My apologies to anyone who happens to come across this blog - or even makes a point of visiting it - and who is from South Korea, Australia, Ukraine, Canada, Vietnam, India or Brazil: this blog post will probably interest you even less than last year’s weather forecast. It’s about the European Union, you see. I mention those countries because according to the statistics (‘stats’) visitors from the countries listed have somehow or other washed up here in the past four weeks. They are, of course, perfectly welcome to carry on reading, or they might spend the time considering an issue of their own. Even those visitors from EU countries might find themselves stifling a yawn, as are most of us here in Britain.
Will we or won’t we? would seem to be the issue dividing the country if our homegrown media are anything to go by, leave the EU that is. The trouble is that no one has told the country which remains resolutely undivided. ‘Brexit’, the catchy phrase thought up by the scruffier members of the Press as a useful short term for ‘Britain resigning its EU membership’ - they tend to think in headlines, see - might well elicit a response from many if you directly ask them their opinion, but crucially you have to ask first: it’s not a conversation which will naturally arise. ‘Should Louis Van Gal get the boot from United?’, ‘What on earth is the Government thinking asking Google to cough up just £180 million in taxes?’ ‘That Julian Assange - is he really still stuck in the bloody embassy? Lord, what a wanker! Thought he had died’ - these are topics you might hear touched upon in the friendly banter down the Pig and Whistle of a Friday night. ‘Should we leave the EU or stay?’ rarely, if ever, gets a look-in.
That’s very odd, because if you read our newspaper and listen to our broadcast news, you would think there was no hotter topic.
This state of affairs is causing both the We Must Stay In and We Must Get Out camps to tear their hair out. Both would like us to see the question of Britain’s continued membership as the defining question of the early 21st century and can’t understand why your ordinary Brit apparently doesn’t give a monkey’s either way (much as, it has to be said, your ordinary Brit doesn’t really give a monkey’s about most things).
Yes, there are voices decrying that ‘the country is being swamped by fucking immigrant benefit scrounging bastards because of the EU’, and yelling that ‘we can no longer let ourselves be ruled by fucking Brussels bureaucrats’; and there are other voices - notably a tad more ethereal - who insist
‘Britain’s destiny lies in Europe’ and ‘we must embrace the European ideal’. Both sides warn that leaving/staying in is absolutely vital for the future of Britain’s economy and staying in/leaving will have dire consequences. But at the end of the day it is all for naught: most of us just can’t get excited about the issue.
As it stands, our Prime Minister David Cameron has spent the past five years or so touring the capital cities of EU member states trying to drum up support for a ‘deal’ which would redefine Britain’s membership and persuade the majority of the country to vote to remain in the EU when the referendum is held (now said to be due in June). A day or two ago the terms of the ‘deal’ were announced. ‘Is that it, is that really it?’ the We Must Leave camp snorted in derision, ‘are these the only concession we’re going to get?’. Conversely: ‘Cameron’s done it! He’s won marvellous terms from the EU and there’s no question whatsoever that we can now stay in on our terms. It’s a tremendous achievement!’ (For some reason the We Must Say in gang are far more likely to use the word ‘tremendous’ than the We Must Leave side.)
All of this leaves the ordinary Jill and Joe bemused and baffled. So what was decided? they ask. Well, they can keep asking, for not only is no one going to tell them, but no one can tell them: whether you agree that Cameron has won the day is pretty much down to whether you want to agree or not. And in providing you with a rundown of the details of Cameron’s success/Cameron’s failure all commentators are doing his highlighting their own particular bias.
. . .
Until recently I was all in favour is Britain remaining a member provided the EU was sorted out, it dropped all this ‘ever closer union bollocks’ and it kept far better track of where its money was going (apparently the Italian Mafia has been doing exceptionally well from all the EU projects over the years, though it would be unfair to single out Italian crims as I understand Spanish, Portuguese and Balkan gangsters are no slouches either). Oh, and as a bonus I was hoping it might be persuaded to drop all the posturing that the EU was by far the best thing to happen to Europe since the Renaissance.
Well, that is not my position now, but nor have I gone over to the ‘we must leave’ camp. It’s just I think whether or not Britain stays or leaves is now pretty much irrelevant in that in about five years time there won’t really be much of a functioning EU left. That’s a big claim, I know, but suddenly it’s not looking at all rosy. And it all seem to start coming unstuck when the financial shit hit the fan in 2008.
For many years I used to organise a weekly five-a-side football game. I did so because I, who was the very definition of ‘crap player’, was thus always guaranteed a game as I always got in touch with myself to see whether I could come along. I always could. And organising that game taught me a lot about team playing, and by extension it taught me a lot about who can be relied on to pull their weight (e.g. actually turn up on time so) and who could not. The EU seems to be a similar test of character. The EU and belonging was all fine and dandy while the sun was shining and the EU built marvellous new roads, leisure centres, bridges and I don’t know what else in your country (usually at the expense of ‘net contributors’ - Germany is by far the largest, followed by France, Italy and the UK).
Then when the 2008 crisis erupted (can a crisis erupt?), it all slowly began going pear-shaped when Greece’s euro crisis was discussed. But even then the cracks could pretty much all be papered over - we got lots of rousing EU speeches and pious homilies that ‘there are rows in every family’, the implication being that when push came to shove the ‘EU family’ would once again pull together. Except it didn’t and doesn’t in the slightest look like ever doing so. But the real divisions showed themselves and national interest reared its ugly head again when migrants from the Middle East and Afghanistan began pitching up on Europe’s southern border in search of a better life (and who can blame them?).
With quite frightening speed the EU fell into factions, broadly along the lines of the ‘old EU members’ and the ‘new EU members’, who just happened to all to be former Soviet bloc members. It is relevant that at least three of them - Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - have distinctly right-wing governments who don’t go in for all the liberal lovey-dovey crap and are apt to call a migrant, whether a genuine asylum seeker or not, a bloody nusiance.
Of course I could well be proved wrong and the EU will gain even more strength from the ongoing euro crisis - don’t ever think that has yet been solved - and the migrant crisis. But I’m not holding my breath.
It was good while it lasted, I suppose, but I’ve long learned that the great thing about being a cynic is that you are rarely disappointed. As for Britain’s, by now rather sweet ‘should we leave or should we go’ (a bit like a virgin decided whether or not now is the time to give her all), it is becoming pretty damn irrelevant.