Victoria Jelinek


December 18, 2018 VI – Brexit talk

“No amount of political freedom will satisfy the hungry masses.” Vladimir Lenin

Brexit SimplifiedI went to see Three Men in a Pub the other day in town. They’re three English men who create podcasts about current events that are aptly recorded in pubs. The topic for the evening was Brexit. It was held in an imitation of an Irish pub. Despite having lived in France for ten years, and knowing many of the expatriate community even by sight, as I looked around at the room, I didn’t recognize a single Brit present. There seemed to be none of the families who have homes here and children in local schools. Instead, the room was full of men who were drinking a lot of beer. There were four women, including me and the barmaid (who exclaimed loudly to a customer, “I don’t know what this is about! I don’t know a single thing about politics!” I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t be proudly broadcasting that these days love – it makes you look foolish. But, then again, perhaps, that was the point?”). Unfortunately, there was only one of the three men from the podcast, but he bravely outlined the argument against Brexit and the activism that he and his colleagues have been doing in response to the 2016 referendum. I’ll recount what he said, as well as recreate the environment in the pub as well as I can from the notes I scrawled over the course of the evening:

There is nothing grown or manufactured in the UK that can’t be made elsewhere more cheaply. Most folks don’t realize that Spain takes the UK’s garbage. The Welsh farmers who almost unanimously voted for Brexit don’t realize that Europe can find sheep elsewhere. Moreover, the tariff for Welsh lamb is currently 0%, but with a no trade deal, it will rise to 40%. Great Britain can’t feed itself. It’s possible that the UK could create 75% of the food needed to feed its population, but not the rest. 60% of Great Britain’s overall trade is with the EU. Currently, a single ship has 60k containers on it, and with the UK exiting the EU, each ship and each container on it will need to be checked by customs authorities in Europe. Meanwhile, there isn’t enough space to safely store the goods – particularly perishable goods, while the respective authorities check the shipments, nor are there finances to hire the man power to do this. As a matter of fact, Amazon (as in Jeff Bezos’s company) bought much of the warehouse space left in the UK over the last few years, and with the inability to export to Europe or elsewhere soon, the UK will need the space to store goods and Amazon will be right there to charge a fee for the service.

1.7 TRILLION dollars in trade agreements with 46 countries will be eliminated once the UK is out of the EU. To get back into these agreements, 45 of the countries have to say “Yes” to the UK, and Moldova has already said “No” to the UK joining. By leaving the EU, the UK is pulling out of 759 trade agreements – and by pulling out of these 759 trade agreements, those holding the agreements will sue the UK because they’ll want their money back for investment not realized. Recreating 759 trade agreements will be a “complete palaver.” The biggest hope is a trade deal with India or Paraguay in order to avert a 4% knock on GDP per year, which is “hilarious, given their respective situations.” The government and Leavers claim a trade deal with the USA is “in the works.” At this, the host rolled his eyes and then asked the crowd the likelihood that anything salient would come from that – at least anytime soon – given the man who’s currently in the White House. Leaver hopes that the commonwealth will agree to trade deals with the UK have “little promise” because the commonwealth is poor. In fact, putting all their wealth together, there are less financial possibilities in trade with all of them than through trade with a single country such as the UK, France, or Germany.

“Not everyone who voted to exit is racist, but everyone who’s slightly racist voted to Leave.” Moreover, a referendum is “advisory”– it shouldn’t be taken as legally binding. If a “regulatory election” had happened instead of a referendum, there would have been another election because of all the “irregularities.” For example, what is the source of all the money the Leave campaign had? What part did Cambridge Analytica play in propaganda efforts? There have been 45 years of peace throughout Europe and now this. Putin and Trump want to destabilize Europe and Europeans are falling for it. Already Poland, Hungary, Italy and France (of recent) have strong right-wing movements that want to see their respective countries pull out of the EU. Even so, the Remain campaign garnered 48% of the vote and they were “asleep,” with “shitty leaders,” providing “shitty information,” and there wasn’t a single leader that was popular, nor were any of the Remain activities organized. However, if a referendum was held now, “It’d be another story altogether,” because Brits are actually aware of what the consequences of leaving the EU are. According to the deal that Teresa May has recently negotiated, Brits may be able to stay and live in one country, even retire in that country, but they won’t be able to move to another country or do trade in another country without that country’s permission. The politicians are placating people rather than educating them about the facts.

Adding to the melee, Brits aren’t willing to talk about religion or politics, so no one is talking with each other. A no-deal with the EU means no trade deals with anyone (a few angry, drunk men began muttering that this information is “absolutely fucking false”). The World Trade Organization provides “basic deals” only. In Geneva recently, regardless of whether there is a deal or not, he discovered there would be 12-18 months for the agricultural production in the UK to survive. (At this point, men starting interrupting and arguing with him, and with each other, whilst a fat, greying long-haired English man squished my leg against the bar where I was sitting with a bar stool that he was leaning on for support and didn’t hear my squeal due to his inebriation and his focus on the increased tension in the room. I pushed him physically aside and he didn’t notice).

Before the ‘one man in the pub’ could continue, several men started openly and aggressively arguing with him and with each other. Their arguments were along the lines that farmers in the UK would “Rise to the occasion” and create more agriculture “If needed…” they’d “certainly” rise to the challenge of needing to produce food and trade for the British people (ever wonder why it is that the English seem to be the only ones that say they’re “British?” The Irish and Scots don’t generally use this, opting, instead, to say they’re “Irish” or “Scottish” respectively). There were statements called out that the UK “loses” 140 million a year in subsidies to the EU, to which the speaker replied, “Excuse me sir, but the UK gains much more in subsidies annually…” but he was cut off by more grumbling proclamations straight out of the Leave campaign’s playbook. The “Q & A” that the speaker then proposed essentially involved questions and statements surrounding economic tourism: one man, a builder, worked in Spain, then Italy for another season, and now in France, what would happen to him? Another works as a van transfer driver and is “hoping for the best” regarding Brexit, that he can come out to France “every once in awhile to ski and work…maybe apply for a temporary visa…” (I smothered a chuckle at this, knowing how difficult it is to receive visas to work and live in a given country). The ‘conversation’ then became more unruly, fuelled by beer and testosterone. There were no questions and answers, just men vehemently asserting that the “cost” of being in Europe was much greater than leaving, that the “independence” that the UK will now have outside of the EU is much greater than the dependency they had while in it. (It was grimly amusing to me, too, because before each of these statements, the respective men would begin by saying, “I didn’t vote to leave…BUT…” and then accompanying the aforementioned statements, they argued about the need for an “independent parliament,” and “no more back breaking subsidies paid to Europe,” and less “problems” with the “threat of terrorism” by refugees). An Irish guy reiterated what the speaker had said about the trade options facing the UK after Brexit, then pontificated for a bit about its being “normal” in Ireland for this sort of “political nonsense.” The same men who had been openly snorting and sneering at the  information about what the trade deals meant for the UK, were acting as orators at this point and answering questions from the room put to the speaker, who was too polite to cut them off. A few men, always beginning their statements with “And I’m not for Brexit…” went on about how the referendum was “democratic” and that it was “a democratic process” that “needs to be respected.”

At this point, the speaker attempted to focus their contentiousness and get them back ‘on side,’ by saying something about being “banned” from the USA in an attempt to get the audience on board with a common enemy. Meanwhile, the folks around me began giving each other advice about how to stay in a European country, “Get a residence card right now…it’s good for ten years…” One member of the group said that if you apply for a French passport, you’re “automatically” allowed to stay while it’s being processed, to which another replied, “That would be good, ‘cause I don’t know which country I want to go to next.” Another group around me bragged that they still pay their taxes in the UK despite having lived in France for a few years, and that they’ll “just” go back to UK if they need anything just like they always do, and if necessary, they’ll work in the black. (I again wondered where all the Brit folks were who have homes, who have children here who go to school, who pay their taxes in France — sic, as I know that many Brits do not pay French income taxes. They will be effected more than these single men renting apartments if they have to leave, sell their homes, uproot their families, move their pets…).

The speaker again gained control of the room. He said that the UK is an aging population and without immigrants, there aren’t the youth necessary to work and pay taxes. That there are 180k vacancies in the NHS right now, so the NHS will have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries, where corruption and credibility is an issue, “especially with medicine,” to provide doctors and nurses. The same applies with teachers – there are a “raff of vacancies” throughout the UK for teachers, and, again, “We’ll have to rely on ex-commonwealth countries to fill these posts.” (I then couldn’t hear the speaker because the people next to me were discussing what they had for dinner. A woman in their party complained that if she had known she’d be “forced” to listen to “political talk” then she would have stayed at home and watched telly. On the other side of me, there was a ‘discussion’ between men about their various misinformed ideas about what it “really” means for trade, as opposed to what the speaker had said, and how to “dodge” being expelled from the country). A man received ‘the floor’ from the speaker and said that he’s not a Brexiter, “of course,” but he has issues with an EU army, EU regulations, and the lack of a representative in the EU parliament, but he enjoys being in the EU “because we can be.” (He also enjoyed speaking into the microphone a lot during the Q & A. I didn’t hear what the speaker’s response to these erroneous assertions were because the barmaid was laughing very loudly at something a man had said to her). Another guy took the microphone and was talking about patriotism, a “duty” to country and “identity,” to which the speaker responded blandly that we all feel an affinity to our “home country.”

The speaker then took the opportunity to say that the buildings, spaces, parks, etc. in his hometown of Liverpool have all been regenerated and renovated thanks to EU money. To this a man called out that the “Beatles yellow submarine money” (Festival Park) was sponsored by the UK parliament, and not the EU “by the way!” The speaker then talked about a 1947 agreement made by the UK to take refugees, and the fact that the UK did help start war in Syria in the first place. Now, there are no refugees ‘streaming’ into the UK, as the propaganda will have you believe, but there is rising racism. He told us about how he had travelled to Syria and spoke with refugees who are teachers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and who just want to stay home but it’s too dangerous. (Behind me the men talked about how all the ‘Paki’s’ can just go home. How this guy-the speaker- is a “tosser” because he thinks he knows everything but he hasn’t even mentioned the war in Yemen).

I decided it was time to leave. I supported something different happening in my village. I tried a local beer that was okay and I don’t generally like beer. I have material for a ‘background flavour’ piece on a hot topic that I’ll write up for my blog. And, I see first-hand the men and women who supported Brexit, because these are a micro example of them – a lot of very strong opinions, doggedly held onto in order to support overall constructs of reality, and despite their constructions lack of factual fortification. They’re not concerned with an overall picture of global events, or political and social foresight into how it effects societies as a whole – they’re concerned with how it affects them individually. A problem that we increasingly observe throughout the world, as we see the rise in nationalism and right wing fervour in many countries, and despite these same elements claiming to be collectively oriented. I find myself feeling that it’s an affront that these ‘secret’ Brexiters are in France profiting from the country. I comfort myself that hopefully France is gaining some income from them, even if it’s just their bar bills at pseudo English pubs.

Having spent 13 years in England, and another two years in Scotland, I familiarized myself with pub culture in Great Britain (and then some). My opinion is that one only begins to know a Brit after spending a half-decade or more in their company. Hence the popularity of their pubs and the amount of alcohol they generally consume. I believe it’s in a pub that the very stratified society fractures, the politeness, the ‘chin up’ stoicism dissolves and, in my opinion, it’s where the greatest sense of humour in the world is on display. While this evening at the “Brexit debate,” provided me with further evidence of my assumption that it’s in a pub that the English relax and become more equitable, it did not support my belief that it’s also where their humour shines. Perhaps it’s as Ricky Gervais notes in his stand up show Humanity: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean that you’re right about the political opinions you hold; offense is about feelings and feelings are personal. Politics isn’t.” Or it shouldn’t be. But what Brexit has revealed is that there are very deeply entrenched feelings in the UK about what it means to be British and also historic feelings of suspicion towards Europe that are embedded into that identity.

***Just saw this article in The Guardian newspaper today about Brexit & ski resort jobs (though I DO believe there’s a two year transition period after March 2019, so nothing really changes till 2021?):

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/dec/18/brexit-thousands-ski-resort-jobs-at-risk?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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Possibly Nationalistic, but…
August 19, 2017, 5:19 pm
Filed under: From the Soap Box | Tags: , , , , , ,

Jasper Johns FlagDear Rasmus,

I’m writing to you because it’s the medium in which I feel I can calmly explain my perspective and hopefully be listened to. While I have generally always agreed with your view of America and Americans – that they are (often) materialistic, wasteful, entitled, nationalistic, and spoiled – I don’t agree with your recent hard stance that the US and its citizens are not “worth” considering seriously anymore. Your saying this frustrates and hurts me.

Like you, I think that we are witnessing something in the USA akin to the fall of Rome, a state that has grown too corrupt to sustain itself anymore as it is. And, I, too, have lost much faith in the people of the USA since Trump’s election. I suspect that his brand of boorishness, misogyny, racism, stupidity, and aggression is very attractive to more people in the USA than I care to admit, and this is disheartening and scary. Moreover, the recent march of Nazi’s & white supremacists down the street of one of its cities has exposed the terrible fact that at its core, America is racist & violent. A fact that makes me sick to my stomach with grief, even as it does not surprise me.

However, to say “Americans voted him in,” and “Americans wanted him and like him…” is not to consider the context of the states or this particular situation, facts, and nuances. Furthermore, it exposes your ignorance about my country, which alarms and upsets me (and you can’t counter that I don’t know much about your country – I do historically, and you must admit it does not play as large a part on the global stage as the US does, thereby creating more opportunities for exposure to it, some superficial knowledge of it, and consequently an opinion of it). Yes, the electoral college is the way that the US runs its election, but it’s an antiquated system that does not at all reflect the popular vote – quite the opposite both in its historical inception and its objectives at the time, and at present, because HRC won the popular vote by a large percentage and still lost the election. Therefore, it is not accurate to say that Americans wanted Trump in the White House. This is further exacerbated by the fact that 29% of the population didn’t vote – which I find irresponsible and terrible, too – and they were mostly on the left side of the gamut. They shortsightedly and ideologically didn’t want to “vote for the lesser of two evils.” Also, there are PACS that are financed by conservative individuals and organizations that give huge amounts of money to GOP campaigns because they are ideologically and fiscally driven and ultimately run the current political narrative. Yes, this reflects a rotten state of affairs, but it also means that it’s very, very difficult for a Democratic candidate (much less a third-party candidate) to run independent of corporate and conservative interests. Finally, there is voter suppression and gerrymandering, which are technically illegal, but these are laws that GOP members have consistently violated and are constantly being called out for doing so to no avail, as yet. To add further complexity, there is mounting evidence that there was collusion with a foreign government to influence the outcome of this last presidential election.

Therefore, to say, too simply, that the American people “obviously” want Trump in office, and to any retort or proffered information on the subject, to arbitrarily respond that it’s a morally corrupt country that “deserves” to fail, as do its people for “allowing” this state of affairs, is to bely a lack of true understanding of the context and the insidiousness of the multi-faceted obstacles to fair election processes in the USA which I have outlined above. By refusing to accept these facts, it appears that you are ready to assume the worst and are hoping for mayhem and tragedy in order to “show” the Americans how “bad” they are, etc. Which in turn hurts my feelings because it reflects an emotional response I sense is born of resentment, and given your intimacy with me, I can’t help but take this personally.

Since Brexit last year, then the Trump “victory,” then the nail-biting race to presidency between Macron and Le Pen, I have felt closer to you because I have discovered that people and their political beliefs are not what they seem. Otherwise “normal” and intelligent friends and acquaintances I have had have surprised me by being pro-Brexit, or pro- Trump, or pro-Le Pen. Seemingly liberal English friends living in Europe who raise their families in the EU, work and profit in and from the EU, have believed Brexit is the “best choice” due to misplaced nationalism and their extended families frustrations in the UK. American people living in Europe, raising families, working and profiting in and from the EU, have supported Trump because of tax breaks for their families, erroneous ideas about the “communist” aspect of Obamacare, or they have simply not voted for the aforementioned reasons. And in France, friends who seem to appreciate the cosmopolitan influence of the expatriate community, and the money and the livelihood that it brings to our home, suddenly ‘busted out’ with pro nationalistic fervor and the belief that France should close its borders and leave the EU. In the wake of this, I have found very few people who seem to be authentically liberal – inclusive, thoughtful, farsighted, global in perspective, with no hint of racism, sexism or xenophobia – and you are one of them. This fact has made me appreciate you more and to be grateful for your friendship and your (generally) liberal and global values and perspectives.

Until now. By explicitly stating that America is “not worth saving” and Americans are entitled, horrible, narrow-minded, faddists, etc., you are insulting me. I am not like this. I am thoughtful, bright, curious, kind, generous (obviously modest), and it was an American environment that raised me. Doesn’t it follow that it can’t be all bad? Nor can my loved ones in the USA be all bad. Not to mention its artists, writers, filmmakers, philosophers, political leaders, and the great entrepreneurial and scientific minds that have been, and are, American. Additionally, since Trump took office, the American people have successfully battled back an encroachment on healthcare, environmental protections, a Muslim ban, and now against white supremacy, with relentless protests, rallies, donations of time and money, calls and letters to newspapers and their congressional leaders – by unrelentingly fighting for the ‘fair’ and ‘just’ cause despite the odds, which are a house and a senate full of GOP members and a president and a cabinet prepared to do anything to erase Obama’s era of leadership. That’s impressive. Have the Brits rallied against the mess of Brexit, the debacle of their situation and the confusion of their leaders? The French almost voted in a fascist and they don’t speak out/protest/rally against or around anything unless it’s a threat to their working or social benefits. No person or country is perfect. Give due respect where it is deserved, and it is deserved by most of my countrymen and by me.

Consideration and judiciousness is also deserved on behalf of my son, who is (part) American (and it’s not all the “bad” parts). He is affected by your comments about Americans because he likes you very much and he hears everything. Your comments confuse him, and make him feel defensive on behalf of his mother. I know that you’re frustrated and upset by a few American clients you have had over the summer who were atrociously rude and ungracious and that this has colored your perspective. But don’t let it. For my sake as well as for your own.

With love,

Victoria