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Brexit: What’s All the Fuss About?

With all the atrociously horrific news from around the world, it’s no surprise that the otherwise astounding Brexit vote and its aftermath have fallen off the radar. It certainly can’t compete with the horrors of mass killings nor should it. However, the United Kingdom’s very dramatic and, in truth, unexpected Brexit results have taken away our collective breath. Why is this, you ask? And, in fact, what on earth is it and why should we care over here? We’re a world away from our colonial masters, aren’t we? Oh, so many questions… Well, a good place to begin is right at the beginning. Back up a couple of years when the then Prime Minister David Cameron felt a fair bit of tugging and pulling from within his Conservative party. Not all was peace and harmony and love in the land of the Queens and Kings. So, in order to quiet his party grumblers and thinking, as all politicians do, of the next election (2015), David Cameron knew he couldn’t win that election without a united party. The fuss? The increasing unease at being a member of the European Union. So, going against all that was wise and sensible, he promised his party that he would call a referendum to decide the issue once and for all. By the way, the U.K. doesn’t have a tradition of calling these wacky things and, yet, Cameron did. More fool he. Anyway, to get back to the story, on that promise of a referendum, the Conservatives won the 2015 election. And because people like fun names so much, they started calling it Brexit – ‘Britain’s Exit’. So on June 23 of this year, the question put to the voters was this: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Now we all know that the Leave side ended up winning and the Remain side was shocked beyond belief at losing. No one honestly thought they would because the Leave side had so many “nutters” (to put it in British speak) like Nicholas Farage and Boris Johnson speaking for them and they flat out told a ton of lies… and yet… now David Cameron is no longer Prime Minister and Theresa May is and has said that the decision is final and irreversible and so let the games begin (probably more like a bloodbath) – ok, let the negotiations to extract themselves with no losses and only gains begin. As if.

 At this point, it is worthwhile taking a quick look at the lead up to the vote as it was just loaded with all manner of insanity. Clearly, there were two sides to this- the Leave supporters and the Remain supporters. Those who were on the Leave side, the pro- Brexiters, feel that it is necessary to protect, even restore, the country’s identity- its culture, independence, and place in the world (you know, the old glory days of colonialism). In fact, this is more of an anti-immigration group, pretty much scared of their own shadows. Those on the Remain side, the anti-Brexiters, believe that it is far better for the economy to stay with the EU and that whatever concerns there are over migration and other such issues, they do not outweigh the dire consequences of leaving. They really were a one trick pony and didn’t really paint a very convincing picture. Brexit had, in fact, become the vehicle for anti-establishment and anti-elite feelings that were aimed squarely at the leaders of Britain and at the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, the Remain side didn’t read those signs of frustration correctly and fumbled the ball, big time. And, to be perfectly blunt, neither side really was in love with their EU partners. The UK has always felt distinctly British and very non-European, as if the rest of Europe were from a different planet entirely and bloody well wanted nothing to do with them.

 These feelings of Euroskepticism (a big big mistrust) had grown over the years as more and more crises hit the EU. Britain felt that all those wonderful promises about how the EU would solve all of their problems had simply not materialized. Instead, they started feeling burdened by all the migrants entering and all the money spent on bailing out failing EU countries with their troubled economies. They started feeling like Brussels (headquarters of the EU) was making all kinds of decisions for them and they were British, by God, and they weren’t going to stand for it anymore!

 However, it needs to be said that in the lead up to the vote there was a tremendous amount of campaigning done by both sides, often highly misleading information was put out there; in fact, often some outright lies. The Leave side was worse at the misrepresentation but the Remain side was not without fault either. So, let’s bust a few myths regarding what was said. The following are simply NOT accurate:

 - that British culture would be lost- some Leavers even claimed that the iconic British double- decker buses were to be banned and that fish ‘n chips would have to be written in Latin on menus (who even thought of this one—dead language for gazillions of years already!).

 - Many Britons feel that they’ve lost their position on the world stage, that they’ve lost control over their own decision-making because the power is concentrated in Brussels now. News flash- Britons haven’t been a powerhouse for more than half a century (can we say USA?) and when you join a union, there are common rules for everyone. Duh!

 - The Leavers (and not only them) have a fear of Immigration. Aha! This is it. A 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey found that more than 75% of Brits wanted immigration policies reduced and 56% wanted this reduced by “a lot”. The worry is still that masses of refugees and immigrants are flooding the job market and taking away the jobs of “real Brits”. The Leave side actually had buses plastered with an advert showing a mass line of refugees, like a horde about to descend upon them. The truth is actually something quite different. Britain, in fact, has accepted only a small number of refugees relative to the rest of the EU countries. They really do just hate not being able to close their borders when they want.

 - the Leavers said Britain is forced to send $514 million (US) a week to Brussels. This is untrue. It is a much smaller amount and, at the end of the year, they actually receive a sizeable amount of that returned.

 - now the Remain side said that 2/3 of British jobs in manufacturing depend on the demand from Europe. This is untrue as the percentage is far less.

Of course, there were many more misleading statements, promises, and downright lies that were spread during a very wild and crazy campaign. On the Remain side, the case for staying was not made in a very convincing and compelling way, almost as if their hearts weren’t in it either. Cameron tried, some of the Conservatives and Labour party tried but even the leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t exactly knock himself out. Surprised at the result now? It’s true that they did argue that Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its greatest source of foreign direct investment. As a result of this, London was established as a global financial center and their leaving is going to turn this on its head (leaving is going to make their heads spin so fast that they’ll lose them!). Many high paying jobs will go the way of the dodo bird- London will become largely irrelevant (how’s that for getting back its place in the world?). Too bad the Remains didn’t highlight all the other exciting opportunities that come by belonging to this club.

 Even now, mere weeks after the Brexit vote results, the pound has already taken a beating. It is at its lowest valuation in 7 years. The other member countries of the EU are mad as hell and have stated quite clearly that they want the UK to get on with leaving NOW (it can take up to 2 years for the final divorce settlement – ha!) and they have indicated that they will be tough negotiators and that the UK will be made an example of. Stay tuned for more drama.

 In closing, it really needs to be said that we are travelling in somewhat uncharted waters these days no matter where we live (Canada is positioned better than most- hurrah!). Unfortunately, when passions run this deeply about an issue, people lose their minds and stop thinking clearly. Yes, it was a crucial vote and a lot was at stake but when Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament and someone who was a powerful voice for accepting refugees, actually gets stabbed and shot fatally, there is something really wrong with our society for making this even a possibility. Politicians (no matter how we swear at them) should not have to live in fear of their lives for serving their country. These are troubled times and even this Brexit result has implications for all of us. More about that next time.