About Brexit viewed from America
Since I came to the United States last March I’ve been boasting – insufferably I suspect – about how certain aspects of British culture are different, and in my opinion better, than what I’ve encountered over here.
I have long crowed that we don’t have the same level of racial intolerance that is all too evident in American daily life – that Britain is a more inclusive and welcoming nation. And, at every possible opportunity, I have reminded Americans of the wonders of our National Health Service compared with the gross travesty of this country’s insurance-based system.
So what do I tell my American friends now? The aftermath of Brexit has been widely reported here. They have read that in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, printed cards containing the words ‘No More Polish Vermin’ were posted through letterboxes. How can I tell people now that Britain is not a racist country? As for the NHS, it survived the Thatcher years but there must now be serious doubts about how much longer it will last.
The American view of Brexit has been one of sheer disbelief. For a start the whole referendum process is lost on people here. One commentator asked why politicians allowed the public to vote on an issue after the public had elected politicians to look after such matters. “What will happen at Budget time? Will the public take control of that too?” he added.
Not surprisingly the millions of Donald Trump supporters are jubilant and they expect the Brexit result to propel their man’s equally populist campaign to victory in November. The ‘take my country back’ slogan resonates with a large percentage of the American population and they have taken to social media lauding Brits for ridding their land of “Muslims…Frogs…Commies…Terrorists”.
The sober voices in the business and economic world have reacted with horror. One financial expert described the vote as “economic suicide” and ”national insanity”. It had an immediate and devastating effect on the markets here. The giant beer company Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in St Louis with European headquarters in Belgium, saw its market value plunge by $11.9 billion in one day.
Markets are volatile, of course, and the big beer execs will be fine. But the gravest threat to the British economy that is exercising the minds of the experts here is what they call “disinvestment”. The so-called special relationship and a common language means that most of the big US companies who trade in Europe have their European bases in Britain. With Britain as an EU member they enjoy free and unfettered access to all other EU markets. If and when that changes, these companies would lose that access and very possibly relocate elsewhere.
If a firm such as Caterpillar moves from the UK to France or Belgium or Poland, thousands of British jobs will go. I’ve read and listened extensively to all the reasoned arguments over here and all agree that Britain is heading for a long and difficult period of recession.
But let’s be honest, this referendum was not won or lost on the niceties of the global economy. Do you think the modern-day Chelsea Headhunters and the geezer up the Old Kent Road with his West Ham scarf and red and white Enger-lund underpants were stroking their chins and contemplating the impact on the money markets of Europe? Of course not, they wanted Britain to be British again – whatever that means nowadays.
When I saw the voxpops over the weekend from English towns and cities, I couldn’t believe the level of anti-foreigner vitriol I was hearing. Perhaps I was cocooned in Scotland but I honestly didn’t know such hatred and bitterness existed south of the border, and to such an extent.
And the Leave campaign milked their fears and xenophobia to perfection. The leaders knew their audience. And Britain is now safe in the hands of Boris Johnson, the class clown made good. I mean, seriously? It’s like having Paul Gascoigne in charge of the Football Association. As for Nigel Farage, I have always conjured up a mental picture of him as an old fashioned National Front bovver boy – dressed in a suit but with the same twisted mindset.
So how does Britain look today from a distance? Truthfully it resembles a sad, lonely, isolated, and yes racist little country, its citizens with their backs turned towards the outside world saying ‘we don’t want you here’.
Am I ashamed to be a Brit abroad? Yes, a little, even though I can in no way identify with the outpouring of hatred that Brexit has unleashed.
But the next time Donald Trump bellows about keeping out Mexican “rapists” and Muslim “terrorists”, what can I say? Shrug my shoulders and tell people the same intolerance exists back home. He wants his wall; Britain has put up its barriers.
Who knows how this will end. Scexit or Indyref2 will be interesting. Right now it’s just a desperately sad state of affairs.