Reaction to Brexit

We’ve left the EU.

It still doesn’t feel entirely real, to be honest. It was assumed that the British people don’t really like change, that they’d stick with what they knew, that referendums don’t normally deliver results like this.

But it did. And now we’re out. Now we are a small little island bobbing around on it’s own with no real idea what’s going to happen or who it’s friends are. We’ve rejected our neighbours, we’ve turned our backs on our allies and we’ve upset a lot of people. The pounds low, the stock markets breaking and at the moment it looks like all those warnings were in fact correct and in a day we’ve screwed up our country beyond repair. This is a historical moment, something that may well have a massive effect on British history for the foreseeable future. The historian in me is excited, the traveller in me is upset and the regular human me is confused.

Neither campaign was particularly good. The Leave campaign has been accused, and rightly so, of using racism to create fear and in doing so gain support. As Nigel Farrage was such a big part of the Leave campaign it always had that dodgy UKIP feel that a lot of people can’t abide and their incredibly dubious ‘breaking point’ poster really did not help matters. All of this really dominated the campaign when in reality there were a lot more points to consider.

I know people who thoroughly researched the EU before the referendum and after much soul searching voted to leave, and I know they didn’t do it because of immigration. Immigration may be the reason some people voted, but there is this idea floating around that it must be the only reason and it really, really wasn’t. There were many concerns about the EU being a huge, confusing and undemocratic entity that was trying to take over the entire region and ensure the individual countries had less and less power for their own affairs. This may or may not be true, but it is a valid concern, and one that doesn’t stink of racism and xenophobia. There is also this deep seated British need to separate ourselves that perhaps played a bigger part then the younger more Europe friendly voters realised.

The media’s attempts to paint leave voters as exclusively working class small town un-university educated Daily Mail readers also backfired and may have actually lost the remain campaign the support they needed. The Remain campaign didn’t really seem interested in stating why we should remain in the EU; they seemed more focused on the dangers of leaving, and this simply failed to impress people.

If you focus on why the other party is wrong instead of on why you are right, it makes it look like your own argument isn’t that strong. I’m sure there were a lot of good reasons they were talking about, reasons they should have made the focus of their campaign, but instead all I could hear was fear mongering and a growing resistance towards it. Perhaps they didn’t trust the British people enough to give them real arguments out of fear it would go over our heads, or perhaps they trusted us too much to make such a big decision on something a lot of people simply didn’t know enough about.

It didn’t help that there is quite a massive lack of understanding about what the EU is and what it does in this country. The fact is it’s a massive, bureaucratic and multilayered organisation that is very hard to understand, and I do question if their lack of transparency is real as so much as people didn’t know where to look.

I’ve always known the EU existed, but until this referendum I’ll admit I never knew a great deal about it. I loved the fact I could live and work in another European country and I thought the idea of uniting countries in the same area via trade and belief was a good idea, but I never knew the logistics of it.

I voted remain because I love the open borders Europe has, I love the freedom of people moving and visiting as they please. I love the idea I could have just packed up and moved to Germany, or Holland or Italy or any of these 27 countries if I chose. And I loved cheap travel. Maybe these aren’t the calculated, well researched reasons that they should have been, but you always end up voting with what is most important to you at that given time.

There are a lot of questions, a lot of confusion and a lot of anger going on at the moment. The press is dominated by the immediate negative effects this decision has made, people are fighting amongst themselves, the young are accusing the old of destroying their futures, accusations of stupidity, racism and ignorance are flying around. The Leave voters are assumed to be racist, and the Remain voters apparently can’t deal with the realities of a democracy. These reactions are all to be expected, but none are particularly helpful.

Perhaps some of the older voters did vote because of an outdated idea of making Britain great again. But perhaps they voted because they, unlike us, have lived through a time when Britain was not part of the EU. Perhaps because of this it isn’t such a scary concept because they know we’ve done it before. And perhaps they also voted this way because they’ve lived through our membership of the EU, maybe they have a better insight of how it’s changed the UK then we do.

Some people did vote because of racism; perhaps  because they don’t like the EU telling us we should let in Syrian refugees. Maybe others don’t like the free flow of people, perhaps they want to build a wall around Britain and truly cut us off from the world. But others would have voted for any number of reasons; including the un-democratic and over imposing structure of the EU and fears that a closer union would end in one state, one army and one currency. Public opinion has never been and will never be unanimous, and it does not and never has fitted into neat categories.

Victor Klemperer, a Jewish academic and diarist who kept a record of the Nazi regime frequently found that you could never assume someone’s beliefs. He encountered children who spat at him in the street and Nazi officials who apologised to him, who told him they didn’t agree with the regime. He found different reactions and opinions everywhere he went, and he stressed throughout his book that the ‘vox populi’ is never unanimous. This is something I feel we could all learn from, something that would stop these broad accusations and let us focus instead on the actual arguments and the future.

Who knows what’s going to happen now? Maybe, miraculously, the leavers are right and this is the dawn of better trade deals and a rising economy. Or maybe we’ve just shot ourselves in our collective foot, will realise just how bad a mistake and will end up running back to the EU and beg to be let back in, which (if it did happen) would result in a much worse deal and the end of the pound. Hell maybe someone will invade us and the rest of Europe will turn a blind eye. Should we be optimistic? Should we be terrified? What do you think?


Donald Trump and the banning debate

A section of British MPs have debated whether the controversial republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has caused worldwide outrage for his comments regarding Muslims including the call for Muslims to be banned from the US, should be banned from visiting the UK. This is a result of an online partition calling for Trump to be banned from the UK which currently has 576, 447 signatures SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh claimed that the ban could be justified on ground of ‘religious harmony’, but others have said that the ban could actually create more support for Trump because it may give him ‘martyr’ status, and even those who would usually abhor his claims would support his right to free speech.

I do not think Trump should be banned from the UK. This is not because I agree with Trump; frankly I still can’t quite believe the guy exists, let alone that anyone would consider letting him run a country. However, the worst thing you can do with a bigot like this is deny them their right to speak. If you do this it gives them ammunition. It gives someone whose views are normally ridiculous a genuinely valid argument, because we are denying them the free speech we often fight so hard to protect. And we would also be denying ourselves a golden opportunity to ridicule this man and show his ideas for what they are.
We should not ban him, rather we should try and set up a televised talk with a live audience and panel who would be given the opportunity to challenge Trump, to put him on the spot and to make him squirm. I remember years ago the UK wanted to stop Nick Griffin participated in a BBC debate. The debate went ahead anyway, and Nick Griffin was put on the spot and he showed himself for what he was, which gave him opponents even more ammunition to criticize and challenge his views.
This is precisely what we need to do with Trump. Rather then deny him free speech, we should use free speech against him. Clearly no matter what we do we won’t change his or his more hardcore supporters beliefs, but we can try to trip him up on his logic enough that maybe the more intelligent potential supporters will question him. This is not guaranteed, but it can’t hurt. We shouldn’t be scared of these people, we should show that rather then just try to hide from them and pretend they don’t exist we can and we should challenge them, not just from behind a keyboard but in real life. The call to ban him was a valid form of protest, and is good because it shows that a large number of UK citizens disagree venomously with his assertions, but we need to go beyond that. We can’t just say we disagree because we don’t like what he says, we need to take that and then show why  what he says is wrong. To simply disagree isn’t enough, we need to engage with these kind of views in so much that we can break them apart, ridicule them and prove them wrong. That is the only way we can even hope of defeating someone like that.


Why the UK can and should take more than 20,000 refugees:

The refugee crisis, in which thousands upon thousands of desperate people are fleeing countries such as Syria in an attempt to reach EU countries, has been in the public eye for quite a while now. The response from the general public in the UK has been quite disturbing; despite humanitarian concerns (recently perpetuated by distressing images of a dead child, even though we had known about the death toll for months prior to these images) and many UK citizens, organizations and charities pressuring our government to take in their share of refugees, many other people (including, until recently, our own prime minister David Cameron) have been opposed to offering asylum to these people, arguing that it will encourage more and more people to come and that Britain cannot take the extra numbers. A poll by the Telegraph has shown that 54% of people who answered didn’t think the UK should take more refugees.
The distinction between refugees and migrants, the latter who allegedly want to come to the UK  to benefit from our health and welfare systems, has been being blurred and sometimes used interchangeably in a very unhelpful way, and the arguments used against them seem fairly generic and largely incorrect. I’ve been looking into it, and from what I have found most, if not all, of these arguments against letting refugees into the UK are incorrect, exaggerated and disturbingly similar to arguments used by newspapers like the Daily Mail against the UK accepting  refugees trying to escape Germany in the 1930s during the build up to the second world war.

The UK has pledged to accept 20,000 migrants into the UK by 2020, but as the crisis is happening  now, as Germany and France are accepting a far larger number than this (Germany has said they will take 500000 refugees a year), and because I believe we can and should at least double and probably triple the amount of asylum seekers we let into the UK, I’m going to look at several potential arguments against letting these people in and show why they are wrong.

1: Britain is full, i.e the UK is a small, already over populated Island that cannot house all these new refugees, let alone their children and grand children
Britain is not full, and the housing crisis is not the fault of immigrants or even a rising population. According to http://www.emptyhomes.com/, there are (or were at the time of writing) 610,000 empty homes in England, which is far more than is needed to house these 20,000 migrants, in fact you could house every refugee that Germany has said they can take per year (500,000) and still have houses to spare. There are also empty and/or abandoned pubs, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, and other vacant commercial properties that could be turned into housing more easily and quickly then it would take to build new houses.
There is also a lot of space to build new houses. If you have ever been on a long distance train or coach in the UK, you will see for yourself just how much land there is that is largely devoid of houses (or will have a couple of isolated, lonely houses surrounded by countryside), and yes I appreciate that a lot of land is used for farming and crops, but I have been to several of these places up and down the country and I am here to tell you that it there is a lot of land that could be used to build new houses.
Apart from London, most UK cities are not actually that large, and their suburbs are often on the brink of the types of land I have just described. There is room to enlarge these residential areas and build more homes. Of course we shouldn’t do away with all our country side, I personally love visiting it (although I could never live there) and it is important for our environment that we  maintain our forests and do not unnecessarily start cutting down trees, but a lot of this land is not forests, and does not have a lot of trees (trees don’t have to be cut down, trees can live alongside houses) and is often not doing very much. I recently read an article on the BBC website that claimed that “The urban landscape accounts for 10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales.“, and claimed  that “In England, “78.6% of urban areas is designated as natural rather than built”. Since urban only covers a tenth of the country, this means that the proportion of England’s landscape which is built on is… 2.27%. Yes. According to the most detailed analysis ever conducted, almost 98% of England is, in their word, natural.” (see full article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096) This was written a few years back, and I can’t comment on its exact accuracy, but it is in line what I have observed on my many trips up and down the country that country side and underpopulated areas vastly exceed compact city and residential spaces, and when people say “Britain is full” it seems quite ridiculous to me, because if anything Britain is actually quite empty. I see no reason why we cannot build a lot of new houses and still maintain a lot of the British country side.
Population growth may be a problem decades down the line, as people will have children who will have grand children etc, but this does gloss over the fact that a: humans don’t currently live forever and although people do live longer then they used to, the population won’t just keep rising and rising without limit because people will die,  b:  people can and do emigrate to other countries and quite a few UK nationals will not spend their entire lives (or their children’s lives) in the UK, and c: on average people are having less children then they did a few decades ago, and in about twenty years if less and less people do continue to have children we may actually need immigration to boost our youthful population. If it was a million new people who would be moved here tomorrow, I might have some slight misgivings, but I strongly believe we have the capacity to at least double the amount of refugees the UK has said they will take.

2: We do not have enough resources for us and all these new people

Supermarkets waste food every day, and we have a lot of excess that is thrown away. According to a blog on the LSE website, “Britons dispose of 7 million tons of food and drink from their homes every year – the majority of which is still edible“, and the UK, The US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is actually needed by their populations. We have heard the stories of people who go through supermarket bins and feed large numbers of people on the food these supermarkets throw away, and just from going to a supermarket we can see the vast quantities of food they stock and I find it very hard to believe that an extra 40,000 or so people would make a huge difference on these resources, especially considering the amount of supermarkets we have in this country. These extra people are not going to double the population any time soon, and they would need to literally double it in order to make any noticeable difference as far as food is concerned if these figures are correct.
There are concerns about a water shortage, and this is something I’ll admit I don’t know very much about, but I haven’t seen any warnings or felt any repercussions from that so as far as I am aware this is not a massive concern. Of course there are environmental issues about more people using more un-green energy sources and slowly killing our planet, but 1: this is a worldwide thing, not limited to the UK, and 2: we need to look into how we can make energy more efficient and utilize things that can contribute to it (a big one being rubbish- rather than landfill it can be sent to facilities that can burn it to create energy) rather than using it as an excuse not to allow people into the country. There may be pressure on schools, but some of these migrants may be teachers and more people may encourage more schools to be opened, which in turn would create jobs and allow more choice. There may be pressure on the NHS in some areas, but some of these migrants may be trained in the medical profession and may be able to positively benefit the NHS in a variety of roles. I’d say we have  a lot more to fear from an aging population than immigration in this department as older people typically require more medical care; does this mean we should kick out old people? I am assuming the refugees would not all be sent to one location and would be spread out around the country, and so I do not believe there would be nearly as great a strain on public services as one may think, and especially in certain areas the benefits may greatly outweigh the costs.

3. Refugees are here to benefit from our health, jobs, houses and welfare 

This doesn’t make any sense to me. I do not believe anyone would travel thousands of miles in a perilous and potentially deadly journey and end up waiting for months in a camp hoping for asylum unless they actually had to. Are we that conceited that we think people would go through all that just because they want to come to the UK? Really? We know where a lot of these people are coming from, as far as I am aware over half of the refugees are from Syria and Britain appears to have said they will take exclusively Syrian refugees. Syria as we know is in the middle of a war and the population is being terrorized. These people did not come here for an easy life, they made a very hard and dangerous journey because they did not have any choice, and we have no right to dismiss these peoples experience based on some misjudged and incorrect prejudices.
There also seems to be a pretty weird assumption that immigrants do not have any skills, that they seemingly just existed un-productively in their own country until they tried to come here. But that’s just not true, many of these people are going to be skilled in a range of professions that they would have practiced prior to current events that they can use to benefit our society and economy. The people attempting to enter the EU who have been interviewed by UK journalists have come from a range of professions, such as law, journalism, and teaching, and many are students. There is no evidence that these people are not planning to work once they come here, and I see no reason to assume that. Helping these people find houses and professions will take time and money, but this will not be a long term thing and in the long run our economy is likely to benefit in many areas.
People often freak out about immigration because they fear they will ‘take our jobs’ and drive down wages. But according to the Telegraph last year said, and I quote, “on average there were 683,000 vacancies in the UK job market in the third quarter of 2014”. That’s definitely more than enough jobs to go around, and a lot of the problems are down to people not having the right skills for certain jobs, not having enough experience,  people not advertising properly or high turn overs, but it is simply untrue  to simply say that there are not enough jobs to go around and go on to blame immigrants for stealing them. According to these statistics you could double, and even triple, the amount of refugees the UK has agreed to take and still have more than enough jobs for everyone. We need to invest in training and help people in the UK make choices that will make them more employable, not blame refugees for an imaginary job shortage.

I have yet to find one convincing argument for why we should not accept more refugees than we have agreed to take, and how doubling or (hopefully) tripling that number to be more in line with the rest of the EU would have a negative impact on the UK .Humanitarianism aside for the moment (if thousands of desperate people wasn’t enough to sway you) I cannot see any logical reason why we cannot take more than 20,000 refugees. Yes, we should  monitor it and not just open the doors for millions of people, but we can easily accommodate more than 20,000 and if we can, we should. The history books will judge us for this, and decades from now history students will study this exact subject and wonder what the hell was wrong with us, just like we do now about Nazi Germany and Britains refusal to save more people fleeing the Nazi regime (largely due to prevalent anti antisemitism, a shared belief in eugenics and these decade old arguments of Britain not having the space). Fears of over population have been around for decades, and they have never reached the numbers people feared and have never had as much of an impact as people said they would, and I see no reason why now is any different. We need to remember our role in the what is going on in Syria, our role in the Iraq war and the power vacuum that has led to the rise of IS, and before complaining about taking in these people actually think about why they need to come here, because we are not blameless and we need to take our share of responsibility.
If you have any arguments I have not mentioned, or you want to dispute anything I’ve said please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.