Mad dogs and Englishmen

The eurosceptics should drop this nonsense and realise that it is better to be in than out, both for economic reasons and for political ones.

The risky adventure on which the UK Prime Minsiter, David Cameron, has embarked to save his own party from being split into two parts gives rise to a practically schizophrenic desire in me.

One side of me enjoys imagining the English out of the EU, with the old men relaxing peacefully while their ladies nibble at their watercress sandwiches every summer – that is all of 48 hours – oblivious of what is happening around them, finally finding their peace of mind because those unelected men in Brussels no longer impose rules on straightened and bent bananas, rules that the citizens of the UK have to obey willy nilly. Oh, the freedom of being the master of your own home! 

There is an element of schadenfreude in all this, of course. Great Britain would have by then become little England that has missed out on the benefits of the huge European single market. To top it all, I also imagine Scotland finally disengaging itself from the UK wagon train and enjoying the benefits that the English thought as not being worth it, considering the loss of sovereignty, blah, blah, blah.

On the other hand, if you ask me what is best for both the UK and the EU, I can only have one answer: The eurosceptics should drop this nonsense and realise that it is better to be in than out. Both for economic reasons and for political ones.

The EU is a huge market that the UK must have access to. Going out would mean not only losing the advantages of membership but also negotiating from scratch Britain’s access to the market that it would have just spurned. I suppose it will be one great European exercise in collective schadenfreude...

Some argue that the English attitude towards the EU makes sense if one looks at Britain’s relations with Europe over hundreds of years. The English have generally been eurosceptics since Joan of Arc finally put an end to the dreams of the Anglo Saxon kings ruling France. 

Since then the cornerstone of British foreign policy has been to prevent any country, particularly France and Germany, from controlling Europe, while Britain exploited its colonies protected by the powerful Royal Navy.

The name of the game was to keep Europe divided and therefore weak. Historically, the English fought Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler to a large extent to prevent them from controlling all of Europe. In other words Britain knew that it always benefitted from a politically divided Europe.

Things have changed. But not for some Englishmen. 

In an article in ‘The Guardian’ when the issue erupted in 2013, Peter Millar put it this way: “But those who don’t want to hear that won’t hear it. In the meantime the pretence that there’s an ‘us and them’ continues, rather like one partner in a relationship acting as if it’s an open marriage without consulting the other. Our government offices don’t fly the EU flag alongside the national flag, as they do in nearly all other member states. It is as if there is a collective subconscious (conscious among some) conspiracy to brand ourselves as ‘other’, ‘special’.”

Millar argues that  “This subliminal Europhobia has developed over the past two decades as the rest of Europe has integrated while UK politicians desperate to maintain their importance have pretended to ‘bravely’ stand up to the process while actually being too timid to take part. When people crossed the Channel, they either referred to the country they were travelling to or said “to the continent”. The apocryphal newspaper headline ‘Fog in channel, continent cut off!’ is used to illustrate British insularity, but it doesn’t say “Europe cut off!” That would make no sense to readers of the day.”

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has been exploiting all this and has threatened a haemorrhage in the Consevative party to the extent that Cameron could not ignore the danger to his party. So Mr Cameron, fully aware that this has to be nipped in the bud, decided to bring back into the fold the eurosceptic voters by negotiating a pseudo deal with the EU which, supposedly, gives a special status to the UK.

This is fudge, of course. The deal is no big deal: it changes only minor items when compared to the hundreds of other commitments the UK has agreed to over the years. It is just a sop to the British shortsighted anti-European sentiment and is aimed really to undermine Farage and ensure the political survival of Cameron. The economic benefits of the EU membership to the UK are so overwhelming, that Cameron is ‘advising’ the British to stay in the EU.

It is not easy to convice the British, particularly the English, that the hundreds of years-old policy, to keep Europe divided and weak does not hold water any longer in a globalised world. If the British vote with their emotions and not with common sense it will be just bad news for Europe but a disaster for the UK.


Education and class

A recent commentary in ‘The Economist’ compared Cambridge with Peterborough, two similarly sized cities in the same part of England about an hour away by train from London.

Both have an almost identical share of residents born in other countries. 

Cambridge is overwhelmningly pro-EU and Peterborough is overwhelmingly anti-EU.

This is how the commentary put it: ‘Cambridge bears the hallmarks of an economy in which one in two has gone to university, Peterborough is visibly a city of school-leavers.’

It also points out that polls show that 57% of those educated only up to 16 oppose EU membership while only 38% of graduates do so.

Clearly the divide on the EU is one resulting from education and class, a difference that people like Farage have been exploiting no end.

Meanwhile the ‘Times of Malta’ last Wednesday reported that 11% of the population of Cospicua benefit from EU food packages. Floriana (9%) and Valletta (8%) come next in line. Evidently the areas that benefit most – as a percentage of the population – are the more economically depressed areas. This is no surprise, of course.

Ironically, these are the same areas where people – loyal as ever to Labour – voted overwhelmingly against Malta joining the EU 12 years ago.

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