A Brexit must-read : Brendan’s measured overview

From Brendan : Quelle surprise!

Hi Myles,

I was a little surprised to see Rhys’ strong words about the referendum vote.

I often get put into a box in this way, a Guardian-reading-liberal-metropolitan self-indulgent-yogurt-knitting-lentil-worshipping middle-class so-and-so. I can take it.

I read The Guardian, and The Independent, and Berliner Tageszeitung, and Libération, and Gazeta Wyborcza.

Load of goddamn pinko liberal rags the lot of them. But hey, they print the news unlike most ‘news’papers.

Incidentally, I’m not a well-off person particularly, and I don’t have any ambition to be. I’m neither socialist (too much time living in Poland cured me of that) nor conservative. I’m liberal but that plays right back into the cliché again..

The immigration issue which Rhys seems to be very worked up about really isn’t as simple as he seems to be suggesting.

Firstly, net migration from the EU in 2015 was 184,000 – the highest level it’s ever been, mainly because of Italians and Spanish etc. coming over as well as central and eastern Europeans, and net migration from outside the EU was 188,000.

Net migration from outside the EU has always been higher, and probably will always be higher. There were a lot of big lies told by Vote Leave in the referendum campaign, and on immigration, Michael Gove said that they would bring it down to the tens of thousands, straight after he’d tried to boost support by wooing British people of south Asian origins with the prospect of allowing more immigration from outside the EU. Do the math.

I’ve travelled in the United Kingdom and seen what the disconnect with London is. That isn’t the EU’s fault really.

Contrary to what Vote Leave tried to tell everyone, most stuff that affects those people’s lives is decided in Westminster. The ‘pressure on public services’ that the Vote Leave campaigners talked about in association with immigrants is down to the British government’s own decisions on its spending.

In the UK, we spend proportionately considerably less on healthcare, for example, than any other comparable western European country.

But it’s always easier to blame foreigners and migrants.

The real problems were and are being hidden by the glare of Brexit. I have met many people, including employees and employers, both English and Polish, who tell me a familiar story about how the guarantee of non-contributory state benefits means that there is a different mindset with regard to work among young Brits doing unskilled or low-skilled jobs. The problem again isn’t the immigrants but the system, and the system can’t be touched because like the NHS it’s a sacred cow in this country.

But here’s the real issue: the political elites, whether they are Conservative or New Labour (Corbyn doesn’t fit into this) are quite happy for the benefits system to persist as it is, as it guarantees them a largely de-politicised and non-radical working class, rather than one which is demanding things and expecting more.

And this is fertile ground for UKIP and the like. When for the past two or three years you had Cameron banging on (under pressure from the swivel-eyed Tory right-wing rump) about EU migrants and the benefits they claim, it is just laughable when you look at the data, showing that proportionately, migrants claim significantly less benefits than indigenous Brits, but the newspaper headlines of the few who do stirs up the old prejudices and the wheel starts turning.

Maybe Rhys has some data to show me but all the best and most reliable data I’ve seen shows that the effect of migration into the UK on wages of indigenous workers is minimal, around 2% downwards. I’m not a dogmatic person and I listen to intelligently expressed arguments. But I don’t think that the EU referendum vote came principally from the feeling of disenfranchisement anyway.

59% of the south of England voted Leave. It’s a mentality thing.

I think Peter Duncan who wrote after Rhys got it right. Also there were industrial-scale lies told by Vote Leave and, contrary to what Rhys and others say about elites backing Remain, more money went into the Vote Leave campaign – that information is out there because they have to reveal it because of transparency rules. Check it out. And Vote Leave’s advertising was much more divisive and bellicose.

As for Merkel and Germany, of course it was a decision which was based on Germany’s need for a population boost.

But when you trace the origins of the conflicts from which most of the migrants were fleeing, they directly or indirectly result from foreign policy in the US and the UK, among other western countries. I think we have a moral obligation to do more and looking at how the Greek migrant camps are at the moment, there should be a massive increase in support for them. How can we turn our back on them?

The EU is imperfect and I could find many reasons to criticise it, but at the same time it has tended to be the whipping boy when there are problems, perceived or real, in member states in the past few years – while national governments are forgiven for some reason, maybe ethnocentricism. This is true in the UK.

Our own government made the mess we’re in. Migrants weren’t a ‘problem’ until the ‘economic crisis’ broke, remember. That’s when the whole rhetoric started to be ratcheted up.

The EU will survive, and quite possibly, so will the UK’s membership of it.

Myles says:

You’re a wise man, Brendan, with a good sense of humour.

And you’ll always love Rosicky.