Another in the series Letters from Brexit Island by Jeffrey Adams
We are a Scottish family living on what we jokingly refer to as
We have been watching from Germany, the shifting political landscape since the Brexit referendum. To help explain our recent thoughts we need to go back to the day of the result and Boris Johnson.
The day of the Brexit result Boris gave a speech describing the result as a vote to leave an EU that was “too remote, too opaque and not accountable enough to the people it is meant to serve”. Interesting argument from a politican whose leader avoided the televised leadership debates and opposed the EU’s desire that Brexit papers be made public. The Conservatives prefer that the Brexit process remains behind closed doors. This combined with their 2015 election expense scandal resulting in Tory MP Craig Mackinlay being charged, cuts to school meals in England and clumsy EU dealings, the Conservatives, would rather remain remote and opaque themselves. Infact they are a Government in hiding.
We experienced this opaque side recently when I called the British embassy to ask what options we may have regarding Visas. With a sigh and a chortle the lady answering replied;
“I just don’t know what to tell you because we have no information either. Look at the UK Govwebsite, you are still an EU citizen, Brexit hasn’t taken place yet, that’s all I can say”.
On the surface that is a reasonable response. But we, and my EU counterparts in the UK, don’t live in a world where spouting our bureaucratic rights overcomes all. As a freelancer I have been relying on the good will of those hiring me to keep issuing contracts. At any time, when Brexit becomes more permanent, my employers may stop giving me work until we have the relevant paperwork. We have not lived in Germany long enough for citizenship and have decided to apply for permanent residency, but there are reports of British nationals being declined permanent residency, and vice versa in the UK. I recently corresponded with an EU counterpart in Britain, who after 20 years of living in the UK, had her application for permanent residency declined.
A UK based woman who I’ve worked for is facing multiple problems. As a small business owner she supplies language services throughout the EU zone. She wrote to 86 Peers of the Realm before their vote on securing the rights of EU citizens. She begged them to listen to their conscience, but things went ahead anyway.
Fast forward from the Brexit result to May’s manifesto launch where she reiterated that she wants to attract the “brightest and the best” to the UK. But as with the language school owner, operating in Brexit Britain isn’t a glittering option with the bigger Eurozone market next door. Britain’s brightest and best, who set out with a business idea, now find their businesses under pressure. Britain’s entrepreneurs are going to have to reinvent themselves to keep going. There is a sense of self inflated importance in the Tory belief that controlled immigration will attract only the people the UK need. Here on the continent the message has rung out loud and clear from the UK. They have interpreted the Brexit result as a memo that reads “no more immigrants here, thankyou” and our friends on the Continent will respond accordingly.
For Scotland this will have a deep impact.
As Angus Robertson pointed out, “Scotland’s problem is emmigration not immigration”.
We are testament to this problem, lack of permanent work caused us to leave Scotland. When I think of Scottish friends we know many families have at least one young member who has left to get work abroad. This is the reality. The business and employment problem is only the tip of the iceberg.
It was reported that an elected delegate of the French consulate in London, Patricia Connell, said UK banks started turning down housing loan applications from non UK passport holders. This change happened only a day after article 50 was triggered. Add to this pensions, healthcare, insurance, border control, and the complexity of untangling from the EU becomes apparent.
Can you blame Juncker for his frustration during a meeting with May, where it was reported in the German newspaper- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), that, May thought the matter of EU nationals and British nationals could be cleared up within 2 weeks. To demonstrate the impossibility of that Juncker “produced two heavy stacks of paper from his briefcase”.
These are the problems Brexit is already causing and it’s being compounded by ineffective and elusive leadership.
Trying to be hopeful, I have been wondering if May’s non commitment to discuss Brexit is because she plans a fluid approach depending on how the talks go and the reaction of the other EU members. Or that she is keeping her cards close to her chest. That would explain why we don’t know much about her Brexit strategy other than it’s a good deal or they walk away. The problem is what when she had a meeting about Brexit with Juncker she was reluctant to talk details. Also a fluid approach requires a good relationship with the other 27 countries. Unfortunately Mays manner has not been pleasing to the European ear. Her approach embodies the problems the EU has had with UK Governments: the desire to be treated differently, for special deals, for opt ins and opt outs that they can opt back into later if it looks to be in the UK interests. It’s unlikely the remaining EU members will be as flexible as in former times, and add to that a new dynamic French President and things look less promising for Britain.
Yet the Tory’s remain positively wed to a hard Brexit. At the manifesto announcement May made statements like “we can be a great trading nation again” “walking tall in the world“. It sounded uncomfortably like “Make America Great Again” but packaged in polite British wording.
In this manifesto May is seeking to gather in voters.Retirees who feel cheated that the pensions they worked for haven’t coughed up. Anyone who relys on the NHS (and who hasn’t) who is worried it is failing and foreigners arriving in large numbers are making things even harder. Those who feel that the EU got hard earned British pounds and the UK got jack back. These are a few of the drivers behind Brexit. For the Brexiteers the EU has worked against the UK and the will of the people.
But the facts tell a different story.
According to the Government decision records from the Council of the European Union 1999-2016, dataset v. March 2016’The London School of Economics and Political Science reported- “The British government has voted against EU laws 2% of the time since 1999″.
As you can imagine it is more than odd to the continental eye what is going on in the UK given the UK has agreed so often with EU laws. Stranger still to the Europeans that the person accusing them sharply of “Brussels gossip ” and election interference, is a politician formerly a supporter of remaining in the EU and now looking for a deal.
Sturgeon hit the nail on the head when she said “May is poisoning talks with the EU”. May`s image, that she has been proudly repeating, of a “bloody difficult woman ” is not going to oil the wheels of an EU deal, and what’s odder it doesn’t suit her.
This side of the Channel feelings towards the UK are not as acidic as you may believe. Ordinary Germans are more puzzled and concerned about this UK political crisis which seems to them something similar to the US situation. Germans are more concerned about where populism is going next, and what your not hearing is how well regarded the Scottish First Minister is. Whilst Sturgeon is having to work double time to prove her worth back in Scotland, Germans are planning marches for Scotland, one March will take place in Berlin in September. A popular German newspaper called Bild recently polled 19 000 Germans on their views on Scotland, and 92% supported the view that Scots should have a bigger say over their future now.
Even today in a restaurant a couple from Berlin asked us what we thought of the UK snap election. We know what we think but I was curious to hear what they thought.
“What do you make of it all” I asked turning the question around.
“I find it creepy that the Prime Minister didn’t turn up for a proper leadership debate” the man said.
“It’s sad it’s come to this” the woman added.
I found myself agreeing.