Saturday, April 29, 2017

Will it snow on June 23, 2018? Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. But there might certainly be stormy weather ahead for the EU

I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve twice posted I’ve taken photos - irrelevant to current events our what? Couldn’t be more irrelevant - reported two spats with the Guardian, recycled a few videos with music tracks I like and even threatened to start a new, personal blog, which no one will have access to, anything but anyting rather than join the cacophony and add my two ha’porth in comments about Brexit - what’s best to wear in the run-up to Brexit, how Brexit might prove to be the ultimate diet, why Brexit can be blamed for the decline in bees, that kind of thing. But there is no getting away from it (which isn’t that surprising).

Brexit is everywhere, though what it will mean for Britain is still anyone’s guess, and in keeping with the fact that it is anyone’s guess, everyone with even half a deadline is predicting: in today’s Guardian the Lib Dems Vince Cable is on the side of the doomsayers and reckons it will cause an even bigger financial crash than the one in 2008.

On the other hand some think once Britain has rid itself of the shackles of the EU, the good times might come a rolling. Here the Independent (no longer a print newspaper but carrying on online like some ethereal guardian angel for the bien pensant who thinks the Guardian is too much of a lefty rag) outlines ten reasons to feel positive about Brexit.

Given my abysmal track record in predictions - I predicted Britain would vote to stay in the EU and that Trump would not be elected - I shall gracefully resist once again taking a Mystic Meg role and keep schtumm. But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk generally about what might happen to Britain and the EU over the coming years.

As for predictions, I am bemused: can anyone here tell me what wether we will have on, say, June 23, 2018? That would be exactly two years after the Brexit referendum was held. Will it rain? Will it be a day of glorious sunshine? Will it be hot, unseasonably cold? Will it be windy? Will we be in the fifth week of a drought? There are one or two things we can rule out, of course. Given the time of year, a blizzard would seem unlikely, although I did once witness snowfall in June. (It was in June 1975, and I was attending a two-month NCTJ block release course at the then Richmond College in Sheffield (now Stradbroke College). My mate Tim, a Sheffield local, and I had taken to having a lunchtime pint at the Richmond Hotel ten minutes walk away, and we were sitting (‘sat’) in the bar when I looked out and noticed it was snowing. Mind, it was not a blizzard, the snow didn’t settle and it was unseasonably cold for June.)

So we can say one or two general things about the weather on June 23, 2018, but would be wise to keep it vague. Similarly with predicting what effects Brexit will have on Britain and the rest of the EU: keep it vague and ensure the amount of egg you get on your face is kept to as little as possible.

I don’t doubt it will be an upheaval. Moving house is an upheaval of sorts, even if you move from the bleak inner city to place of bucolic bliss. Things go missing, stuff gets chipped and you don’t really settle in for a month or two after the move. The same will be true of Brexit, but how commentators and pundits can predict so certainly that it will spell doom for Britain/be a return to a golden age I really don’t know.

The fact is that before it became shackled to the tyranny of Brussels/embraced the community of European enlightenment, Britain was far from being the poster boy for prosperity and progress. All nations have their myths, and a current myth in Britain is that we were an industrial giant and a superpower on equal terms with the US and Soviet Russia. But that is not quite true.

Britain has been a member of the EU - and crucially the single market - 44 years and enjoyed many free trade benefits, but from the end of World War II until it signed up in 1973 economically Britain was often a basket case. Cheerful Brexiteers up and down the pubs and golf clubs of the nation will forecast a new golden age of trading. The thing is that the previous golden age of trading had been some 130 years earlier and the world has moved on considerably since then.

Conversely (and in my view) the EU has benefited from Britain’s membership and, arguably, needs us to be a member, and this has less to do with the financial contribution Britain makes than with the steading influence it had. Conventionally, Britain has been portrayed as something of a bolshy fly in the ointment member, complaining about this, objecting to that, but in truth Britain has been one of the steadier members, more inclined than many other members to observe the letter of EU law.

Furthermore, and given the accepted view that France and Germany are pretty much the two mainstays of the EU (and that, we are told, a desire to stop the two countries continually going to war with each other was one of the main objectives of forming a ‘European community’), the lack of Britain’s stabilising influence might be keenly felt.

We’re also told that many of the smaller member states were grateful to Britain for taking the lead in matters where they, too, had the same concerns about some aspect of the EU, but who felt that without the voice of Britain, they could not speak out.

Then there is what might now already be called ‘the problem’ of the EU of Poland and Hungary. Neither country feels much like toeing the Brussels line these days. Just a few days ago Victor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister made a speech that was heavily critical of the EU’s migration policy and in other ways has been apt to clash with Brussels of lesser matters. Mention this to keen supporters of the EU and they will get all misty-eyed and say that ‘families often have their little spats, but at they end of the day they pull together’.

Well, I shouldn’t bank on it. Just as the perceived view of many Brits was (though it was and is not mine) that EU migration and attendant matters was somehow wrecking Britain, it might not be too fanciful to suggest that migration from North Africa and the Middle East could prove to be one of several nails in the EU’s coffin, the loss of Britain’s stabilising influence being another.

As for Poland and the threat it poses to the equanimity of the EU, as far as I am concerned the Polish come in two flavours: reasonable and outright nutters. On the reasonable side one might count the former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who seems to strike a note of commons sense in all the Brexit bollocks and has no discernible axe to grind. As for outright nutters, look no further than Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the surviving half of the Kaczynski twins - his brother Lech, then Poland’s president died in an air crash in 2010 - and who occupies a strange position in Polish politics.

He and his twin founded the right-wing (and some say rather anti-semitic) Law and Justice party, which is now back in power in Poland under the premiership of one Beata Szydlo. Kaczynski is chairman of the Law and Justice party, and although it is power holds no government position and is just an MP, he is widely thought to be pulling all the strings. Pertinently Kaczynski is also as implacably opposed to further immigration than Orban and has clashed with Brussels on that and many other matters.

Migration is, though, just one of the problems the EU will continue to face without Britain as a member. Another is the perpetual problem of the euro for many member states and the related problem of unemployment: manageable in northern states, embarrassingly high in Med states. This map, from the European Commission itself, shows quite graphically that the differences are large. And to compound the problem these are just overall jobless figures: among those under 25 the number is far higher, with often one out of two without work.

I did start off by insisting that Mystic Pat had been banished to under his giant toadstool in the garden and vowing to make no predictions. Well, I shan’t, but that doesn’t preclude me from making one or two suggestions. Well, make that one suggestion: Brexit will be the first step in the slow, painfully slow, but certain disintegration of the EU as we now know it. And history will show that Brexit wasn’t a cause but a symptom.

If, as I suggest, the EU will prove less durable than supporters hope, I further suggest it has only iteself to blame. It worked as a small trading bloc and it worked as a European Community. But then the idealist took over from the pragmatists and developed a queer sort of megalomania: talk of ever-closer politic union became louder, there was talk of forming an EU army and for a while the EU had its own ‘foreign minister’ (for some time an ineffectual former Labour Party apparatchik of whom little is now heard).

The real problem for the EU was that it had overreached itself. Member states and their citizens were perfectly happy with getting spanking new roads and schools and hospitals over the years, all paid for by EU funds (which, let’s be frank, was the money of the EU’s major contributors, Britain and Germany), but many became rather picky when it came to the downsides of membership. Most notably they weren’t at all keen to share in the EU’s goodhearted, liberal drive to take in as many immigrants as possible.

This might make it sound as though I am agin the EU. I’m not, although my sister and my brother are both convinced I am a closet Brexiteer. As far as I am concerned the EU is essentially a great idea, but one which, for one reason or another, has gone bad. I think it might have started losing the plot when it was turned from a trading community, and economic bloc into a would-be political union (although keen ‘le projet’ supporters insist that that was always the intention: odd, then, that the rest of us were unaware of it).

In an ideal world I should like to see the wiser heads in Brussels take stock of the situation and decide that losing Britain is Not A Good Idea, and set about seeing how they might change Britain’s mind. But even I know there is no hope of that. Oh well.

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