sábado, 17 de dezembro de 2016
Brexit Britain has the deepest faultlines of any country I have known
Brexit Britain has the deepest faultlines of any country I have known
British society needs modernisation but instead Brits will be busy rebuilding bridges they are about to tear down
Anna Lehmann is a recipient of the George Weidenfeld bursary, an international journalists' exchange scheme
Friday 16 December 2016 16.47 GMT
I love British humour. When something goes fundamentally wrong, the British laugh at it.
Brexit? The EU now has 1GB of free space. If that gives you a wry smile, better jokes will be along soon – Brexit has a lot of potential to go wrong.
Travelling for two months around Britain and Ireland, visiting Birmingham, Hull, Grimsby, York, Edinburgh, Belfast, Newry and Dundalk, I got an idea of why so many people voted for Brexit and how difficult it will be. For Britain, Europe and the rest of the world.
Guardian readers gave me inspiration for where to go and who to meet, sending nearly 100 emails after I asked for tips in my first article. “You should visit my 76-year-old mum in Grimsby. In a Brexit heartland, she was the one swearing at our bridge club players, telling them not to betray their grandchildren,” wrote Paul.
It was a pleasure to meet the resolute Mary Randall and her friends Margaret and Beat Haessig in Grimsby, and it helped me understand people’s anxieties and challenges in an area that has suffered a long period of economic decline.
When Margaret was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Grimsby was thriving. By the time Mary moved to the town in 1983, the decline had already begun. “But when the fish industry went downhill there was no investment at all,” she said. “The young people went away because there were no jobs for them.”
They showed me around once-busy shopping areas, now run-down, and pointed out shops and businesses that had closed.
Travelling to Hull the next day, practically a stone’s throw away on the other side of the river Humber, took almost two hours because there is no proper train connection. Local entrepreneurs told me how fed up they were with the bad infrastructure and the lack of investment from Westminster. I heard “you in London” a lot, even though I was only a temporary Londoner for two months.
The people I spoke to who had voted for Brexit and claimed to be fed up with Europe really had more specific concerns: sinking living standards, a lack of affordable housing, rising poverty and an inefficient NHS. All good reasons to be disgruntled, though Brussels is hardly to blame.
The morning I left Grimsby was the day the world learned that Donald Trump had won the US election. The outsider had beaten the establishment. Plenty of people, including me, felt that Brexit had happened again.
Frank Stauss, a political consultant who has organised several election campaigns for the Social Democrats in Germany, said Trump’s biggest asset was “that he didn’t stand for going on with business as usual”. Trump’s voters in the US wanted a change, and so did leave voters in Britain. They were fed up with an establishment that promised wealth and prosperity in the EU when they were experiencing the opposite.
When I came to Britain I had a picture in my mind of a divided society in which young, urban and well-educated people had voted for remain, while elderly and working-class people, and xenophobic ones, had voted to stay.
But it isn’t that simple. I met a shipowner who employs only Polish people on his trawlers but voted to leave. (If the Poles left, he said, he would hire Russians instead.) I talked to a porter who was proud to have voted remain.
British society as I experienced it has more and deeper faultlines than any other country I have lived in – namely Poland, Sweden, Germany and Italy.
According to research by Poverty and Social Exclusion, 30 million people in the UK suffer from financial insecurity, 4 million people are not properly fed and 2.3m households cannot afford to heat the living areas of their homes. On the other hand, more billionaires live here than in many other countries, and the economy has grown over the last six years.
“Privileged” young Londoners with good jobs told me that starting a family was out of the question because they could not afford flats with enough space. “Our parents live in houses we could never afford,” say the millennials. The Northern Irish and Scottish complain that they are neglected by decision-makers in London
Some Britons claim Polish people are taking their jobs, but the Poles say they were welcomed at first as cheap labour, then treated with mistrust when they took on better jobs and homes. “The British liked us in these cheap jobs and became concerned when they improved,” my friend Ania Faluta, with whom I studied in Poland, told me. She started her career in London 11 years ago as a cleaning woman and is now a project manager.
It struck me sometimes that the British are so occupied with competing – in their jobs, dancing, baking, with other nations – that they miss the bigger picture.
An education system that provides chances for everybody irrespective of social background? Well, has there ever been a Guardian editor from a comprehensive school?
A modern childcare system that is affordable and adapted to the needs of families? Women told me how they jeopardised their careers by staying at home with their toddlers because it was cheaper than sending them to nursery.
An efficient healthcare system? I spent hours listening to my housemate’s enraged reports about his experiences in waiting rooms.
With every week I spent in Britain, I grew fonder of the German federal system that allows states to set their own key issues, independent of the government in Berlin, and of a social system that allows me to have four children, a full-time job and to afford a two-month break abroad.
British society could do with modernisation, in my view. It’s so 1980s. But I doubt if Brexit will bring that about. Instead, the British will be occupied with rebuilding the bridges to the EU that they are just about to tear down.
That’s what the negotiations are aimed at, aren’t they? To leave Europe and the European single market, and at the same time guarantee access to the latter. Norway, which could serve as an example, is not a member of the EU but of the European Economic Area, and has 70% of EU directives and 17% of EU regulations in force.
Brexit seems like a big waste of time and money, but nevertheless I’d prefer the British to be as close as possible to the EU. When Theresa May sets off to embrace the autocrats in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the other Gulf countries, the democratic opposition in these countries will be even less heard.
But the EU is also far from perfect. Its harshest critics should not be easily dismissed. And we Germans could do with a good deal more of the politeness, consideration and respect that people in Britain show to their fellow humans.
And, of course, with some British humour. How many Germans do you need to change a lightbulb? One! They are so effective and have no sense of humour. You see?