Britain in Europe: To Stay or Not to Stay?
At the commission of the Indian magazine, the Diplomatist, I authored the cover piece for their April edition about the British Royals recent visit to India. My piece deals with the emotional logic that underpins the British referendum to leave the EU on June 23rd. In this long form essay I’ve tried to get into the psychology of those who wish to leave and those who wish to stay. In so doing, I determined that the “leavers” are like a genteel British version of the Trump Coalition, “Their primary slogan could be encapsulated as ‘Make Britain Great Again.’ And in their mythical past, Britain was a whiter, more libertarian, and more industrious place.” An investigation of British history shows that Britain and Europe have always been intertwined, despite the English’s desire to remain in splendid isolation and to preserve their precious sovereignty.
Anyone who has spent time on a cricket pitch, in a Pall Mall Gentleman’s Club, or at a British institution of higher education knows how adamantly the British seek to preserve their peculiar traditions. In these enchanted Isles, any and all weird customs quickly acquire the status of hallowed tradition – defended by their adherents as representing in microcosm the idiosyncrasy and the creativity of the British themselves. Certain British people feel that the European Union (EU) has gradually sought to deprive them of their peculiar customs, laws, and genius through the imposition of homogenising and counterproductive Europe-wide regulations. Despite the UK’s growing economy, some Brits are bitter about immigration, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and housing prices. And Britain’s membership in the EU serves as a perfect scapegoat upon which all these woes (and more) can be blamed…..
The prevailing narrative of the Brexiteers makes clear that the referendum is largely an issue of populism, nationalism, and libertarianism. And yet, the primary things that are broken in British public life are not the fault of the EU incursions. The UK’s train system is in disrepair, there are horrible queues at airport immigration, and the waiting time at the NHS is appalling. And yet, in Eurozone countries such as France, Germany, and Holland, these services all work better. The proponents of Brexit retort that these aspects of British life don’t function because they are overburdened by the sheer number of migrants and visitors that England attracts from Europe.
This argument has been refuted by statistical analysis and by common sense experience. Last week, I waited for over an hour in the queue at Gatwick immigration. Over the course of the day, tens of thousands of people were similarly delayed. Over a year, millions of person-work-hours are clearly lost at queues at Britain’s various entry points. The reason for this is not excessive legislation from Brussels or a robust British defence of the border. While I waited in line, the reason became amply clear. There were 20 possible posts for immigration agents; only four were manned. If a hundred more agents were hired such that all the posts could be filled at Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, and Heathrow 24/7, millions of productive hours a year would be released into the economy. And yet the Home Office does not make these hires. This is because of another uniquely British trait of ‘muddling through’. Britain is not fundamentally a welfare state; public services are provided on a barebones scale. The health service is not up to Scandinavian levels, the trains and roads are not up to French standards, and public science and vocational education is not at German levels. None of this will improve if the UK leaves the European Union.
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