because his mates had died in the Second World War and now, finally, he was freed from German domination! Little did he realise that Europe, without Britain at the table, has just become a shakier and, arguably a more dangerous place. Francois Hollande is not a popular leader in France. He faces election later this year that he may well not survive. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, is growing in strength within France. She has hailed Brexit as a great victory for freedom and called for an In/Out referendum in that country.
Which leaves Germany, the biggest and most powerful country in Europe. At the moment it is a benign democracy with a centre right government led by Angela Merkel, a woman who has shown mature leadership and moderation in her years as Chancellor (not sure about her taste in jackets, but that’s another story).
However, Germany is not without its right-wing tensions, which are exacerbated by the country’s decision to take in nearly a million refugees over the past year. (Britain, by contrast, agreed to take 20,000 refugees over five years, a long enough time scale for everyone to forget about the original promise and not notice if it is never fulfilled.)
So, it’s possible that France will lurch to the right at the end of this year and go for Frexit. That could lead to the whole EU edifice crumbling and it is not beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that Germany could shift to the right within the next five to ten years. If our Brexit has served to fragment and destabilise Europe, where will that leave conflict resolution on the European continent?
Gibraltar was the first area to declare its results in the referendum on Thursday night. They voted 95.9% to remain part of the EU, 4.1% to leave. Within hours of the announcement of the Brexit vote, the Spanish Foreign Minister reasserted Spain’s claim for sovereignty over Gibraltar. We could find that we have unleashed much more than we thought.
Our old soldier, if he survives into his nineties, might well see a Europe dominated by a Germany that is not benign or a France that has turned in on itself. But why should we care? We will not be at any of the European tables, so we can just pursue our dreams of British grandeur sitting on our little island, in our country that might get a lot smaller if and when Scotland leaves.
I’ve never been ‘proud to be British’. I don’t see how you can be proud of a nationality that you didn’t choose. Having said that, I’ve always been happy to live here. I consider Britain to be a pretty decent country to live in. Like many other countries it has good characteristics and sometimes does stupid things. It’s been a pretty tolerant place and when the sun shines, the climate is lovely. I think the country has had the right to hold its head up so far in its dealings with its neighbours. As Aunt Eller says, in the song “The Farmer and the Cowman” in Oklahoma, “I ain’t saying that I’m better than anybody else, but I’ll be darned if I ain’t just as good.”
However, after the vote on Thursday, I find it hard to be optimistic and even harder to be proud of what my country has done. I feel we have made a huge mistake that has thrown a whole continent into turmoil and that may well live to regret the weakness of a Prime Minister who gambled with the country’s future in order to instil discipline into his party ranks, and lost.
Difficult to hold your head up today.