Leaving the European Union*

Leaving the European Union

Is Brexit a Good Idea or a Bad Idea?

That depends on who you are and what your definition is of “a good idea.”

Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party frontrunner for Prime Minister, believes Brexit is a terrific idea. That’s because he thinks a Brexit hard line will get him elected. Nigel Farage, a Eurosceptic nationalist, agrees. He’s the leader of the Brexit Party, formed in January 2019 as a hopefully more palatable alternative to the far-right xenophobic U.K. Independence Party that Farage previously led, that similarly is advocating a hard line on Brexit. But that may be because Farage believes that focusing on a more well-rounded Brexit philosophy will allow his party to replace an unsuccessful Conservative Party-managed Brexit. The Brexit Party has a benign platform. It seeks to “promote and encourage those who aspire to improve their personal situation and those who seek to be self-reliant, whilst providing protection for those genuinely in need; favour the ability of individuals to make decisions in respect of themselves; seek to diminish the role of the State; and lower the burden of taxation on individuals and businesses.” So nice!

UK citizens living in England are unsure confused by Brexit … and befuddled by Johnson. Fifty-two percent think perhaps it is a good idea, and forty-eight percent or so think maybe it isn’t. But that’s because many continue to believe the fake news stories that sugar-coat the realities focus on the potential positives and the false promises made by electioneering politicians (including those by Johnson that Brexit would save Britain’s National Health Service 350 million pounds a week) that have proven illusory.

Most UK citizens living in Scotland and Northern Ireland hate the idea. Ireland detests it. That’s because they would be economically devastated disrupted inconvenienced by Brexit.

Europeans living on the continent (for example, in Belgium, France and Germany), are opposed to Brexit. They want a united Europe that includes the UK. That’s because they’re enamored of a centralized, continentally-controlled EU they believe a united Europe is stronger economically, politically and militarily and want to ensure that there’s no repeat of inter-European rivalries that led to two 20th Century world wars contentiousness.

For the Russian government, and for those whose name is Steve Bannon and Donald Trump, Brexit is brilliant.

The harsh reality is that Brexit means divorce … European style. As those who have gone through a contentious divorce well know, both sides suffer. The longer the divorce proceedings last, the more the suffering. The UK voted for Brexit in June 2016. The process of separation from the EU was supposed to last two years and be followed by a clean parting of the ways … and yet the separation process continues … and will continue until at least October 31, 2019. Why did a majority of UK citizens vote to go through such suffering?

Perhaps they didn’t understand that their divorce from the EU could become excruciating. Perhaps they believed the politicians who told them that the process itself would be relatively painless. Most people who haven’t experienced a divorce don’t understand how bad it can get. And the UK-EU divorce isn’t even final yet.

Divorce can get bad. The process already has been bad … and the UK is only in the separation period. It’s likely to get worse. Both sides have now dug in. It appears likely that the UK will leave without reaching an agreement with the EU (a “hard Brexit”) … which means that arguments likely will continue … for years … with potentially horrific economic consequences, primarily for the UK … but also for the EU.

With so much potential for pain, why are there so many radically different perspectives?

The reasons for the UK’s decision to leave the Union were primarily political. They ranged from an anti-immigrant backlash – a majority of UK voters apparently preferred that England be closed to further immigration (they opposed the EU’s open internal borders as well) –, to concerns over the level of control vested in Brussels (the EU’s capital) (populists believing that corruption and political ambition had gotten the best of the EU, turning Brussels into an unelected, centralized government bully where the well-connected were over-compensated and insulated from ordinary voters), to the alleged attempts at micromanagement of British affairs by Europeans, to concerns over the level of jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, to a belief that the UK could negotiate improvements to its trade relationships using the WTO framework. Many in Britain therefore questioned whether economic Union with Europe – that is, the EU’s free trade, single market that had first been championed by Margaret Thatcher – was best for the UK. At the time of the Brexit vote in 2016, the UK was still suffering from the 2009 recession and has been the only EU country other than Italy to have experienced a decline in real wage growth over the 10 years through 2018.

In short, Brexit was a nationalist, jingoistic, populist, Eurosceptic/anti-EUist reaction to a variety of actual and perceived wrongs … as is true in most divorces.

The effect of the now-3-year Brexit ordeal is that the UK is politically fractured with both the Conservative and Labor Parties weakened and the UK’s parliamentary democracy on the verge of non-functionality … with Britons more divided and more confused than ever.

Who benefits in such a politically an emotionally-charged atmosphere?

Russia for one. Russia has correctly seen the EU as a force opposing Russian interests in what Russia thinks of as its “near abroad” – those countries with which it shares borders and which were once part of the Soviet Union – most of which border EU countries and aspire to full EU membership. Russia reacted with force when one of those countries, Ukraine, threatened closer ties with the EU … and was on the verge of a successful first step … when Russia intervened. Under any scenario, a UK exit from the EU will leave both the EU and the UK worse off weakened … free trade or not, cuts to migration or not, trade barriers or not. Brexit will damage the EU and the UK and make each less able to oppose Russia everywhere in its “near abroad.”

Why, however, would President Trump favor Brexit? The reason is that he, too, prefers a weaker EU and a weaker UK. He sees their weaknesses as conferring an advantage on the U.S. He sees a weakening of all other countries, whether enemies or allies, as beneficial for the U.S. He correctly believes that he will be able to impose strike more favorable deals with a weakened EU and a weakened UK … seeing both as prey to predatory trade policies. Also, like Steve Bannon, Trump is anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-alliances – as are many Brexiteers.

And that’s why most continental Europeans, as well as most Irish and most Scottish, oppose Brexit. They realize that both parties to a divorce – as well as their friends and relatives (including Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Scotland) – will be worse off as a result. And, not surprisingly, Russia and President Trump agree … and are happy with that result. The Bank of England – one of the few sober judges on the UK side of the divorce proceeding – believes that Brexit will severely damage the UK … and that a “hard Brexit” would be devastating … and that’s precisely the direction in which the UK and Boris Johnson are apparently headed.

Finally (from a good friend)

“Lexophile” describes those that have a love for words, such as “you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish” and “To write with a broken pencil is pointless.” An annual competition is held by the New York Times to see who can create the best original lexophile. This year’s winning submission is posted at the very end.

I changed my iPod’s name to Titanic. It’s syncing now.

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Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.

This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians Club, but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.

I know a guy who’s addicted to drinking brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.

A thief who stole a calendar got twelve months.

When the smog lifts in Los Angeles U.C.L.A.

I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.

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A will is a dead giveaway.

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The guy who fell onto an upholstery machine last week is now fully recovered.

He had a photographic memory but it was never fully developed.

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Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.

I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

Did you hear about the crossed-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

When chemists die, they barium.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went, and then it dawned on me.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.

I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can’t put it down.


*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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