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Monday, 29 February 2016

News from an Offshore Island

I hesitate to bring this up so early but in June Britain will go to the polls to decide whether or not to remain a member of the European Union. When Greece faced the same situation it was labelled Grexit (Gr for Greece, plus "exit") so now we talk about Brexit.

I'm for staying in but there are persuasive reasons against that. The EU is a top-heavy, slow-moving administrative unit where getting agreement between the 28 member states is frustratingly difficult, More specifically laws are passed in Brussels and Strasburg by civil servants who are not answerable to any electorate. Brexit fans say that leaving Europe will enhance the "special relationship" we are supposed to have with the USA but which, I fear, tends only to work one way these days. (Yes I remember WW2; I lived through it.).

But Obama and other speaking heads in Washington would prefer us to remain in the EU. One vital further reason is that 40% of our trade is with EU countries and this may be affected if we get out.

There are many other reasons pro and con which would bore the pants off anyone not directly involved. One is rarely talked about: the EU was created to stop Germany and France going to war again. Hey, it worked!

Another is cultural. There are still powerful forces here encouraging us to sneer at Johnny Foreigner. We frequently look backwards, dwelling on the glories of Empire (where we exploited distant Johnny Foreigner) and the year we won the soccer World Cup; 1966 for goodness sake! Few of our books are translated from European languages. I am no patriot; yes I'm a Brit but faute de mieux.

I like being European; future posts will try to explain why.

13 comments:

Avus said...

I am not going to get into this one, RR. The "stay" and "leave" camps seem to have become the modern substitute for following a religion. (Rather like "global warming")

Should I be Baptist or Catholic? That would be my own choice and no one else could, or should, convince me otherwise.

However, I would prefer that this country was executive over its own laws and I think American (and other non-European) politicians should keep their noses out of trying to influence our, the British people's, decisions. How would the Yanks like it if Cameron was sounding off about how they propose to deal with illegal Mexican immigration?

mikeM said...

An unfortunately large percentage of Yanks would surely support airstrikes against the UK if Trump blurted out the suggestion. Recommending a nuclear attack would probably UP the numbers, as it would increase the magnitude of the spectacle. America needs a turnaround as much as Lazarus did.

Fedorovna said...

Oh dear Robbie. I fear you have put your typing fingers into a wasps' nest...

marly said...

Wow. mikeM certainly doesn't think much of us on the other side of the pond. Really? Not that I disagree about the need for an entirely new slate of candidates and greater sense over here. We're not all idiots--just the normal percentage that appears to be with us in all times and all places.

I wouldn't dare comment on this one!

Lucy said...

I think Avus just got into this malgré lui!

OK, here goes, this is going to be long, probably a two comment-comment, at least.

Just to begin; I don't really see that Obama, or other Americans that I've heard, are dictating anything to the UK on the matter. He will inevitably be asked and must surely be permitted his point of view? I think many up us have perceptions about other countries than our own, which to citizens of those countries might seem ill-informed, ignorant, arrogant, sanctimonious or whatever. I remember keeping out of a discussion between north American bloggers I like and respect some years ago who were solemnly asserting that the London riots and looting of 2011 were the understandable result of hopeless poverty and anger at the London Olympics and the royal wedding. Who knows maybe they were right? It kind of got up my nose a bit though.

I certainly welcome that you're onto this subject anyway (though I will say now that I have already developed a near-violent disinclination to listen to anyone whose point of view contains the phrases 'project fear' or 'fifth largest economy', doubtless more will be added to that 'may contain nuts' list), as I welcome any nuanced, informed discussion which seeks to avoid glib and dogmatic certainty on the matter.

As a Brit (the only pejorative/diminutive relating to nationality I will allow myself, since I am one; 'rosbif' I'll only use in a challenging and ironic sort of way with a mild intention to shame, rather I think as MikeM is using 'Yanks'...) living in another EU country, of course, I am not without self-interest. This is quite a novel experience, since through much of my life, including that spent living in the country of my birth, I have never honestly felt I had enough stake in anything to worry about whether my own bread and butter might be concerned. Though most sources seem to reassure that the reciprocal deals that ensure we have some of our high quality, unbegrudged, healthcare paid for and our British state pensions maintained in line with the home rate and transferred at a decent exchange rate will be maintained, there is no certainty. Other British people we know who work here and have kids, for whom they get, also unbegrudged, generous French benefits, may be worse affected.

On the other hand, I am also by necessity disinterested, since I no longer have a vote in this referendum or anything, anywhere, else, in common with all Brits who have lived in the EU for more than 15 years, thereby cutting out a not insignificant number of people perhaps most directly involved and affected by the result from having any say in it.

I rather assumed people like us had completely disappeared off the radar in the debate, but lately I learned that expats living the life of Riley (who was Riley anyway?) in sunnier climes (what, Brittany?) and having their healthcare and state pensions paid for by the poor put-upon British taxpayer (even though we were the British taxpayer until we became expats, and many still are) are also the targets of the opprobrium of the Daily Mail etc, which made me feel kind of proud I must say. However, it should be noted that such benefits are really very cheap to the home country; we have to top the healthcare up ourselves and pensions are only paid the the level reached when we left. British citizens we may be, but the scenario, however unlikely, of up to two million of us, many ageing, failing and fallen to the bottom of the property ladder, forced to return to the UK, and the burden this would place on public services, homes, jobs etc is surely something that is worthy of consideration, and makes 20,000 refugees look fairly small beer. You'll certainly be needing to keep on some of those couple of thousand Romanian doctors to look after us anyway.

Lucy said...

(Cont.)

And yet and yet. I also find myself inwardly baulking when people assume that to be unreservedly in favour of the UK's staying in Europe is the only right and intelligent view (in fact I tend to baulk at people who are like that about their opinions, even if they were my opinions up until then!), that only xenophobic, uncultured little Englanders and morons could think otherwise, not sophisticated, cosmopolitan expats like us. As you point out, the flaws of the EU are legion; it might be hopeless: rotten, non-democratic, wasteful, ineffective and non-reformable. The UK isn't the only country disillusioned with it; polls have suggested a higher percentage of ordinary French people might want out even than British, but no one's asking them. There's a not unfounded suggestion that other European politicians want the UK to stay in 'pour décourager les autres'; their citizens might get a taste for the idea of an in/out referendum too, and vote out.

Economically, politically, culturally it might be a lost cause, and perhaps it would be a good and courageous thing to give up and get out. There are plenty of the aforesaid little Englanders, it's true, who make weak and specious arguments to cover up a simple fear and disdain for Johnny Foreigner, and who think that all the frightening upheavals and problems of the wider world can somehow be kept away by turning one's back on them, closing the door and 'safeguarding our borders'. Some of them have even moved here, and will openly say they left England 'because it's not our country any more, it's full of foreigners'. (Yes really). But there are also plenty of people who want to make an impartial, just and wise decision and who very much want solid, reliable information on which to base it. But that is hard to come by because clear ideas about 'what will happen if...' can only mostly be speculation. However rational the arguments sound, or however convincing the statistics seem to be even though they contradicted the last set, in the end a lot of it comes down to emotion, for good or ill.

I think, I suppose I hope, that it will end up being a 'Yes, s'pose so' in vote in June, though that may not be the end of it. 'Better the devil you know' may be rather a negative philosophy, but it's fairly pragmatice and British, and, as any Kipling fan should know, was one of the Gods of the Copybook Headings.

Rouchswalwe said...

Here's little bi-cultural Rouchswalwe fluttering by, reading the comments with great interest and thinking. The other night at the tavern, talking over a few pints of quality ale, friends and I lamented that the motto “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) is no longer prominent on US currency and coinage.

I received my tax refund check in the mail today. I'm holding it now. Prominently depicted on the left side of this check from the United States Treasury is an etching of the Statue of Liberty. And this reminds me of Emma Lazarus, who in her early 30's penned this sonnet in 1883:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: For someone intent on not getting "into this one" you could have fooled me. From what you've said I take it you'll be voting Out. Fair enough. But you are unfair towards Obama as Lucy points out.

MikeM: There would be a bright side to receiving US air-strikes; they would sort of prove we the Brits were wishy-washy liberals, that we would - had we been given the chance - have voted for Adlai Stevenson, Gene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey and the rest of those crypto-commies who sneakily put themselves forward in the hope they could lead the USA into a copycat version of East Germany.

I joke of course. My heart bleeds for thinking America and the awful possibility of envisaging The Man With The Thatch standing on the 38th parallel (I always thought parallel was unnecessary; latitude wouldn't mean much if it wasn't parallel), baring his unseemly chest, looking north and shouting "Bring it on!"

Fed: You fear? Tone Deaf looks for response at all times. Besides which I don't really have to re-respond given the cri-de-coeur from my faithful lieutenant in western France. I note you seem to be neither In nor Out. There won't be that luxury in June. Oh, I'm wrong: a spoiled ballot paper.

Marly: Why not comment? We are broad church here. I should explain that MikeM is, in fact, biting the hand that feeds him; he's an upstate New Yorker. Welcome here for his pawky sense of humour (and other matters) as you are for, inter alia your conscientiousness, wit, accomplishments, etc, etc.

Lucy: Dear Lucy. Passionate Lucy. Articulate and deep-thinking Lucy. And - I do hope - persuasive Lucy. The fact that I don't answer all this point by point mustn't be construed as inertia. I simply do not wish to blur the issue. And you, dear soul, are reporting from one of several front lines.

What you have proved is that if we are honest there are never any gilt-edged Yeses or Noes when mobilising one's X.

WW2? With hindsight yes, but what was Chamberlain trying to do? Avoid war; and now he is forever The Appeaser.

Putting in Chirac? Oh how those Lefties bled at having to embrace the lesser evil to keep out Le Pen.

Yes, it boils down to emotion or perhaps who we are; rarely is it simply a matter of what we think. Thus one of my reasons for rejecting Brexit is that I simply cannot like its prophets: Farage, Galloway, Cash, IDS and the egregious Boris; who would wish to be afloat in a lifeboat with them? However I am capable of being influenced; Gove, whom I thought I despised, turns out to be a genuine thinker and - whisper it not in Gath - a man of principle. But Gove is outweighed.

This post was not written to stir up In/Out argument. Merely to provide a backdrop to one or two sequels written deliberately from the point of view of a European. An unpopular viewpoint, regarded as arrant treachery by The Daily Mail, and possibly an entirely fallacious stance since I wasn't born "a European" whatever that is. However I like to think that in discarding purely British politics and adopting what may be in the end a non-existent position, I am showing myself capable of change at my hugely advanced age.

RW (zS): You have travelled and lived in other states; thus I am more inclined to consider your conclusions than those who have stayed put. I saw two Japanese movies yesterday - The Assassin and Our Little Sister - and was moved in widely differing ways by both of them. It's always a minor triumph if one finds oneself admiring cultural wellsprings that are "foreign".

And yes, the Statue of Liberty appears bedraggled at the moment but that's no reason for forgetting the great international benefits the USA has wrought. In the end, motives are less important than actions.

Fedorovna said...

How could you? In, in, of course! I hope I am not clinically insane...

Lucy said...

Yes of course, not wanting to keep such company, a sorry and repugnant bunch of Kilkenny cats if ever there were. Let's hope enough people think so too. Gove does merit respect, I think, came good over Saudi anyway, and on the other side of the house Ghisela Stewart is a serious person.

Articulate, thanks but only in writing, and then with time and a full can of Brasso, to pinch your expression, worse than useless in any kind of on-the-spot vocalised debate. Persuasive, of whom? Never mind, I am glad to be able to express myself here.

Roderick Robinson said...

Fed: See how I turn on you - like a rabies-ravaged dog. To be certain about the EU (your double "in" proclaims it) suggests conviction and I for one am not sure this is the right quality to bring to the party. The EU as it stands is not exactly a political Nirvana; like David Cameron (What am I saying? Aarggh!!!) I believe the EU should show itself capable of modification and yet its history of change is not exactly encouraging.

Yes, I'm for "in" but always with a lower-case "i". I may be a Bremainer but my reasons may hinge on a growing sense of cowardice and a tendency towards the status quo, common among the aged.

Consider this. An "out" vote would probably get rid of Cameron and seriously weaken the future of the hideous Osborne. Good? Of course, but I'm with Hilaire Belloc here:

His father who was self-controlled
Bade all the children round attend
To James's miserable end.
And always keep ahold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse.


Bill Cash as Chancellor? I'd need sleeping pills to get me through the nights.

Lucy: Comments to Tone Deaf are always in writing and so you need not fear. The flock in attendance has read books, is far better-educated than TD's progenitor, some even listen to non-guitar music. You're more or less among friends.

But this is not Castle Bland. We may disagree - sometimes whimsically, as recently - but mostly it's a chewing of old bones. Contemplative, civilised disagreement aimed at greater amplification, a wider viewpoint, etc. There's no yelling from the terraces; soccer I'm glad to say is at a low ebb here.

Avus said...

I see you quoted the Belloc lines about "always holding onto nurse", RR. I also see that Lucy quotes from Kipling.

As a Kipling fan I will subvert my original intention of staying out of this discussion and say where the hell has our spirit of adventure and entrepreneurship gone. We seem to be talking ourselves down as a country.

Take a look at Kipling's poem "The Explorer":

"There's no sense in going further -- it's the edge of cultivation,"
So they said, and I believed it -- broke my land and sowed my crop --
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop:

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated -- so:
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges --
"Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"

So I went, worn out of patience; never told my nearest neighbours --
Stole away with pack and ponies -- left 'em drinking in the town;
And the faith that moveth mountains didn't seem to help my labours
As I faced the sheer main-ranges, whipping up and leading down.

March by march I puzzled through 'em, turning flanks and dodging shoulders,
Hurried on in hope of water, headed back for lack of grass;
Till I camped above the tree-line -- drifted snow and naked boulders --
Felt free air astir to windward -- knew I'd stumbled on the Pass."

My view is that we should let go of nurse and dance free as responsible, mature adults to make our own way in the world.

Roderick Robinson said...

Avus: The trouble is the spirit of adventure lives on but is frequently expressed in deplorable ways. Young men stab each other out of mere whimsy; heave blocks of concrete onto cars passing below on the motorway; go to away games in foreign places with their soccer teams and end up in jail.

Searching? Often they look for youths with different physical characteristics and beat the hell out of them. Kipling sees adventure as manly; manliness is not a pure state, look at what it causes some men to do to women.

Consider the Hatton Gardens robbery: that consisted of adventure, a great deal of physical effort, even intellectual analysis. And some of them were septuagenarians. Bully for them Kipling might say; they didn't stay "drinking back in town". You know old Rudyard turned to be just as romantic as Keats.

Better we all curl up with Chick's Own.