“Britain, a small island, has chosen to opt out of being part of a large and influential bloc in order to be a small island with an insular outlook whose citizens have now been deprived of access to markets and countries across the continent.”
Just a few days after the final terms of UK’s departure from the EU were agreed, it was revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was applying for French citizenship.
Johnson senior said that his mother was French and that “he would always be a European”, but whatever his own particular reasons might be, he is just one of many thousands of Britons who have, in the countdown to the Britain’s exit from the Union, applied for and taken European residence.
The reason so many Brits have opted to take residence and citizenship in Europe is simply because they are able to see the many benefits that being part of a geographical union gives them. These include not just visa-free, effectively borderless, travel within Europe, but also the ability to work in all of Europe and avail of the various grants and funding schemes available in a wide variety of sectors.
The Boris Johnson government agreed a trade deal with Europe just days before the actual exit date of December 31, 2020. The trade negotiations went right down to the wire and an agreement was reached only on Christmas Eve. The PM of course hailed it as a great triumph, displaying once again this government’s astonishing capacity for skewing reality and misrepresenting facts. Getting to this stage of agreement had actually proved to be a long drawn out and remarkably unpleasant process: the run-up to the 2016 referendum had been marked by xenophobia and vilification of the EU and what was depicted as ‘Brussel’s dictatorial policies,’ the Leave campaign was full of false claims (aka lies) and was built on a narrowly nationalist agenda expressed as a desire to ‘take back control and exist as a sovereign nation’ and this hostile tone has been maintained through the more than four years of negotiating the terms of the exit.
Now that Britain has become, in the jargon of the Leave supporters, a ‘sovereign nation’, it is time to take stock of what has even been gained. Not that much, most people will say. Although trade has not been as hugely disrupted as once seemed likely when the fear of ‘no deal’ loomed large, the fact of the matter is that although most goods trade will remain as was, the difference will be that it will all cost more to Britain because, as The Observer pointed out, now “Goods will be subject to costly new customs and regulatory checks.” The paper also observes that the trade deal “is unique in erecting rather than eliminating barriers to trade” and is something that effectively makes Britain poorer, reduces its global influence and imperils the nation’s integrity.”
I personally cannot see any positives in leaving the EU, it just means that Britain will not enjoy the benfits of being a member of a united bloc, benefits like citizens’ free movement and right to work within the bloc, benefits like having access to shared security information and crime data bases and Europol collaborations. Moreover, there has been a drain of Europena health professionals from Britain following the anti-European tone of the Leave campaign and the EU referendum, so now while the UK is in the midst of a pandemic, the National Health Service finds itself severely understaffed. And should the situaution in the Health Service decline even further, European doctors and nurses will now not be able to step in with ease they once did as professional qualifications will no longer be recognised automatically.
Add to this collaborative EU ventures in technology, academia and research that Britain is no longer part of and you begin to understand that Britain has lost access and influence in return for merley having to tolerate fewer ‘foreigners’ in its towns and workplaces. Truly, the UK seems to have cut off its nose to spite its face.
But what is mind-boggling is that Britain, a small island, has chosen to opt out of being part of a large and influential bloc in order to be a small island with an insular outlook whose citizens have now been deprived of access to markets and countries across the continent. The bigots within this former imperial and colonial power have used the narrative of ‘freedom’ to justify a divorce that will leave the EU ‘effectively poorer and more fractured than before. In all the rhetoric about ‘Brussels dictatorship and Europeans taking jobs away from Brits’ what was forgotten was the unique nature of this regional collaboration: the EU was not just a trade bloc but it was a peace project: a union of nations who had, as recently as the last century had fought two long and bloody wars, WW1 and WW2.
And what of the strategic position? Well, neither Russia nor the US were ever really very happy about the influence of the EU and so both must be delighted that Britain has now made itself both vulnerable and exploitable. Will Britain be a pawn in moves to undermine the EU? There is a fascinating conjecture in the late John Le Carre’s last novel in which a covert project involves Britain and US intelligence working together to weaken the EU. In the novel, Agent Running in the Field, the aim of the project is described by one agent as “an Anglo-American covert operation… with the dual aim of undermining the social democratic institutions of the European Union and dismantling [its] international tariffs.” This fictional character goes on to explain that “in the post-Brexit era Britain will be desperate for increased trade with America. America will accomodate Britain’s needs but only on terms. One such term will be a joint covert operation by persuasion — bribery and blackmail not excluded — officials, parliamentarians and opinion makers of the European establishment. Also to disseminate fake news on a large scale in order to aggravate existing deifferences between member states of the Union.”
This is a fictional scenario of course but Le Carre, a former spy, saw something in the political scenario that gullible voters crying out for sovereignty were perhaps unable to. And so it is no surprise that so many Britons have opted to move to Europe, taking up residence in places like Ireland, Portugal, France and the Netherlands in particular.
After a trade deal was finally agreed between the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve, the British PM, Boris Johnson, in his typical bombastic and self congratulatory fashion, told the nation what a fabulous deal his team had managed to secure and how in effect the UK ‘would both have its cake and eat it too’.
Alas what the UK will actually sup on is probably humble pie — and the poisonous effects of isolation.