Will We Stay Or Will We Go?

Great Britain


According to the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper for all your urgent articles on arthritis, hedgehogs and Prince William (although they do have great arts coverage) the crossover age from Remain to Brexit is 43. This is the point when you go mad and turn from a cuddly liberal to a swivel-eyed loon who spends every day making chutney (her) or perusing books about forgotten military campaigns (him).

Something’s gone wrong, then, because I’m the same liberal now that I ever was. I voted for our Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan because I didn’t think another member of the super-rich elite would represent ordinary Londoners, and I felt shame for the ill-advised smear campaign he ran instead of outlining his policies (even Goldsmith now admits that was a huge mistake).

The problem is that now the Remain and Brexit camps have reduced a complex question about trade, borders and control to one subject – immigration.

It would be stupid to deny that there are problems with economic migration in Britain – of course there are, from Romanian sex traffickers working in suburban Manchester to Volvo’s car wash employees who are forced to live in squalor.

But the past teaches us that you cannot hold back a tidal wave. In the history of the world there has never been a mass movement that has been successfully prevented with the imposition of restrictions. It’s better to control than to ban. We now live in an organic, free-flowing society where the young move to find work and learn new languages to do so, and this movement will continue to grow as the arrivals become second-generation.

Isolationist policies always backfire unless they’ve been imposed from the very start, as in the case of Switzerland, a country happy to bank Nazi money under the guise of neutrality. The concept of Brexit is the very embodiment of isolationism. One of the problems is where you stop. What do you ban? What do you allow? At this point arbitrary opinions start to cloud judgement and render the entire concept ridiculous.

In the 1980s censors attempted to control home entertainment and tied themselves in semiotic knots determining what people could see. It’s worth reading John Martin’s excellent ‘The Seduction of the Gullible’ for a good laugh about that disastrous campaign, and how it resulted in the virtual end of censorship. Same idea.

Clearly there are some very serious problems – not so much of the coming-over-here-taking-all-the-jobs-we-don’t-want type, but in the exploitative criminal underclass most of us are barely aware of. In the vacuum left by the collapse of manufacturing in Britain, change was desperately needed, and no-one likes to see their homes transform around them. But you don’t solve problems by building higher walls.

Right now the mood of London is inclusive, but outside the mood is one of exclusion, fostered by the way in which London gets preferential treatment in everything as grants are cut throughout the rest of the country. It’s summed up by the government’s food and drink czar, who announced that the ministry was a success because it was selling British cheese to China. It might have been better if she’d been able to announce that she’d ended hunger among British children. It’s less a question of leaving or going than what we prioritise, caring for all who live here or concentrating on overseas sales.

Britain is not exactly a stranger to new arrivals. It’s been going on for well over 2,000 years. It’s part of our nature to teach our ideals to those who arrive.

11 comments on “Will We Stay Or Will We Go?”

  1. Roger says:

    The biggest problems with economic migration in Britain aren’t the refugees and poor economic migrants but the rich people who use London housing as a safe-deposit and who visit for a few weeks a year for a pleasant holiday.
    As for Brexit/Bremain, I don’t know enough to make a reasoned judgment and I loathe both terms anyway. I was going to decide on the basis of which set of supporters I disliked more and voting against them, but my hatred for both gangs has reached a stage where I wish I could vote against both.

  2. Colin says:

    Ted Cruz ran a very clever ad during the U.S elections concerning immigration fears
    Perfectly aimed at lower paid workers.

  3. Vivienne says:

    I’m past 43 but decidedly remain. Those Exit people somehow still think we have an Empire and we could return to a prosperous Victorian era, instead of realising we are now a very small, interdependent island. Unless we stay we will just be like a spoiled brat standing on the sidelines and forever moaning about being left out of the game. Big brother US isn’t going to take our side either. We should not focus on the short term – in the end cooperation is surely the only answer, and there are a huge number of problems facing the whole world that we need to engage with. I agree that London has shown that we are moving in a more inclusive way, we just have to stick with that. (My personal feeling is that Sadiq won because he’s a real Londoner – Trump and similar probably don’t get that).

  4. admin says:

    Well said, Vivienne!

  5. Martin says:

    I’ve just turned 50 (A birthday celebrated in my beloved Amsterdam, where as a scientist I spent 3 years as a migrant worker!) but retain my youthful belief in equality and Liberty, I would say fraternity but that excludes the ladies. I find the assumption that you should be more right wing as you age ridiculous, as wrong is wrong, regardless of the age of the viewer! You only have to look at the leaders of the leave campaign (Farage, Johnson, GoVe, IDiot-Smith, et al) to realise how wrong it would be to leave our brothers and sisters in Europe and surrender our future to the small minded bigots of thre “mail”ocracy.

  6. Steve says:

    I dont agree with Vivienne sorry.
    I dont know if I am Brexit or not but ffs the empire! Not even my parents would have taken that seriously and I am the same generation as Admin.
    In the newsagents ar Finsbury Park the other day, I heard a middle aged black guy arguing for brexit. Many immigrant people whose parents and grandparrnts came in the 60s and 70s think that this isnt the country they thought they were committing to.
    I dont think that the UK and continental Europe have so much in common and I lve and work in London Frankfurt and Sofia. (im sitting in frankfurt as i type this) Theres a vast gulf of incomprehension in both directions. I often feel from people who say they ‘feel’ Euopean, well 90% of them dont even speak any european language, and definitely never really had to live-experience as opposed to holiday-experience the vast differences in outlook law and culture between central europe and Britain. They might as well say they feel Chinese frankly. I dont speak here for everyone but for most.
    Also Immigation is one thing but this is migration a tide that can go out as well as in. People who come here from say Pakistan to make a family are commiting to the community. European migration like I say is a two-edged sword and how can you plan hospitals, schools, homes and even pensions that are 40-year fixed investments for millions and millions of people who can be gone as quickly as they came. Its daft. it’s all based upon this aspiration that we should be all ‘european citizrns’ but there’s nothing meaningful to be a citizen of; it’s a vast democratic deficit felt acutely in every country in europe. Look at the right in Austria now, adding to Hungary, Poland and the like. And Euopean arrest warrants, well … Dont think that justice in bulgaria is anything like the uk. Unfair to pick on bulgaria as well, i just happen toknow a bit more there.
    The eu politicians are far short of the calibre needed to solve its problems and contradictions.
    looked at from where Im sitting today, the only real interest the eu has in britain is its cash and the cash deficit today is a drop compared to whats on the way. By the way the ppf in britain is equally a timebomb and bhs and tata are only the first small warnings compared to whats coming in the 2020s. But this huge upcoming financial disaster is small compared to the timebombs over here on the continent.
    Finally there’s the whole Turkey question. But I think I’ll stop there. Back to the beginning; actually you can stop migration if you want. Bulgaria pretty much managed it, with its wall and its somtimes harsh treatment of migrants.This is the culture there, also ‘european’ by the way.
    Finally the most daft argument ive heard is the europe is a guardian of workers rights. Put differently, if the stupid uk voters vote the wrong way, the good old europeans will ensure they cant pass any bad laws. Well, once you give away democracy like that you might get some nasty surprises from a future europe dominated by poland and turkey.

  7. Steve says:

    My cutting and pasting went a bit wrong above, not easy to compose coherent text on an iphone sorry. But hopefully the main points are clear. Id love to be optimistic and for me petsonally brexit would be a disaster. But i do think the socalled debate is basec on terrible ignorance.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Watching events from half a world away is fascinating. I particularly appreciate Steve’s comment about experiencing a place as a resident as opposed to a visitor. They are very very different things. I look at Europe and realize the tiny countries (sorry, but they are – even France) took hundreds of years to develop, during which time people planted themselves and built cultures, languages, and customs. Travel was so unpleasant who would bother? The unification of the 1800s became possible with the development of railways, but limited itself to language grouping. (France is something else, I think, and did it so much earlier in spite of travel difficulties. That was the fault of the people who had sort of become English, of course.)
    North America and South America to a certain extent are creations of the rails. The early American states and Canadian provinces were like Europe, people planting themselves (pushing the residents out of the way first) and expanding slowly. Enter the railways and settlement strode across the country (pushing residents harder and faster). Now that areas are sort of filling in people move around to find a satisfactory match and cultures bang up, blend, and reform in startling ways. If you hear reports from the Fort Mac fire you’ll hear Newfoundland and other East Coast accents as well as Alberta and American ones.
    Could Europe ever be this way? You’d never get the people to agree to one overarching entity that really administers the whole place. From what I see, the regulations that get put in place are mostly nuisance limitations: no unpasteurised cheese, restricted sausage content, multi-lingual labels, things that just rile people who have done things one way for generations. As for language well you’re certainly not going to legislate that. Quebec tried it and while the French language is much more comfortable there are still moments when the apostrophe in Eaton’s department store is brought up again.
    Still, I hope the vote goes to remain – and I’m 74.

  9. Steve says:

    Hi Helen
    I’ll reply to a couple of points here though I suspect it’s just you and me left!
    The big issues are not about labelling and packaging. They are:
    The right of any citizen of any eu country to go to any other eu country and immediately receive the same rights to social benefits as a native, including payments for their family and children even if these don’t come with them
    The creation of a financial union between states whose fiscal and demographic profiles are wildly incompatible with one another
    The right of any eu state to subject the citizen to any other eu state to its justice system, even though almost all of these give far fewer rights to accused people than the uk and even though this can involve activities that are not even criminal under uk law
    The fact that eu common market regulations are often prejudiced in favour of big political players against the ordinary people eg volkswagen diesel emissions
    The total scandal that luxembourg and to a lesser extent dublin are giant tax black holes at the centre of the eu. Liechtenstein is also worth a mention here.
    Luxembourg in particular is an abomination that makes the virgin islands and jersey etc look like specks of dust in comparison to the money that is draining out via lux. 50m inside the border of lux is a petrol / gas station and every weekend the germans from miles around make vast queues to tank up in tax-free petrol. Its very good for europe to have a little scandal around the bvi because it diverts attention from the luxembourg elephant in the room.

  10. Steve says:

    btw it’s often said that the eu as a supranational body created by independent states under treaties is a unique thing in history.
    But if you look at the 19th century chinese state system, i have to say the similarities are scary. Because it didnt end well.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    I would be really disturbed about the law application, I’ll admit. I don’t suppose many countries would be willing to go along with the principle of taking the freest country’s system, nor would the UK be happy with a whole new set of crimes. I thought the free movement rule would be a good thing but I can see where there would be problems. Why is it impossible to say that benefits are only available if you are living in the country providing them?
    I’m afraid to look up the 19th century Chinese system because I think have a pretty good idea how that ended up.

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