Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist Opinion

UK Independence Day June 23, 2016

British Prime Minister Theresa May

By Brian Lait

So, here we are some two months after the EU referendum on June 23 when over 17 million British citizens voted to free themselves from the undemocratic, inefficient and corrupt clutches of the European Union. The sky has not fallen in, the sun still rises in the morning and the UK has escaped an economic apocalypse, but I confess to being not a little worried if the war that our dearly departed Dave Cameron warned us about will start any time soon as I have had little time so far to dig my air raid shelter. (Is there, incidentally, any chance that the EU will subsidise air raid shelters in the event of war?).

As a dedicated Brexiteer I was obviously delighted with the referendum’s result and have been amused, stunned and not a little angered at the reactions of many since then. There is a single indisputable fact, as there is in any form of election. The winner is the one with the most votes, and on June 23, 2016 1.3 million more people put a cross in the Leave box than the number of people who put a cross in the Remain box. This is called democracy; difficult to understand for many, no doubt, as there is a distinct lack of it inside the EU where the word may as well be expunged from all dictionaries. (The electoral turnout on June 23 was over 72 per cent which is higher than, for example, the voting in any UK general election since 1992. Nevertheless, some 13 million failed to vote at all, which I find disturbing). It’s also somewhat droll that so many happenings are now described as “post Brexit” as if severe storms would not have occurred had the UK voted Remain. Regardless, I now call June 23, 2016 “Independence Day”.

According to Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s foreign minister (Cyprus Mail, July 26) the result of the referendum was “an unwelcome result”. Well, it depends on your point of view doesn’t it Charlie? Your country initially voted against the Nice Treaty and then voted in favour in a second referendum (2001-2) and Ireland also initially rejected the Lisbon Treaty only to accept it the second time around (1992-3). The UK was given no such choice on either occasion, but I suggest that Ireland’s volte face on both counts was pretty unwelcome, and certainly economical on democracy. However, your EU puppeteers must be proud of you.

Then we have Patroclos in our beloved Coffeeshop who on June 26 had the gall to say that “Our establishment will keep its analysis of the UK referendum brief and superficial because it feels sorry for millions of British people that were duped by the thinly veiled racist populism of Nigel Farage and slick opportunism of Boris Johnson and voted to leave the EU”. The entire UK was duped, Patroclos, when the late and not great Ted Heath and his band took the country into the then Common Market under entirely false pretences. I note, however, that you made no mention of the 16 million people who were duped into voting Remain by Cameron’s threat of war and warning that the Islamic State terrorist group was a cheerleader for Brexit, Obama saying we would be at the back of the queue for trade negotiations with the USA, the IMF’s pathetic mutterings that Brexit would cause “severe global damage”, etc., etc., etc.

As to the histrionics about the £350 million (gross) sent to the EU every week, no doubt one and all have seen the post referendum comments of the Remain camp who, while they knew the £350 million was incorrect as it does not account for the rebate we get at source, dared not criticise it because the true net amount is still massive and would also be wide open for attack.

So, what will happen now? Well, it’s early days and it may be that the new PM is right to take time before attempting to start withdrawal discussions with the EU. I have commented before that a divorce after 43 years of marriage might well be a trifle messy. Apart from the very possibly acrimonious sour grapes attitude of the churlish EU towards, and during any discussions with, the UK, the UK has a couple of serious internal problems which should be tackled sooner rather than later.

First and foremost is to make our own politicians realise they are acting on behalf of the nation, and not their tiresome squabbling self-interests. I have commented in previous articles about the lack of statesmanship in the UK today. The second is to educate the equally troublesome Nicola Sturgeon to get herself and her party into the real world, by realising that the 2014 referendum in Scotland showed a very, very clear majority were in favour of remaining in the UK and that nothing post Brexit has altered that view despite Scotland clearly voting Remain on June 23.

Unfortunately for Scotland they are in a mess financially and I suggest that the SNP has singularly failed to dare explain this to “their” people. It is best summed up by a cartoonist showing a photograph of Angela Merkel with a somewhat condescending smile on her face supposedly talking to Sturgeon and saying “So let me get this straight Nicola…..Scotland has £143 billion debt and an annual deficit of £15 billion and you want to join my EU ?” Note the use of the word “my” there!

I fervently hope that when discussions do start with the EU, both sides approach the task with maturity although that may just be wishful thinking given the low quality of politicians on both sides of the channel. The UK has a considerable annual trade deficit with the EU and the EU is very unlikely to want to lose its largest single customer so, on balance, the UK may well be in a strong bargaining position.

However, while I really appreciate a top rate Barolo or Rioja red wine from time to time, I would shed few tears if forced to drink Australian, New Zealand, South African (i.e. Commonwealth) or American wines for the rest of my life.

Similarly, I could accustom myself to only being able to buy a motor vehicle from Japan, Korea or the USA if all that would be the price of freedom from the childish persistence of the EU with such idiocies as the continued ‘freedom of movement’. As our new PM Theresa May said in August 2015 when she was Home Secretary “When it was first enshrined, free movement meant the freedom to move to a job, not the freedom to cross borders to look for work or claim benefits……….The numbers coming from Europe are unsustainable and the rules must change. Free movement rules don’t just mean European nationals have the right to reside in Britain, they now mean anybody who has married a European can come here almost without condition”.

That is one of the very good reasons so many voted Leave and I hope May remembers and means all of what she said. Regardless, it does not in any way excuse the abhorrent behaviour of the British yobs towards so-called “foreigners” in the days following the result of the referendum. All that did was to highlight the crass ignorance of so many in the UK as to the meaning of the referendum and what the EU is about.

The negotiations may well be quite lengthy, but I would expect there to be a done deal within two years. Talk about having to get all EU members to agree to everything is just eyewash and scaremongering. I raise my very British gin and tonic to offer a toast to successful discussions for both sides.

Brian Lait, a retired chartered accountant living in Cyprus, has lived and worked in five EU member states and conducted business in several others

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