Aiming For The Foot

I'm (just about) old enough to remember a pre-EU time when a flight from London to, say, Barcelona on even the crummiest airline (Dan-Air) cost a tidy sum that most of us didn't have. Travelling across Europe by train on the then much vaunted Interail cards involved being ripped off by bureau de change offices every time you bumped into a border. I knew several Catalan and Spanish residents in the UK who had to renew their residence visas every six months or receive a fortnight's ultimatum to leave. Work permits were harder to obtain, thus enabling the manager of even the humblest Wimpy Bar to demand a carnal entrance fee to his establishment from vulnerable female illegals (I was personally told this by a Pole who, desperate, took up this 'offer', after which she was allowed to work endless hours for a finite pittance). Years on, the EU's freedom of movement has meant that such permits and visas (and employers' sexual blackmailing, for that matter) are a thing of the past for member citizens. And the EU's open market happily gave rise to dozens of low-cost airlines (although the stock of the British ones is now plummeting, causing prices to rise). And the single currency shut down the bureau de change racket just about everywhere (the UK excepted). This is not to say that the EU is God's gift to supranational bureaucracies: its commissioners are unelected (like the new British PM), its parliament is little more than a debating chamber, its edicts are sometimes irritatingly pernickety and its response to close-at-hand catastrophes like Bosnian wars and Syrian refugees, callously cack-handed. A sector of pro-Brexit voters brandished all this as their main reason for wishing to leave, omitting to mention – even as their leaders slipped away, planless, into the wings - that every time the UK has negotiated with the EU, it has never been to improve it in any way, but simply to grab more advantages for the self-same UK. Another sector, after years of anti-immigration grooming from an outsize slice of the British press, has been given to understand that with Brexit they would be rid not only of EU residents but also Black and Asian English people. The result has been the most vomit-stimulating outbreak of bigotry since Oswald Mosley's heyday. But I'm not one of the sore losers who the winning 52% keep taunting. In fact, I couldn't vote at all, thanks to a 2002 law which disenfranchises any UK passport holder who's lived out of the country for more than 15 years (why 15? Why not 47? Or 12 and three quarters?). The point is, with Brexit, everybody has lost, not just the 48% who voted to stay in. Even the xenophobes' now smirking faces will fall when they discover that the Poles etc. are not about to leave in a hurry or indeed at all (their right to stay will almost certainly be guaranteed, even if only to ensure that of British residents abroad). And the numerous elderly pro-Brexit voters, for instance, will not be seeing, as they were given to believe, any economic improvements within what's left of their lifetimes (quite the opposite). And those patriotic Leavers who simply wanted Britain to be Great again may well find themselves clinging to a state called England and Wales which would enjoy a slightly lower international status to that of, say, Scotland. Like the song says: 'There's no success like failure, and failure's no success at all.' And there was I, thinking everyone knew the lyrics.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, juliol de 2016


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