Tag Archives: EU referendum

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Sorry, it wasn’t me who broke it.

Team GB’s success in Rio did something to raise the mood but there has been a somewhat somber tone to the UK this Summer. Now the athletes are back home polishing their medals the national news returns to the political turmoil.  

Through ineptitude, some of our very senior politicians broke Britain and severely dented Europe. The referendum result, on June 24, was a classic example of uninformed democracy with one side promising billions of pounds to the National Health Service and to stop immigration (all total lies because they never believed they would win and have to deliver). The other side decided to ignore the positives of us being in the UK and patronised the electorate with ridiculous doom scenarios (the EU may be crap but we’d be worse off out of it….). A significant number of people who voted to leave only did so to give the Prime Minister a bloody nose – never actually believing that they would be on the winning side. The shock result of 52% leave and 48% remain has divided the population down the middle. The Prime Minister, who called the referendum to silence the swivel-eyed loons on the right of his party, promptly resigned to be replaced by a rather canny politician, who kept her powder completely dry during the referendum campaign. She inherited a government and a country who has no plan for leaving the EU. No plan was drawn up because no one believed we would need one.

We shouldn’t have needed one. We may be sat on a little island but we are still European. We are lucky to have a language that others choose to speak. We are a significant world economy and punch well above our weight diplomatically and in terms of soft power. We are world leader in creativity and the arts and are very good at elite sport as evidenced by the GB medal tally in Rio. On the whole we are quite nice really – we tend to be a bit conservative and traditional but that’s not the worst trait in the world. None of this is possible without cooperation and collaboration. Much of our economic status cames from being the financial managers for the rest of the world. Diplomatically people listen to us because we are collaborators, we bring membership of the EU, the Commonwealth, NATO etc to the discussion. We need trade and conversations to be creative.We can’t be good at track cycling if no one will compete with us.  

There are some important lessons about democracy in the UK here. Firstly, we live in a parliamentary democracy. This means that we elect politicians to represent us. We give them the resources to research and become the experts and vote accordingly. We don’t have a tradition of referenda as they undermine parliamentary democracy. The referendum was decided on the basis of uninformed democracy. Secondly, the vast majority of members of parliament in the UK recognised that the only sensible course was to stay in the EU. Our out of date ‘first past the post’ electoral system, rather than a sensible proportional system, means that we are largely a two party democracy with the Conservative Party on the right and the Labour Party in England and the Scottish National Party in Scotland on the left. The Conservative Party includes a range of people from One Nation centrists to the swivel eyed loons on the far right. Labour range from Blairites in the centre to Trotskyists on the far left.

One Nation Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised a referendum to placate the far right of his party. If we had a system of PR, as exists elsewhere in Europe we would have a larger number of parties made up of people who broadly agree with each other. Mr Cameron would not have needed to recklessly put Europe at risk to retain the support of a few right wingers unless he’d chosen them a coalition partners. All this has thrown the left into disarray. The lackluster left wing leader of the Labour Party has lost the confidence of 80% of his MPs but refuses to stand down. This leaves the new Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, with almost no opposition. We’ve long needed a PR voting system that will allow all our parties to divide accordingly.

What a mess!

Without a plan there is no clear timescale for or idea how we will leave the EU. The referendum was not binding. The UK parliament is sovereign and will have to make the decision. May has put three men, who all campaigned for Brexit in charge but they are clueless. Boris Johnson, former London Mayor and the new foreign secretary speaks from the hip and over the past few years has managed to insult just about every foreign leader. Look up what he has said about Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and worst of all Turkey’s prime minister, Erdoğan. The new International Trade Minister was kicked out of the last government for fiddling his expenses and taking his boyfriend on trips at government expense. The Brexit minister has just admitted that when he was campaigning he genuinely thought we’d be able to negotiate individual trade deals with other European partners. We can’t we will have to negotiate with the whole EU. Trade deals usually take about 10 years and most specialists claim that you cannot do more than one concurrently as they influence each other so – 10 years for a deal with Europe, another ten for a deal with the US, then China, Japan, Canada, India…..  It will take about 300 years to get to where we are now as members of the EU. On top of that every single law that has been passed in the UK since 1974, when Britain joined the European Economic Community, will have to be re-written as then all enshrine European law into the detail. Because we have been in the EU since 1974 we don’t have any trade negotiators employed by the government.

The world is a better place if we talk, debate and share rather than argue. The UK is a big player but we are so much stronger when we look outwards and sit alongside our friends rather than fall out with them.

Will we ever leave – I certainly hope that someone will come to their senses, realise what a mess this is and find a way of reversing the decision. Perhaps the threat of Scottish independence, major financial institutions leaving the UK etc will be a catalyst. Perhaps it will just be delayed then somehow overturned at the next general election. Who knows. I have another year on Pancake Street. If nothing improves I may need to apply to the Netherlands for asylum. It wasn’t me that broke it – honest.

Warning! This route crosses through Belgium

Last Thursday – the 28th of May – was our wedding anniversary. Eleven years, which according to Google was our steel anniversary. To mark the occasion I romantically gave Sue the opportunity to spend the day in a steel box with dinner on a large steel vessel. We are busy people and as we had to be in Rotterdam on Friday to complete on the apartment on Pannekoekstraat we thought it a good opportunity to do a roadtrip with a van full of stuff.

Safe in our hired Intack Self drive steel box, we headed off at 8am to Dover with some CDs and a packed lunch.

You may be thinking – why Dover when you can get a ferry direct to Rotterdam from Hull? The answer is cost. It is eye wateringly expensive. It would have cost about £800 (€1120) as opposed to £190 (€266).  It was bad enough having to pay the extra to take the van overseas.

The road trip in picturesOur DFDS ferry to Dunkirk was at 18:00. We got to Dover, having sung along to at least four compilation albums, a couple of hours early. In time for a walk on the beach and an icecream.

We were put right at the front of the boat between two wagons. The LWB HighTop Transit that had looked enormous in our drive looked tiny. We sat in the restaurant on the crossing and watched it being sprayed in seawater like a pebble wedged between two boulders.

Google maps had detailed a route for us with a strange warning. An ominous yellow triangle containing a forbidding explanation mark and the legend THIS ROUTE CROSSES THROUGH BELGIUM. What could this mean? Would we be safe in our Ghent Campanile hotel room we’d pre booked? Would the streets be lined with beer brewing monks bombarding us with waffles and chips dunked in mayonnaise. A bit disappointingly, no – The only Belgians we spoke to worked at the Campanile and were lovely. They didn’t even tie us up in red tape.

I love Schengen. Crossing borders with no hassle is very civilised. The checks in Dover were easy. The French seemed happy to let us in even if we never put our feet on French soil. I do think they need to mark the borders better though. How about an arch over the motorway with flags and examples of national identity. Onions, wine and fromage for France; Beer and waffles for Belgium; bikes, clogs and tulips for the Netherlands. Given the British fear of Schengen we could be represented by barbed wire, queues and suspicion – oh, hang on – that is what greets you when you enter the UK.

While we were travelling, Mr Cameron was in The Hague meeting with Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister. No doubt in perfect English.  We mentioned this to Ernst and our Notary when we were finalising the apartment purchase. They laughed and said – Oh yes – he’s trying to change Europe. We joked and said that first on his agenda was to get everyone else driving sensibly on the left like we do. We joked but…

Whilst on the continent, Sue adopted the role of driver whilst I navigated. This suited me down to the ground. Sue is a much better driver than me. As a team we did really well. We navigated the motorways and the urban streets of Rotterdam without hitch. We didn’t fall out once. Parking by the apartment is expensive, (50c for 18 minutes). The van was also rather large and finding space would have been tricky. Luckily there was a temporary loading bay and Rotterdam has an extensive park and ride scheme.

Our road trip concluded on Monday with a marathon drive from Rotterdam to Dunkirk and then from Dover to Blackburn – about 12 hours including the ferry trip. There were a lot of trucks on the two lane Belgian motorways and we were victim to a lot of elefantenrennen. The only real fly in the ointment was the embarrassment at how non UK nationals must feel as they get checked, grilled, searched and checked again before they are permitted to tread on British soil – At least we should do it with a smile. I fear that this will only get worse as all the emotional arguments ahead of an in-out referendum seem to be coming from the little islanders. The ones who’ve forgotten two European wars in the last century and think that those foreigners should do what we tell them or we won’t be in their gang. It might be alright once Mr Cameron has explained which side of the road they should be driving on.