In two hundred days, the 29th March 2019, the UK will leave the European Union and go to the “good old days”. I won’t go into the details of everything I have been reading in the news. You can read it all for yourself, listen to videos of speeches in the Commons. I can only be grateful to have lived in France for so long – and I fulfil all the requirements for French citizenship. I have to go and sit an examination with the Alliance Française next month to produce a piece of paper saying that I come up to standard for the Froggie Lingo. It is one of the required conditions. Then I can submit my application to the Prefecture of Rouen in November. The UK will have nothing to say about that and the law allows me to keep my British nationality. I will then be both British and European, able to travel without restriction between the two worlds. I also have to get a French / EU driving licence, which I will be applying for next week. British driving licences will no longer be valid in Europe – and I will need to ask whether it is possible to keep my UK licence for when I go to England.
If Brexit is “no-deal”, then it is going to be chaos. Some journalists are likening the situation of this impotent government to France or Russia just before their revolutions, or Weimar shortly before Hitler took over. It is all very frightening as the British political establishment seems about as corrupt as the Vatican and any number of fly-blown banana republics, though more about money than “chicken leg”. Perhaps they are exaggerating and fear-mongering. Though there are many problems in the EU, I have not been hard to convince into the Remain camp – and I give my voice to the cause of a new Referendum before it is too late, offering three choices: soft Brexit according to the Chequers Agreement, hard Brexit or remain in the EU.
The British establishment seems blithely uninterested even in questions of business and trade, where the money is. The situation of EU nationals in England and UK nationals in Europe like myself is still vague and would become dire after a no-deal Brexit. I remember having to have a residence permit here in France, but then there was no problem in being able to work and be affiliated to the social security, health care and pension system. Without all that, I would be back in England and destitute, told that I can eat cake if I have no bread! Not so with French nationality as many British expats here in France have obtained.
From what I am reading in the mainstream news, Brexit seems to me absurd, an impossible situation. There are problems with the EU, over-regulation, lack of accountability and democracy, but the status quo is better than what might happen with a no-deal Brexit. As Voltaire said, Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (the best is the enemy of the good).
A friend of mine wrote to his MP: “Current polling shows that a majority of UK voters, (and of your constituents), want to stay in the EU. The best legal advice is that Article 50 can be rescinded unilaterally, even at the very last minute. Staying in the EU would protect this country’s commerce, manufacturing and agriculture, as well as its influence in the world“. My own work as a French to English translator is an epitome of the need for business in different countries to overcome the language barrier and to trade. I do business with translation agents in several European countries, and one in England run by a French director. He will also have difficulties once the fateful day arrives with all the restrictions and red tape.
I know zilch about economics and and international trade (except at my own infinitesimal level) but I can only strike my forehead with the palm of my hand – repeatedly – when I see the people running Westminster living in – – – Cloud Cuckoo Land. The EU was put together painstakingly over some forty years, and it is all about to be ruined. Perhaps the country of my birth is about to go back to the 1930’s!
This plea will have no effect other than ask British readers to reflect and voice their conviction that the Referendum first-time around was obtained by lies and populist jingoism. Our country lost what was left of its Empire from the end of World War II to the 1960’s. Next, it will be the unification of Ireland (an idea with which I sympathise) and the division of the Kingdom. Alarmism? Perhaps, but what I am reading about Theresa May and the Conservative half-wits hardly inspires confidence. I wonder whether all this is going to end up with a General Election over a vote of no-confidence and Labour getting in under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. We will have deserved it!
Some might ask me what I think about mass immigration and the vast sums of money being sucked out of the social security system. It is not a question I know much about. I live in the country, but I do know that some parts of Paris resemble slum dwellings in Africa, South America and the Middle-East. There is a problem when English people cannot afford to buy or rent homes and social housing is being given to people who have just arrived and are living on benefits. The question of survival is at the front of any populist and nationalist agenda. I cannot myself return to England because I don’t have the money and have not contributed to national insurance for years. I wouldn’t even get a measly state pension! The migration policies of the EU are catastrophic, even for the people themselves living in destitution and squalor. I don’t know what to say, but we can’t ruin everything just to stop the immigrants.
I have so little left of my origins: the English language in which I am writing, my red passport, my Church and my family. I go to Synod and Council of Advice meetings in England. I still have my memories from childhood and adolescence before I arrived in France in July 1982 looking for my vocation and life. The journey took me to Italy and Switzerland, an experience of cosmopolitanism – and I cringe when I read about the parochialism of Tory politicians in a completely bigoted and closed paradigm of mind. I was born in England, and I was given values and a world view I would have found nowhere else, except perhaps in Germany two hundred years ago. The present English political establishment is not the England that made me English!
I ask English readers to think these things over and write to their PM’s to show their support for a new Referendum. I am sure that Europe can and will reform the present institutions in Belgium and forge something that is not only money and material, but also lofty inspirations of the soul, the gift of Christianity, the intrinsic goodness and worth of the human person. There must be light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway, we can only do something about it by staying and working for that reform, not by leaving .
In every lawful and peaceful way, let us exorcise this demon of Brexit and avert incalculable harm to us innocent citizens, our families and friends, and all that matters to us.
Could you be tempted to a companion piece, comparing and contrasting the interrelations of ACC and C of E with those of the formally quite legally exiting UK and the EU?
I’ve read something somewhere fairly recently (was it in George Rudé’s Revolutionary Europe, 1783-1815 (1964)?) about the surprisingly good relations of the UK and the US in the aftermath of the War of 1812 (when your chaps burned our White House, among other things)… Could something like that be possible if the powers that be in the EU were willing (even if largely with an eye to calculated self-interest)?
Hear, hear, Fr. Anthony! An excellent piece. Brexit, if it does go ahead, will be an unmitigated disaster for the UK – or more precisely England and Wales as the Brexit process will result in the inevitable independence of Scotland and Northern Ireland eventually choosing to unite with the rest of the island of Ireland.
It will take decades to recover if recovery is even possible. I confess to being envious of your dual nationality. Given the choice I would opt for EU citizenship over that of the UK any day.
I can’t see why Brexit wouldn’t push Wales to independence as well. And the British government will have only itself to blame.
I did enjoy the 2013 Yes Prime Minister with respect to offering Scottish independence (though it was much less good than the classic series in various ways).
I can’t imagine Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau going it alone, though the unbounded stupidity and arrogance of various politicians might suggest the attempt being made none the less.
In the whole of my life I have never known a time when politics in the UK were in such a parlous and unstable state. I have deep sympathy for those such as yourself, Father Anthony, who face an uncertain future if no provision is made made for expatriates once the UK has left the EU. But beyond that, it feels as though we are walking through a hall of distorting mirrors.
David Cameron and his mate George Osborne thought they were being very clever in calling a referendum. To begin with, they thought it would never happen, because their coalition partners were opposed to the idea; if that didn’t stop it, it would at least put an end to the divisions over Europe that have plagued the Conservative Party for many years. Well, that turned out well, didn’t it! The question on the voting paper left many issues unanswered, and it is highly debatable whether such an important constitutional matter should be decided on a simply majority.
When Cameron was taking his begging bowl round Europe seeking meaningful concessions for the UK, it appears that Mrs Merkel was the prime mover in conceding nothing of substance. Therefore, in my simple book, it is Merkel, Cameron and Osborne who are responsible for the mess we are in. Had there been no referendum, which incidentally Cameron said would bind parliament, we would have carried on as before, grumbling about Herr Juncker and the rest of them, but making the best of it.
In the run up to the referendum, lies were told on both sides – either immediate economic collapse or sunlit uplands. And to add to Cameron’s incompetence must be added that before the referendum he forbade his civil servants to make any preparations for a “No” vote; the even, if possible, more incompetent Mrs May apparently pursued the same line by making no detailed preparations beforehand for the negotiations with the EU. If possible, this sorry story, and the shenanigans post-vote have created an even greater mistrust – perhaps contempt would be a better word – for the political class. And that’s without starting on Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party!
The truth is, that if we do leave, no one knows what the economic consequences will be in the longer term, even if there is short term turbulence. I believe that a second referendum would be disastrous for the cohesion of the UK – Cameron gave his undertaking before the referendum, and opinion polls give no clear idea whether there has been a significant shift in public opinion. The EU has a history of re-running referenda until the plebs return the right result. Thanks to Cameron et al there are deep rifts in the UK and a re-run of the referendum would make them much worse. This is the kind of situation where demagogues rise to power. As Christians we must hope, and pray, that out of this mess comes new life and a vigorous democracy.
A lucid and persuasive review, if I may say so!
“In the whole of my life I have never known a time when politics in the UK were in such a parlous and unstable state.” I think of the reconstruction of the times covered by the dramatization of Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years. I think, too, of my memories (however rough and incomplete) of the years from which Anthony Burgess extrapolated the world of his 1985, with its TUC=The UK vs. wealthy incipient Islam – not foreseeing the rise of Mrs. Thatcher.
Would it be fair to say that, since the rise of Mr. Blair, Chesterton’s observation that “The Party System doe not consist, as some suppose, of two parties but of one. If there were two real parties, there could be no system” has acquired a sinister new strength of sense? An effective ideological consensus exploiting or manufacturing instability like the rulers of Orwell’s Oceania to pursue their monolithic étatistic ‘social-revolutionary’ ends ever further ever faster? Mrs. Merkel meanwhile seems to be pursuing the same Prussian hegemonic ends which have plagued Europe since Bismarck, with an ever more thorough, if varied, Kulturkampf.
Something to make all that unstable in the way Churchill did in his day would be welcome: but are there any incipient analogues? Mr. Rees-Mogg?
“At certain revolutions all the damned are brought and feel by turns the bitter change of fierce extremes.” John Milton.
If I am honest, I rather feel that if we do have a second referendum it will reinforce the idea in our society that things can be changed at whim. If we are going to have a democracy then we need to treat it with respect and this means accepting the decisions of the majority even if it is to our pain. Perhaps then we will become more involved and think about what we are doing so that electoral choices between anti-Semites and ineffective dunderheads, or pro-abortionists and complete idiots, is unlikely to occur.
At the moment, people stay away from the polling station for several reasons ranging from basic bloody minded apathy to pathological fear of the outcome. We need to become brave enough to be truly democratic again. Perhaps the coming hardship will wake people up to its value.
I rather agree. The only justification for a second referendum or “people’s vote” would be that the first result was obtained by the political establishment by deceit and exploiting the movement towards “populism” or nationalism. They are hardly likely to admit that. So dark days lie ahead. I have just about completed my file for my EU / French driving licence and I still have to get a few bits and pieces for my application for French citizenship. Everything that is said about the EU, cubic carrots and heavy bureaucracy, perhaps the beginning of a “Soviet Union” or Orwellian dystopia – seem to be harmless compared with what may happen in the UK. I may be impeded from getting to Synod or Council of Advice meetings by the total chaos in the ports. My only contact with my family might be curtailed in the same way.
I didn’t vote because I didn’t have and still don’t have a residence address in England. Not having the vote then, I took little notice of the big issues – all that money promised for the NHS that didn’t exist – and other matters.
Dark times lie ahead. A new vote would be a ticket out of the mess. It probably won’t happen and the lemmings will jump off the cliff. Not me! Maybe Mrs May will get her deal and save face and agree something with the EU with any mutually acceptable fudging excuse.
I think that when Brexit is finally accomplished much of the fear mongering will prove to be just that, fear mongering. The global economies are too closely intertwined to be separated and will continue without too much pain, international capitalism does not like change. This all reminds me of the fear-mongering of the Democrats concerning the far fetched, at least they thought it was far-fetched, election of Mr Trump, Ms Pelosi actually stated that if he was elected the stock market would immediately crash, everyone would lose their jobs, their homes and their future. Surprisingly, it did not happen.
Many, many Englishmen and women happily lived in France before Britain joined the EU without problems and they shall continue to do so after Brexit as well.
The only real losers may perhaps be the Germans who have controlled the EU long enough. Ms Merkel seems personally offended by the whole thing.