Thomas Jefferson once said “eternal vigilance is the prize of liberty” where citizens and not just the powerful are required to seek the truth to be free.
29 June 2016
To the outside world, it must look as though Britain is imploding: exiting the European Union, David Cameron now a lame duck prime minister and the Labour Party opposition in an existential crisis.
The Brexit vote has divided not just the country, but families, spouses, children, siblings and that’s just my lot…
After watching all the debates and reading everything imaginable on both sides of the debate, (including delving into the wisdom of Socrates and Plato – I do not jest) standing in the voting booth with a heavy heart I voted to get rid of EU bureaucrats. I was NOT voting for a divorce from my beloved European neighbours. Technically, I’m an immigrant in Britain but I am still a proud European. My family in Ireland are no doubt, dismayed that I should contemplate such a pivotal act since the repercussions for Ireland are expected to be profound. Most of Ireland’s exports go to Britain and the expected imposition of trade tariffs would be bad news never mind the consequences on the British/Irish border of the island. However, some London based companies particularly the finance sector are talking about moving their headquarters to Dublin so who can tell where all this will end.
In my view, Germany has too much power in the EU and with qualified majority voting, Britain regularly gets out-voted in the European Parliament and its institutions so has been powerless to halt creeping centralisation of power in many crucial areas. For decades, Britain is one of the few countries to act swiftly to comply with implementation of new EU Directives whereas France, Italy and almost all of the others are less than conscientious and lag behind implementing often highly costly legislative and regulatory changes. Germany could do a lot more to help Greece where unemployment is running at more than 50% and huge numbers of people are in dire straits because Greece joined the Euro when those in power knew full well that it did not meet the requirements. Goldman Sachs was paid handsomely for massaging the figures to ensure Greece’s compliance with entry requirements.
Naturally Germany will not allow Greece to pull out the Euro in case Portugal, Italy and others follow suit. Many citizens of Sweden, Holland, and France now want an EU referendum but their political leaders will not contemplate a possible seismic shift to their beloved integration dream of a United States of Europe.
In Britain, more than half of those who voted, voted for Brexit, over 17m Brexit votes resulted in a 1.3m majority. Perhaps we are having our French Revolution moment, anti-establishment but without the violence thankfully.
Generally voting ran at 72% which is an astonishing turnout compared to previous elections. The failure of the young to come out and vote perhaps tilted the result significantly but in theory this should mean next time they ensure they make their voices heard. Only about 42% of young people voted but many are angry with the result and its potential consequences for them long term. It is a hard lesson, no doubt, and we shall have to wait and see what transpires next time.
My own voting age children were furious when I told them I voted for Brexit but I hope that they now understand that I voted for a better future for them where Britain makes its own decisions about the economy in particular and power is corralled back from unelected officials sitting on the Continent. This does not preclude Britain advancing policy with our neighbours on issues of mutual interest whether on foreign affairs or climate change.
One of the surprises for me at least, was the news that Ulster Unionists in Northern Ireland were calling on all Protestants as well as Catholics to apply for Irish Republic passports. I would guess that many of those long dead Unionists will be turning in their graves at the very suggestion. So lots more to come out of this yet.
The big worry here in Britain is the potential economic effects in the short term. In addition, there are a few cases of anti immigrant sentiment raising its ugly head. It does seem to me that these cases are rare but the media portrayal I fear is overstating this nevertheless troubling outcome and the worry is copycat incidents. Those of a thuggish mentality may see this over-reporting as licence to give free reign to vile behaviour. But so many of us living in Britain today have foreign roots, even one of the lead Brexiteers and a possible future Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has Turkish roots.
Although the pound is still weak, the stock market has picked up again to where is was before the vote. Unsurprisingly, the instinctive reaction of EU bureaucrats to Brexit is to threaten hardball, but European businesses don’t want tariffs imposed either since one fifth of German cars are sold to the UK so it’s not in their interest to harm trade. Bear in mind too that Britain imports more from the EU than it exports to it, so self interest will prevail to our mutual benefit.
Looking at developments across the pond, my son and I went to see an Intelligence Squared debate in town last week asking the question “Is Obama a failed President?” David Frum, a neo-con and a former speechwriter to George W Bush was on the panel with Chris Caldwell, the editor of the Atlantic, both of whom suggested that Obama created ISIS. Their gripe was ostensibly the class divide where “20% of the American population get everything, and 80% get nothing”. I don’t believe that I was alone in thinking that there was a strong whiff of ‘white man anger’ that never quite accepted a black President. Several American men in the audience made comments in the same vein, an almost tangible barely repressed hysteria emanating from the Obama haters. However, Bernard Levy, the French philosopher, was thoughtful, measured and rational and was joined by a smart and fearless policy wonk, Neera Tanden and mercifully they won the audience vote 60-40.
My own view of Obama is that he will be remembered as a rainmaker because of the first raft of affordable healthcare introduced (the mark of a civilised country I would suggest), the Paris accord on climate change, the capture of Bin Laden, the Iran deal as well as for bringing Cuba in from the cold. Undoubtedly, the intractable problems of the Middle East remain as well as terrorism, a resurgent Russia, a powerful China, coupled with a tough domestic agenda all will be high on the to-do list for a new President.
Similar to my views on Brexit, that the risk of leaving is outweighed by the potential benefits, and though admittedly Obama has not delivered as much as he/we would like, on the whole, there has been more good than bad. For that at least, we should be grateful.