I think a lot of people — a lot of foreigners living in Britain — are feeling like this character in Paul Murray’s wonderful satire of the financial crash, The Mark and the Void:
“But if you write the truth about our time? How can the truth ever be obsolete?”
“People don’t want the truth,” he says, waving a hand at the streets around us. “They want better-quality lies. High-definition lies on fifty-inch screens. I wrote the damn truth already, Claude. Maybe I didn’t write it well, but I wrote it. And not only did no one want to see it, they made me feel like a fool for even trying. They laughed out the window at me as they sped away on the gravy train.”
“That was during the boom. Now the gravy train has stopped.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t unsee what I saw. The money poured in, and it was like suddenly everyone in Ireland took off their masks, and they were these horrific, rapacious alien beings who if you fell down in the street would just leave you there to die.”
Oxford is full of Europeans, and it seems like everyone is walking around in a daze since the referendum. It’s rare that you hear any other topic of conversation. If anyone has an opinion other than pro-EU they’re not saying, only citing some elderly relatives for possible insights into the psychology of Leave.
I hadn’t anticipated how hurt and angry people would be. Lots of people are talking about leaving. It’s not that anyone is expecting anti-European pogroms, but it makes it suddenly palpable how thoroughly unwelcome foreigners are in this country. I noticed this immediately when I arrived here, so maybe that’s why I’m not so shocked by this result.
Oxford is a xenophilic bubble, in this respect — 70% for Remain — so it’s easy to ignore, if you’re so inclined. Also, many Europeans didn’t really think of themselves as foreigners, which is why this rejection was such an emotional blow. It’s devastating for the university, of course.
I fear that this may turn a lot uglier. I think the British are going to be shocked to discover how much the rest of Europe resents them. It’s like a bad marriage: Europe has been making all kinds of compromises and telling Britain how much they love it to keep the union together. For the sake of the children let us say. The effect was only to heighten the British sense of their own importance. Now that they’ve announced, even though you’ve done everything I asked, I’m still leaving you, because I never loved you, and I never wanted to be married anyway, the British we’ll be surprised to discover how cold and businesslike the Europeans can be, in to just wanting be rid of them as quickly as possible. I fear that the unrealistic expectations will give way to fury and escalating rounds of retaliation against the hostages, who are the Europeans living in Britain and the Britons living in Europe.
It is accomplished. The UK is headed out of the EU. The generational coup of the pensioners against their children and grandchildren.
I’d hoped, but not expected, that it would turn out otherwise. Huge self-inflicted damage, and I doubt that the situation will develop to the advantage of those who supported Brexit. Scotland will likely secede. Northern Ireland may see the peace process unravel. I’m slightly worried that “Project Fear” actually underplayed the risk. It’s perhaps not the most likely scenario, but I see as perfectly conceivable that we face years of escalating frustration on both sides of the negotiating table, as the British are confronted with the reality of a Europe that has no interest in making the fantasies of the Conservative Party come true. The British public will become more bloody-minded, unwilling to be dictated to by a bunch of foreigners, leading to a feedback loop of retaliation against the hostages, the EU citizens living in Britain and the British living in the EU. It could get very ugly.
It’s a bit like climate-change denialism: You have one side saying, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the effects of our actions, so let’s be hopeful that it won’t be so bad. It might be substantially better than the median prediction. They conveniently ignore the downside risk, which could be pretty terrible.
How will the referendum turn out? I’ve been saying, from the time when the referendum was just a twinkle in Nigel Farage’s eye, that I could hardly imagine the process, once Cameron had agreed to promise it as an election ploy, could end in anything but a UK withdrawal from the EU. Whatever the ostensible question, these sorts of referenda almost invariably turn into plebiscites on people’s general satisfaction with their government, and the answer is invariably NO. I can’t imagine the British people, given an opportunity to poke a finger in the eye of their leaders and those in Brussels, will turn it down. It just seems too exciting. On the other hand, people say that the undecideds will swing toward a status quo position, afraid of disruption. Could be. I suppose it depends on whether the public generally views their votes as political actions or as a form of self-expression.
Whatever happens, the next days and weeks will certainly be eventful.
I’m certainly not the only one to remark on the generational war being waged by the cohort of postwar babies, who discovered the power of age-based politics in the 1960s, against their children and grandchildren. Those now entering retirement have locked in promises of high pensions to themselves that no one before or after them will be able to receive.
That’s where the Brexit referendum comes in. The Guardian reported that Britons under 35 are almost 2:1 in favour of remaining in the EU, while those over 60 are almost as heavily biased in favour. A new article in the NY Times gives some anecdotal evidence in the same direction. This is usually explained as a matter of generational experience, those who experienced the Second World War smelling plans of German domination. But these are some of the same people who voted overwhelmingly to enter the EEC 40 years ago.
I can’t help but wonder whether, on some level, the over-60s see the situation they’ve manoeuvred the younger generations into — crumbling infrastructure, insufficient and overpriced housing, excessive pensions that will come at the expense of social spending for decades, and the only solution they can see — since a pension isn’t worth much if there aren’t enough working people to actually provide the services you depend on — is to block off their children’s potential escape routes.
Maybe it’s not about keeping THEM out. It’s about keeping the younger generation IN.
I was just reading this article about how the UK farming minister told the Guardian that British withdrawal from the EU, would be a godsend to the environment:
If we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment…
“New and interesting” sounds good, but these hardly seem like essential criteria for environmental protection laws. “Safe” and “effective” seem more appropriate. I’m happy to leave it to Hollywood to entertain me, if EU environmental policy will just, you know, protect the environment.
An even more extreme example of the craving for politics to fill the boring spaces in an empty existence is this Bernie Sanders supporter who was quoted in a recent NY Times article:
Victor Vizcarra, 48, of Los Angeles, said he would much prefer Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton. Though he said he disagreed with some of Mr. Trump’s policies, he added that he had watched “The Apprentice” and expected that a Trump presidency would be more exciting than a “boring” Clinton administration.
“A dark side of me wants to see what happens if Trump is in,” said Mr. Vizcarra, who works in information technology. “There is going to be some kind of change, and even if it’s like a Nazi-type change, people are so drama-filled. They want to see stuff like that happen. It’s like reality TV. You don’t want to just see everybody be happy with each other. You want to see someone fighting somebody.”
You can’t say he’s not going into it with his eyes open.
As usual, I blame Abbie Hoffman.
A lot of EU citizens who live in Britain are worried that they will be forced out if the UK voters decide next month to withdraw from the EU. The Leave campaign dismisses this, and all concerns that anyone might have about this radical step, as “Project Fear”:
Clearly any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here. Any other suggestion is just absurd.
Given that the main point of Brexit is to reduce immigration from the Continent, and given that tempers are likely to flare when the fate of said migrants (on both sides) are negotiated, and given that current UK law clearly would not give most of the EU citizens who are here the right to permanent residency, it’s clearly not absurd to worry. To adapt an old saw, even those whom political campaigners are trying to make paranoid, have real reasons to worry.
Well, from the NY Times, here’s some non-evidence:
Rose Carey, the head of immigration at Charles Russell Speechlys, a global law firm based in London, said she had seen an “unprecedented amount” of applications for British citizenship in the last few months.
“Historically, E.U. nationals didn’t really bother applying for a British passport,” she said. “It used to be a couple hundred a year to now five queries a week.”
From a couple of hundred a year to five a week — that’s pretty rapid growth!