Exit, pursued by a bulldog

Couple looking at For Sale sign

Theresa May says the “best and brightest” EU migrants will always be welcome in the UK. The fact is, thanks to her and the Mail’s rhetoric, they’re already leaving

White cliffs of Dover
“Our heart is not in Britain any more.”

The first thing I hear when Mathieu and Pauline welcome me into their home is an insistent buzzing-and-slushing noise. Mathieu apologises profusely and hurries to turn off the offending washing machine. Pauline shows me through to the immaculate kitchen and offers me tea: “Would you like an Englishy one? Earl Grey?”

Both French and either side of 30, Mathieu and Pauline are two of the 3 million-plus EU citizens who chose to build a life for themselves in the UK. But that life is over. In light of the Brexit vote and the events that have followed, they’ve decided, with heavy hearts, to move on.

They’re not the only ones. Net migration to the UK fell by 84,000 in the year to May 2017, according to the Home Office’s latest figures, thanks in part to the departure of large numbers of eastern Europeans. Over 300 nurses left the NMC’s register in December 2016, almost twice the number who did so in June 2016, which, combined with an unprecedented 90% drop in the number of EU nurses registering to work here, threatens an imminent staffing crisis. Universities, too, are reporting an alarming fall in applications from EU students, which will put a huge dent in their finances. Coffee chains and farmers are already complaining of problems recruiting workers. A Facebook group called Plan B, set up by a German national in February specifically for EU citizens thinking of decamping, now has more than 1,200 members.

According to immigration law experts Migrate UK, the exodus is because of the political uncertainty surrounding EU citizens’ status, and further labour shortages should be expected. Managing director Jonathan Beech says: “Until the government ends uncertainty among EU citizens by guaranteeing rights to remain in the UK after Brexit, we are likely to see a continuation of these trends, and potentially the start of a Brexit ‘brain drain’ from the UK.”

Of the people I spoke to, none could remotely be described “spongers” or “low-value” workers. These are young, healthy, skilled, taxpaying contributors to society, who speak impeccable English and are well integrated into their local communities.

Mathieu and Pauline moved here in 2012, just in time for the Olympics, not so much drawn to the UK as repelled by the culture in France. “The system is so inflexible there. There’s a lot of nepotism, racism, a pervasive culture of sexism, and there are too many strikes,” says Pauline. “In the UK, no one gives a shit that Theresa May is a woman, or that David Lammy is an MP,” adds Mathieu. “You don’t get that in France.”

“So you came here because it was more tolerant and open?” Hollow laughter ensues.

Pauline works as a contractor for the NHS, Mathieu as a software engineer, which gives them a combined salary of £75,000; that’s £11,000 tax and £7,000 national insurance that the government won’t be collecting next year. And since Pauline has undergone one minor operation and Mathieu has visited his GP twice, you could hardly call them a burden on the state.

So where have they chosen for their new start? “Canada. It’s not just Trudeau – even if it had been Stephen Harper, we’d have thought about moving there,” says Pauline. “They love immigrants in Canada,” says Mathieu. “And as English-speaking French people, we are their dream immigrants,” Pauline concludes, her eyes twinkling briefly.

Only Mathieu currently has a job lined up in Quebec, but it turns out they’ll earn more from one income there than they do from two here – their money will go further, too. “House prices! Oh my God! Our friend just bought a five-bed house there for £220K!” “The water’s free, the electricity’s very cheap, food is super-cheap, electronics … Jackpot! We might just end up thanking Brexit.”

Which brings us to the $64m question. When did they decide to up sticks, and why? “It wasn’t actually Brexit,” says Mathieu. “I was expecting it, to be honest. People are pissed off, the system is broken, inequality is growing, people don’t want to be under rightwing Angela Merkel, the problems in Greece. It’s what the government did after Brexit.”

The tone until now has been overwhelmingly of sadness, disbelief. But suddenly a tinge of anger enters Pauline’s voice. “I’m disgusted by the attitude of the Tory government. They’re using us as leverage. It’s been 11 fucking months. All that time they could have said, ‘You’re welcome to stay,’ but they didn’t. They could have condemned hate crimes, but they didn’t. They could have told Amber Rudd to shut up. They could have told the Daily Mail to shut up.”

“The Daily Mail is hate speech,” Mathieu interjects. “‘Enemies of the people’? That’s Hitler, that’s literally Hitler! In France you would get prosecuted for that bullshit.”

It was the rapid poisoning of the atmosphere, they say, that made up their minds. “People tend to look on us with scorn and suspicion now,” says Pauline, “and I don’t think that’s acceptable, when you have given so much and made so much effort to integrate.

“My boss invited me into a meeting, and he said to me, ‘Brexit is good news. It’s not personal – it’s not against you – we’ve just to get rid of those Polish scroungers.”

Mathieu reserves special venom for Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage: “‘We’re going to give money to the NHS. Oh no, you know what? We lied. We’re going to stay in the EEA. No, that was all lies, too.’ And the British people don’t care. I expected people to throw eggs at Number 10, to be honest. But nothing.”

Now it seems that lying is a habit the Tories can’t shake. “‘The NHS is not failing because of cuts, it’s because the immigrants came,’ they say. ‘The housing shortage is not because we’re not building enough, it’s because the immigrants came.’”

“We’re really concerned about the British people – it breaks my heart to see so many people going to food banks, to see disabled people getting their benefits cut to nothing,” says Pauline, unprompted.

The mood has turned sombre again. “We were invited here, they needed us,” says Mathieu, “and now suddenly they are telling us that everything is our fault.”

***

Daily Cunt "Enemies of the People" headline
… along with immigrants, liberals, the disabled, “luvvies”, academics, lawyers, gays, lesbians …

The decision to leave was rather more momentous for Melissa. For one thing, she’s been here longer, having arrived from Germany in 2009. For another, she’s older – in her late 30s. Last but not least, her partner is British.

Melissa came to the UK because she loved to travel, wanted to experience a different culture, and spoke excellent English. She first set up home in Norfolk, but a year later met Sean, an automotive engineer a couple of years her senior, and when a job opportunity arose for him in the Midlands, they moved there together. She works from home as a freelance translator, earning £30,000-£40,000 a year, most of it from German clients.

The main factor in their decision to go, she says, was the work situation; carmaking is one of the areas most likely to be adversely affected by Brexit. “If the economy goes too far south, Sean might lose his job. We feel like rats leaving a sinking ship.”

But money wasn’t the only consideration. “The language being used reminds me very much of what I learned in my history lessons in Germany,” says Melissa. “‘Traitor’, ‘enemy of the state’ – it’s very worrying.

“Because I work from home, I’m not exposed to much xenophobia, but I did get a few people giving me the Hitler salute.” It’s Sean who bears the brunt of the abuse, mostly from his staunch Brexiteer colleagues. “One of them once turned round to him and said: ‘You’re sleeping with one of them, so you’re just as bad.’”

The couple’s plans to move to Germany are now at an advanced stage. While Sean speaks no German, his skills mean he will have little trouble finding a decent job.

“The referendum result has been a massive, massive blow. Both Sean and I are heartbroken. We’ve lost some very good friends over this. It was not an easy choice, but we don’t see a future in the UK any more – the country he was born and I chose to make my home and was very happy in.”

Since Melissa does most of her work for German clients, the UK won’t particularly miss her talents, although Sean will be harder to replace. Mathieu and Pauline, too, foresee big problems for their employers. There are only two or three people in the country with Pauline’s particular expertise, and it would take 18 months to train a replacement. When Mathieu’s boss was headhunted by Apple over a year ago, he had to deputise – and he’s still deputising, because they haven’t been able to replace him. And that’s with easy access to all 28 EU nations. The prospects for the company are not bright; only a handful of the staff in his team are British – there’s little appetite for computer science degrees in this country – and several other EU nationals are considering a fresh start.

***

Lara is another one whose skills will be sorely missed; she’s a GP. According to an estimate made last summer, EU immigrants make up 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses, making the UK health service one of the world’s most dependent on foreign labour. And with the GP system already being described as “on the verge of collapse”, that’s a talent pool the UK can ill afford to lose access to.

Lara, in her early forties and of mixed French and Mediterranean heritage, will also be taking a British partner with her when she goes, and two children. Again, she says, it wasn’t the Brexit vote per se that forced their hand. “Initially, after the vote, I thought, ‘It’ll be all right, they’ll guarantee our rights,’ but they never did.”

She too lays much of the blame at the door of the immigrant-bashing tabloid press. “Basically, all these endless stories about EU citizens stealing jobs and being scroungers made me feel not at home. I was in shock. Surely this is not the country I’d spent the last 22 years in? It suddenly felt foreign to me.”

While she hasn’t personally received any abuse – her English is flawless, her dress and appearance unexotic – she has witnessed some unpleasantness. “One of our patients – ex-army, I think – started shouting at some of the other patients, Polish and Asians, in the waiting room. ‘Britain’s for white people, get out of my country …’ I don’t think anyone would have said any of these things before the referendum.”

So next year, instead of taking home £48,000 as a doctor in the UK, she’ll be earning a little less to treat French patients instead. It’s her friends and colleagues, she says, that she’ll miss most. “I have amazing work colleagues. Even though some of them voted leave because they felt the EU had an unfair advantage over Commonwealth people.”

***

Linda, too, will be taking a native Brit with her when she leaves. Aged 37 and originally from Turku in Finland, she arrived here in 2003. “I had basically loved Britain since I first came here aged 16 and spent a month in Devon on a language course. I travelled all around Europe Interrailing, but nowhere else felt so ‘homey’.”

She runs a small market research company with a British business partner, for which she claims a salary of £70,000. “We started the company five years ago, and have grown to a team of 10, mostly Brits.”

As with everyone I interviewed, Linda considered applying for permanent residency, but found the process too daunting. “I reluctantly considered applying for PR about four months after the referendum. Having looked at my 14 years in the UK, no five-year period was simple or straightforward enough to not worry that it wouldn’t pass the hostile approach of the Home Office. For example, I’ve studied twice while I’ve been here, although working part-time both times, and I’ve been ‘unemployed’ (while building the company and living off my savings).”

Crunch time for Linda and Ian was the Conservative party conference in October 2016, when Theresa May first signalled her willingness to lead the UK to a hard Brexit. “We’d toyed with the idea of leaving from the morning of the referendum, but I’ve spent almost my entire adult life here, and leaving at 37 didn’t really appeal. But it became apparent to us that under Theresa May, the environment would become hostile for EU citizens, and we realised there was really no future here for us if Britain left the single market.” Ian works in the tech industry, which, they fear, will fade to nothing in a UK cast adrift from the bloc.

The lack of support from the government, and the failure of the Lords’ amendment to article 50 on EU citizens’ rights, came as a further blow. “The uncertainty was taking an enormous emotional toll on me, especially as I was recovering from the burnout I got from the early years of building the business. The anxiety was pushing me back to depression and Ian felt it was important to get me out of the UK for my emotional well-being.”

Linda is in no doubt that Britain has become a less tolerant and hospitable place since the vote. “I would go as far as to say it’s hostile,” she says. “I came to the UK partly because I felt it was more open-minded and tolerant than the country I grew up in – needless to say, that illusion has now been totally shattered.”

Are there any circumstances under which they would cancel their plans, or consider coming back? A soft Brexit, maybe? “Nothing. I can never feel at home in England or Wales again. But if Scotland becomes independent, we will strongly consider moving there, as that was our original plan.”

So as soon as they can make the arrangements, they’re relocating to the Netherlands. They’re sad to be leaving their friends, but she also has more mundane concerns: “I will miss having Amazon Prime, and going to Boots!”

One of Pauline’s greatest fears is losing access to Marmite – “God, I love Marmite!” – but mostly, she says, they’ll miss the Brits. Well, some of them.

“In the UK you find the very worst of people,” chips in an impassioned Mathieu. “Uneducated, almost as bad as Americans. But you also have the best people – oh, my God, wonderful people – who are so logical, considerate, articulate … They know how to talk. They are perfect.”

The trouble, apparently, is that there just aren’t enough of them. “I still have emotional attachment to the people – but people are not a place,” says Pauline with a sigh. “Home is literally where the heart is, and our heart is not in Britain any more.”

The Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all promised, as part of their manifestos, to make the rights of EU citizens in the UK one of their top priorities after the election. Alas, it looks increasingly as though that might be a case of shutting the strong stable door after the horse has bolted.

• Names have been changed.

Tool Britannia

A tool in a union jack suit

I believe the UK is great. If only it could stay that way

A tool in a union jack suitI’m getting a teensy bit ticked off with being told that I hate my country. “You think we can’t survive on our own,” Leave voters inform me whenever I dare to point out any potential pitfalls of the UK’s departure from the EU. “Stop talking the nation down, traitor!”

Because I don’t hate Britain in the slightest. I have lived and worked in the UK all my life and am proud of it all ends up. So to set the record straight, I’m going to roll out the union jack bunting and sing hallelujah for the nine industries in which my country leads the world.

Aerospace technology

The UK is the second biggest player in the world in aerospace engineering, excelling particularly in wing technology, one of the most specialised and lucrative areas. Last year, the UK aerospace sector grew by 6.5% to £31bn, 87% of which was exported. The industry employs 230,000 people in all, and unlike, say, banking, the whole country benefits, with large operations in Belfast, Broughton in Wales, Birmingham, Derby, and a huge cluster of activity in the south-west.

Financial services

Say what you like about bankers – I’ve had plenty to say about them in the past – but they do contribute a fair chunk to the economy. In 2016, financial and insurance services was worth £124.2bn in gross value added (GVA) to the UK, 7.2% of the total. The industry employs over a million people nationwide – 3.1% of all jobs in the UK – and the banking sector paid £24.4bn in tax to the exchequer in 2016. What’s more, the banking, insurance and pensions sectors are one of the few areas in which Britain is a huge net exporter. Exports of these services netted us over £60bn in 2016, vastly outweighing the £12bn imported.

Higher education

No fewer than 12 of the UK’s universities feature in the top 100 universities worldwide, from Oxford, widely admired for its excellence in the arts but also making huge strides in science, to Durham, with its world-renowned physics department and the pioneering Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World. There were 2.3 million students at the UK’s higher education institutions in 2015-16, providing 400,000 jobs and directly generating around £2bn for the economy each year – on top of the incalculable value of giving an outstanding education to a third of the populace.

Artificial intelligence

The UK owes its growing stature in AI largely to the existence of Google DeepMind, a company founded in London in 2010 and bought by Google in 2014. But a veritable explosion of innovative AI startups over the last few years, including language processing specialists VocalIQ, machine-learning keyboard SwiftKey, digital marketer Phrasee and neural network developers Magic Pony, has put the UK at the very vanguard of the field. Many recent developments – voice recognition software, predictive text and autonomous vehicles – have been driven by UK-based tech firms, leaving the UK uniquely poised to be a serious player in this young but booming sector. According to Accenture, artificial intelligence could add £654bn to the UK economy by 2035.

Electronics

Expertise at small-scale production and innovation are the two key drivers of the UK’s electronics success. While it can’t compete on an industrial scale with the likes of Japan and Korea, it can produce little marvels like the Raspberry Pi, which has now sold more than 12.5 million units. The UK electronics sector, the fifth largest in the world, has an annual turnover of £80bn a year and employs 800,000 people.

Life sciences

The life sciences – pharmaceuticals, biotech and medical research – are another area where the UK has taken giant strides in recent years, thanks again in large part to its thriving higher education system. We have a particular talent, it seems, for small molecules, therapeutic proteins and vaccines, and are among the chief voices on the Human Genome Project. By most metrics, the United States is the only country with a more cutting edge in matters medical; we’re ahead of the pack in neuroscience, parasitology and material science, and are the second most prolific producers of medical research papers – a jolly good show for the country with the 21st biggest population.

Life science projects in the UK contribute £56bn a year to the economy, support 482,000 jobs – which again are well distributed across the country – and attract more direct foreign investment than in any other European state.

Music

We may suck royally at Eurovision, but in the broader scheme of things, Britannia rules the airwaves. Domestic success often translates into success abroad, and we export £1.4bn worth of songs every year. Since the Beatles, we’ve seen acts from Pink Floyd to Adele, and Elton John to One Direction go global.

In 2015, British artists accounted for more than a quarter of all the albums purchased across Europe.

TV and film

Despite the best efforts of Channel 5 and the BBC’s comedy department, the UK still enjoys a reputation for top-notch television, and as a result, sales of UK-made programmes hit £1.3bn in 2015/16. TV, film, radio and photography (which the ONS unaccountably lumps together) provided 260,000 jobs in 2013 and produced a GVA of £10.8bn.

Sport

While UK Sport’s trophy cabinet may not exactly be heaving at the moment, for a nation of 64 million souls, we punch well above our weight. As well as the impressive medal hauls at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, we’re always there or thereabouts in world tournaments of football, rugby and cricket, and are disproportionately represented in tennis, snooker, boxing, cycling, hockey, canoeing, rowing, fencing, darts, squash, polo, sailing and golf. Even in off years, sport generates around £20bn for the economy.

(Australia, for what it’s worth, aren’t even the reigning champions of Australian rules football. Papua New Guinea are.)

Spice Girls
Zig-a-zig, oops.
The future (aka, the punchline)

So there you have it! Britain really is great! We may no longer be a fearsome military power or an industrial powerhouse, but we’ve carved out a new niche for ourselves, at the heart of a global economy! So much for Talky McDownerson!

Hang on a sec. Who’s this? Oh, hi, TM. I see you’ve compiled a summary of reports from the respective fields on the predicted effects of a hard Brexit.

(These are not the opinions of cloistered academics, faceless journalists, or “out of touch” economists. These are detailed, fully researched assessments by people either within, or intimately involved with, the trades concerned. These people have no intrinsic bias towards Europe, only first-hand experience of how their businesses interact with the European Union and to what extent they depend on it.)

The list of worries expressed by leading figures in the aerospace industry is as long as the non-EU passports queue at Gatwick. Long border delays for parts in the event of departure from the customs union. Concerns about access to the best talent from the EU. Rising costs if the UK is forced out of the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Other EU countries – Germany and Spain in particular – are already vying for contracts after Brexit in the hope that trading conditions no longer favour the UK.

  • “I’m scared witlessStephen Cheetham, chief executive, PK Engineering
  • “We are very worried about the impact of Brexit on the whole Airbus discussion” aerospace supplier interviewed in Financial Times
  • “In terms of attractiveness … in terms of political stability, the UK goes down” – Andrew Mair, chief executive, Midlands Aerospace Alliance

I won’t spend too long on the impact of hard Brexit on financial services, as it’s one of the few areas the media have widely reported on. Suffice to say that the uncertainty caused by the vote alone has already wrought significant damage, with investments withheld and jobs and offices relocated to the mainland. The loss of passporting rights in the City of London is certain to prompt a mass exodus; rival financial centres from Dublin to Frankfurt to New York are salivating at the prospect of pillaging our capital of its coveted, lucrative institutions.

If David Davis walks away from the talks with the EU in September, as he seems intent on doing, he will be wiping out tens of thousands of jobs and setting a match to tens of billions in tax revenue.

In 2014-15, 20% of all students in UK higher education (437,000) were from abroad. While EU students are only liable for the same rates as UK citizens, those from outside the EU are charged more, so foreign students collectively pay £5bn a year in tuition fees –14% of universities’ total income. In addition, non-British students add around £26bn a year to the economy through their spending on and off campus, and indirectly support around 200,000 jobs.

But funnily enough, it seems not all foreigners are keen on being used as bargaining chips in negotiations or being attacked for speaking their own language in the street. Cambridge University has already seen a precipitous drop of 17% in applications from EU students, and Manchester University recently announced plans to axe 171 staff jobs, at least partly, according to the University and College Union, because of Brexit.

A falling pound, rising xenophobia, uncertainty over their futures and the faltering British economy are also driving away the best foreign tutors and lecturers.

The UK needs foreign nationals for its burgeoning AI industry more than most, suffering as it does from a critical shortage of digital skills. Far too few people are studying AI and other computer sciences to fill the positions locally, and almost 13 million British adults lack even the most basic IT skills. As a consequence, the IT sector recruits almost a third of its workers from elsewhere in the EU. For reasons discussed above, a hard Brexit is likely to drastically reduce the UK’s access to this talent pool. Reports of skills shortages are already emerging.

Since AI companies can set up almost anywhere, it’s primarily talent that attracts them, and if the UK loses its grip on the cream of Europe’s geeks, the business will go elsewhere.

As a footnote, a parliamentary report in October 2016 concluded that Brexit had thrown a crucial legal framework for AI and robotics, the General Data Protection Regulation, into doubt. It’s also jeopardised the free flow of data between the UK and the continent, crucial to the UK’s competitiveness.

Google DeepMind was founded by a British man born to Greek Cypriot and Singaporean parents, a Kiwi, and a Muslim Brit. Under the monocultural, send-’em-all-home regime proposed by nationalist Brexiters, it would never have seen the light of day.

A survey of the tech sector in early 2016 found that 84% felt it would be in the sector’s best interest if the UK stayed in the EU. Six per cent were undecided.

  • “A lot of organisations are now looking elsewhere to base their Innovation Labs for artificial intelligence” – Chris Rosebert, head of data science & AI, Networkers technology recruitment
  • “The funding that the research community has taken advantage of to hold its position internationally [in artificial intelligence and education research] has all come from the European Union” – Prof Rose Luckin, UCL Institute of Education

Insiders in the electronics industry have expressed fears about CE certification (European conformity). Tests to ensure that products meet agreed safety and quality standards are expensive, and if the UK adopts a different set of standards – in order, for example, to harmonise with America’s FCC – smaller British companies are unlikely to be able to afford to market their wares in Europe.

A more pressing problem is trade: if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, it will have to renegotiate free trade deals with other countries from scratch, a process that can take a decade or longer. In the interim, all British products would be subject to stiff tariffs (we’re not even guaranteed WTO status) and thus far more expensive than their competitors.

Fujitsu, Samsung and Hitachi (the second biggest private investor in the north-east after Nissan) are among the many electronics firms who have cautioned against a hard Brexit, warning that changes to the free movement of labour, customs operations and data passporting would mean job losses, a reduction in investment, and headquarters being relocated.

A report by thinktank Public Policy Projects, led by former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, warned that leaving the EU could have a damaging effect on the UK’s pharmaceutical and biotech industries. (It might also, by the by, adversely affect Britons’ access to the best drugs.)

Concerns include extra administrative burdens on clinical trials, additional checks and possible blocks on imports, patent protection, increased difficulty securing marketing authorisations, and a reduction in pharmacovigilance (oversight of safety standards, monitoring, risk management, transparency). The loss of the European Medicines Agency, and the 900 jobs and influence that go with it, will be a bitter blow regardless.

  • “The effects on the Life Sciences sector are likely to be substantial. This is because the UK would no longer keep access to many of the benefits of the EU system, such as the centralised procedure for marketing authorisations, the EU portal for clinical trials and the Pharmacovigilance database” – Toby Sears and Sally Shorthose, Bird & Bird Commercial Law

Visas for touring bands. Customs restrictions on merchandising. Increased production costs for vinyl. Copyright issues. Licensing. Higher tour expenses. Exclusion from the Digital Single Market. Cultural quotas. Dearer iTunes downloads. A hard Brexit would throw a sackful of spanners into the UK’s well-oiled music machine.

As a result, trade bodies AIM, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Musicians Union all threw their weight behind Remain. In fact, one survey found that 91% of the music industry was in favour of the UK holding on to its membership.

  • “Those copyright rules have a huge impact on our business, and there is a very strong feeling among our members that the UK needs to be at the table to make sure that those rules are working in the interests of UK companies” – Geoff Taylor, chief executive, BPI
  • “Adopting an isolationist position is a huge mistake” – Colin Lester, CEO, JEM Artists management company
  • “The biggest impact would be not being able to influence EU regulation, particularly around intellectual property and the Digital Single Market” – Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general, CBI
  • “A victory for Brexit would be economically, politically, socially and culturally disastrous – for all of us” – Martin Mills, founder, Beggars Group, and David Joseph, CEO, Universal Music UK

A 2016 survey found that 63% of television executives believed the UK’s creative industries would fare better within the EU, outnumbering those who favoured Brexit by three to one. Another survey without a “don’t know” option came in 85/15. Their main worries were barriers to trade, economic damage limiting people’s purchasing power, and the loss of EU funding.

The film industry will also lose out on EU monies – British animation in particular looks likely to take a kicking – and will suffer further blows as more barriers are raised to British/European co-productions, and British-made content ceases to be classified as “European”, making it less appealing to countries that impose cultural quotas. Independent cinemas also look set to take a hit.

The picture is replicated across all the creative industries, from our hit plays, to our world-renowned dance troupes, to our novelists, our artists, our fashion designers. Many of these sectors, after a catastrophic drop in EU funding on top of the cuts imposed by recent Tory governments, face decline and possible collapse.

In addition to the measurable, practical difficulties above, there’s the less quantifiable but nonetheless important role of the UK’s “soft power”. Now that the UK is leaving the EU, English may soon cease to be an official language of the bloc – only Ireland and Malta speak it, and it’s not the only language in either nation – and now that it’s harder and less attractive for Europeans to come and work and study here, fewer people will bother learning English. Why would they, when there are easier options in France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Poland? As fewer people understand English songs and TV shows, so fewer people will buy them.

  • “This decision has blown up our foundation. As of today, we no longer know how our relationships with co-producers, financiers and distributors will work, whether new taxes will be dropped on our activities in the rest of Europe, or how production financing is going to be raised” – Michael Ryan, chairman, Independent Film and Television Alliance
  • “Leaving the EU would be an utter disaster for the creative industries” – Ed Vaizey, culture minister

Brexit ‘likely to be devastating’ for UK film and TV industry

The main short-term effect of a hard Brexit on sport will be the changes to freedom of movement. Football players, for example, from South America as well as Europe, will find it much harder to gain a UK work permit if freedom of movement is lost. Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and David Ginola might never have played in the Premiership if the UK had not been in the EU.

Similarly, the Kolpak agreement, under which sportsmen from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) enjoy the same rights as EU players, will become void, meaning that the UK’s cricket, rugby and polo teams, among others, will be denied access to a valuable pool of players.

Olympic and Paralympic sports have already seen Brexit-related cuts to funding, and have been warned of more to come.

The international series of NFL games played every year in London may well cease, according to Maria Patsalos, a sports immigration lawyer at Mishcon de Reya LLP.

All 20 Premier League clubs were in favour of Remain.

  • “It is important that if we want the best league in the world, then we remain in the EU” – Jonathan Barnett, football agent
Torn union flag
“You finally really did it. You maniacs. God damn you all to hell.”
So where does this leave us?

Oo, looky there. That’s right. Literally every single one of the things that make modern Britain great depend partly – in some cases entirely – on our membership of the European Union; on close cooperation with partners, on minimal barriers to movement and trade, on the free and frictionless exchange of ideas, on attracting the cream of talent from 27 like-minded nations, on a reputation for tolerance, openness and fairness.

Sure, if Theresa May and co can somehow wangle us a good deal – keep the UK in the European Economic Area, giving us a status similar to that of Switzerland or Norway – then these jewels in the UK’s crown may survive largely unscathed. But no one bar a handful of spittle-flecked zealots believes we will get a good deal, because the EU will never retract its insistence on free movement as a condition of free trade. And since the Tory government has made it abundantly clear that they will take no deal over a bad deal, that means, in all likelihood, no deal. Adamantium Brexit. Armageddon for all the above.

I wouldn’t be so worried if Brexiters had offered a single suggestion as to what we can replace them with. We’ll never be competitive in steelmaking or textiles again – unless you’re willing to toil for 100 hours a week for less money than a sweatshop worker in Hyderabad. We don’t have much in the way of natural resources, our military strength is ranked below Italy’s, we’ve slipped to 20th place in the world education tables and are plummeting in the press freedom rankings. Cool Britannia is now a distant memory; since the referendum, the world now thinks we’re a bunch of arrogant, ignorant xenophobes. What will be the foundation of the New British Empire? Poverty tourism? Virtual-reality fox hunting? Jam?

You can’t turn back time

What the most ardent Brexiters fail to realise is that times have changed. Yeah, sure, Britain was once great, ruling the waves, duffing up Frogs and Krauts and all that. But then the empire collapsed, and other world economies, following our example and borrowing our technologies, started catching up. By the early 1970s, we were starting to struggle.

“Things were so much better before we joined the EU,” the Brexwits baa, apparently forgetting (cheers, nostalgia fallacy) that in 1973, many still lived 10 to a house and shared an outside toilet with next door. No one had a home computer, no one had a mobile phone, most people were lucky even to own one black and white television and a gramophone. Few could afford to go on holiday or eat out, child mortality was at 2%, and people were still dying of smallpox. Sure, so there was more of a sense of community and some people were still leaving their front doors open, but things were, on the whole, shit.

(It’s worth a reminder at this point that, even when Britain was truly great, things were by no means great for all Britons. The quality of life for all but the landed classes was miserable. Most people lived in abject poverty, public health was appalling, public sewerage was primitive where it existed at all, citizens were still subject to conscription, most people couldn’t vote, and the average person was doing well to live past 50. Success was only success for the few. Furthermore, most of the UK’s wealth was accrued at the expense of its colonies; it plundered their resources and enslaved or otherwise exploited their peoples. And those options, as far as I am aware, are no longer on the table in the 21st century.)

When it became clear that we were starting to lag behind our neighbours, we realised that a new strategy was required; so we swallowed our pride and joined the European Economic Community. And within that community, we adapted. We learned a new way of operating. And we did so so effectively that over the next four decades, our growth within the EU outstripped that of all other members.

The UK’s per-capita GDP increased by 2.1% in every year of our membership of the EU (compared with only 0.9% during the empire “boom” of 1872-1914). The key to our success was twofold: a language, culture and history shared with America and other English-speaking nations on the one hand, and geographical proximity to and membership of the European trade bloc on the other, made us the perfect bridge between the two. We might have ceded our pre-eminence in manufacturing, cotton mills and subjugating brown people, but in their place, after a period of painful adjustment, we built new temples. We ceased to be a powerhouse, and became instead a hub: a beacon of collaboration and commerce, a focal point for like-minded, progressive, creative thinkers.

I like to think of it this way. Prior to joining the EU, the UK was an independent organism: a lion, if you like, but one with mangy fur and rotting teeth. It made alliances where necessary, but it was basically self-sufficient, though its hunting prowess was fading fast.

When the UK joined the EU, it was forced to make compromises. It was no longer completely free, but this had its advantages; since it no longer had to take care of all functions, it could specialise in a few. Over the course of its 40 years of membership, the UK evolved from a discrete animal into something more like a vital organ within the larger beast that was the EU; a heart, say, or a lung.

Now, all of a sudden, ardent Leavers expect that lung to leap outside the host body and thrive by itself. (Like any animal deprived of a lung, the EU will suffer, but it will survive.) Some of them don’t even think we need a transition phase.

With their tireless, vainglorious, ill-informed insistence that the UK can succeed alone, a bunch of people who know as much about the way the modern world works as Kylie Jenner knows about thermodynamics have mortally endangered every single industry the UK worked so hard to lead the world in.

Congratulations, Brexitards. You killed your country.

I’ll never be a ‘re-leaver’

Men vainly pushing huge stone

There has never in my lifetime been a more clear-cut case of light versus dark

Men vainly pushing huge stone
You’re going to need to push a lot harder than that.

Just a little post on why I am such a passionate Remainer.

I wasn’t actually all that pro-EU when all this referendum business started. I mean, I knew it was expensive, and could be more efficient, and sometimes seemed a little in thrall to the neoliberal economic model. But I also knew that it conferred huge benefits, in freedom of movement and trade and cooperation with our European neighbours. That was, frankly, enough to decide the matter for me.

But what made me so rabidly pro-Remain, so determined to stop this, was the breathtaking, unabashed wrongness of the Leave campaign. The sneering. The abuse. The lies. The threats. The casual, carefree use of logical fallacy. The racism. The ignorance. The creeping suspicion of foreign interference. 

And as if that weren’t enough, look at the Leavers themselves. Gove. Johnson. Hannan. Farage. Banks. Duncan Smith. Rees-Mogg. Hoey. Even May, when she switched sides, went from steely, sensible woman to bitch from hell. Can you think of one person associated with the Leave campaign with a scintilla of compassion or wisdom?

For me, this is no longer about clinging on to the status quo, or protecting against personal loss (although Brexit has already been costly to me not just financially, but in terms of opportunities lost and friends forced to leave).

No, now this is just about making sure the bad guys don’t win. There has never been, in my lifetime, a more clear-cut case of light versus dark. And I’m not about to step into the darkness, or even the penumbra, in the interests of an easy life.

Fuck you, Farage, and Banks, and Cummings, and Putin. For as long as there is breath in my body, I shall fight your perfidious Brexit.

***

Footnote: the Tories, the Daily Mail and their cabal of piss-breathing liars would have us believe that half of all Remainers have suddenly changed their minds and thrown their weight behind Brexit. This just three weeks after another poll by the same firm showed that people who thought Brexit was a bad idea outnumbered those who supported it for the first time.

Of course, this claim, like pretty much everything else that comes from a far-right source these days, is bollocks. I was going to devote a post to explaining why, but handily, @HelenDeCruz, bless her cotton socks, has saved me the trouble. (TL:DR; the questions were poorly phrased and the headlines were misleading.)

We’re not going away any time soon.

Project Fear Watch

Fear from Inside Out

Will there come a point when people realise that the cost of Brexit is too high?

Fear from Inside Out
“Project Fear!” he cried, fresh from posting a particularly harrowing still from an Isis video.

A rolling account of the damage done to the UK by the vote to leave the European Union. And remember: we haven’t left yet.

Economy

Few benefits to 15% fall in sterling

Student loan interest rates set to rise by a third

UK labour shortages reported as EU worker numbers fall

Brexit squeeze on living standards intensifies

UK slips to bottom of G7 growth table

Food ‘could rot in fields’ without cheap migrant labour, say farmers

City will relocate up to 9,000 jobs to Europe after Brexit

Hi-tech financial firms flee amid Brexit doubts

Small businesses face £3.6bn shortfall when EU grants are cut off

London ‘no longer best place’ for fintech startups

Brexit will cost UK 30,000 jobs in finance sector

Airlines ‘will have to relocate to Europe after Brexit’

Cosmetics firm Lush to move expansion plans abroad

Leaving with no deal ‘disastrous’, say manufacturers

Brexit-related bank moves could cause financial instability across Europe

Rolls-Royce posts record losses after Brexit

BMW to pull production of E-Mini from UK

UK will lose €40bn of direct EU funding after Brexit

Brexit jeopardises £487bn of US investment in UK

EU and UK ‘heading for economic cold war’

1,000 jobs at risk as shoe retailer Brantano goes into administration

40% of games companies considering relocating to EU

Vote begins to bite as rising food and fuel bills hit retail sales

Portion sizes shrinking to hide rise in import costs

Customs gridlock could damage UK trade

Brexit migration controls could push retirement age beyond 70

Leaving EU could cost UK billions in extra tariffs

Parts of UK that voted Brexit ‘most vulnerable to its effects’

100,000 euro clearing jobs under threat

Brexit-driven inflation rises to highest level in four years

UK loses EU ‘crown jewels’ of banking and medicines agencies

UK needs to renegotiate 759 separate treaties just to stand still

Higher education and research

UK universities tumble in world rankings over Brexit concerns

Applications to UK universities down 7% since Brexit vote

Erasmus scheme may exclude British students after Brexit

Brexit will leave UK bit-part player’ in science

Heriot-Watt University announces axeing of 100 jobs

Britons ‘bumped off’ EU medical research grants

1,400 EU academics have left UK since referendum vote

Health

British children with cancer could miss out on drug trials

Number of EU nurses coming to UK down by 90% since referendum vote

60% of European doctors considering leaving because of Brexit

600,000 people could lose access to clinical trials

Britons likely to lose health cover in Europe after Brexit

Consumer

Apple raises price of apps by 25%

Apple laptops go up by as much as £500

Microsoft PCs rise by up to £400

Toblerone maker reduces weight of bars

The Great Tesco Marmite Shortage Scandal

Price of Guinness, Baileys to rise because of Brexit

Price of chocolate bars set to rocket

Chocolate, drinks portions being reduced with no price drop

Cost of making a car in UK could rise by £2,400

Brexit set to push up price of champagne and prosecco

Beer brands pulled from Tesco shelves over price-rise row

Sound system manufacturer Sonos raises prices by 25%

Brits may have to pay to visit Europe after Brexit

UK tourists will have to pay mobile phone roaming charges after Brexit

Spending on clothing hits five-year low

Mothercare to raise price of clothing and toys

Social

Brexit may be final straw for some couples

Dutch woman who has lived in UK for 30 years may have to leave (one of many such cases)

Applications for Irish passports rise by 42%

3 million EU citizens may face ‘deliberate hostility’ policy

EU citizens face legal limbo after Brexit

Britons living in EU face Brexit backlash

Hard Brexit means hard border for Ireland

Brexit jeopardises Northern Ireland peace process

Damaging Brexit could fuel Welsh independence movement

Brexit threatens territorial status of Gibraltar

Ending free movement is no quick fix for low wages, say Lords

Immigration unlikely to fall by much after Brexit

Sturgeon seeks second referendum on Scottish independence

Politics & global reputation

Transitional deal may need to be ratified by 38 parliaments

Brexit has damaged UK’s reputation among young Europeans

May’s threatening language ‘has made UK a laughing stock in Europe’

Race hate crimes/far right terrorism

No, they’re not “fake news”.

Brexit jeopardises fight against terrorism

Far-right activist’s shocking rant on Channel 4 News: ‘Take in a Syrian refugee, I hope you don’t get raped’

Vile solicitor launches racist tirade at mother and son on train

Man kicks Muslim woman in stomach, causing her to lose unborn twins

Race crimes on underground rise by 57% after Brexit vote

Hate crimes have risen by up to 100% since Brexit

Man kicked to death by gang ‘for speaking Polish’

Gang inflicts serious head injuries on teenage refugee in Croydon

The cowardly, brutal murder of Jo Cox MP

Other

UK’s millionaires believe Brexit will make them richer

End to free movement of animals could threaten endangered species

Warnings of customs chaos at ports in event of hard Brexit

Brexit will overburden already creaking civil service

EU working to push UK out of Euro space agency

Brexit will delay nuclear power stations

Senior civil servants considering stepping down over Brexit tensions

Gibraltar poses threat to post-Brexit aviation access

Ryanair will have to suspend flights in absence of Brexit deal

EU countries line up to host European Medicines Agency

Racing industry concerns over end of free movement for horses

Top orchestra quits Britain over Brexit migration clampdown

UK Sport warned of more Brexit funding cuts

Loss of access to EU talent will damage UK architecture industry

Brexit will damage fight against corruption, OECD warns

Parliament failing to scrutinise legislation properly because of Brexit overload

Denmark will claim centuries-old fishin rights in UK waters after Brexit

Replacing EU workers in hotels and restaurants could take 10 years

Employers struggling to fill vacancies

Top chefs refuse to move to London because of Brexit

Hard Brexit will mean up to 40% tariffs on UK agriculture exports, an end to free healthcare in the EU for UK citizens, loss of passporting rights for the City, and an end to the Free Skies agreement, Davis admits

Since I’m probably not going to be updating this as often as I should, for all the latest on the EU clusterfuck, check out Jon Henley’s excellent weekly Brexit briefing for the Guardian.

NB: The jolly impressive Brexit Shitstorm Forecast is a much more comprehensive resource on the same subject. I don’t want to steal their thunder. However, since it tries to be both compendious and balanced, there’s a lot to get through. My page will just consist of edited lowlights.

Bastards and fools: an open letter to my MP

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answer

An open letter on Brexit to my MP, Keir Starmer QC

Cartoon: everyone queueing up for wrong, easy answerKeir Starmer QC MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

February 10th 2017

Dear Keir,

Why did you become an MP?

Your previous job, as director of public prosecutions, was better remunerated, so it can’t have been for the money. You seem a humble and conscientious sort, so I doubt it was for the glory. Was it, then, because you wanted to make the world, or at least your country, a better place? I ask because I’ve been wondering whether your actions of late are fully consistent with that aim.

I’m not a religious man, but I’d like to quote you a passage from the Bible that offers an insight into the wisdom of crowds.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’ For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

The governor said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’

They said, ‘Barabbas!’

Pilate said to them, ‘What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?’

They all said to him, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ (Matthew 27:15)

The argumentum ad populum – the contention that something must be right simply because most people believe it to be so – has been recognised as a fallacy since Thucydides. The unspoken truth behind the representative democracy we have accepted as our political system is that ordinary people are not good at governing themselves.

Ordinary people do not have teams of advisers. Ordinary people do not have a civil service to carry out exhaustive research on the pros and cons of any proposed policy. We do not always have top-drawer educations, or the luxury of spare hours to meditate on problems. Few of us are able to see even the small picture clearly, never mind the big one. This is why we entrust MPs with the running of the country.

Never has there been a more exquisite demonstration of this point than the EU referendum. It’s clear beyond a shadow of doubt that hardly any Britons – on either side – bothered to acquaint themselves even fleetingly with the workings of the European Union, or the benefits and drawbacks of membership, prior to the vote. Those who did found themselves confronted with hysteria, hyperbole and rampant disinformation.

Even now, when I engage in online discussions with Leave voters, I find the majority still parroting the flagrant falsehoods published in the Sun, Mail and Express and on far-right conspiracy websites such as Breitbart and Infowars: lies about bendy bananas, lies about EU accounts never being signed off, lies about Turkey’s imminent accession and David Cameron’s World War Three (it was, as you know, a triumphant bit of straw-manning from Boris Johnson).

While I do not doubt that some people voted Leave in good faith and in full possession of the facts, some of the reasons I have seen and heard have ranged from the trivial to the downright absurd.

Even before the vote, it was clear that many of these motivations were incompatible. Opponents of free movement, for example, cannot possibly have their wish at the same time as those who want to create a flexible, deregulated “European Singapore”. We cannot both drastically reduce immigration and give more money to the NHS. Whatever shape Britain (or, as seems likely, its former component parts) is in when Brexit is over, a sizeable proportion of Leavers are going to be bitterly disappointed – on top of all the Remainers, and many of those who didn’t vote.

'We voted leave because of immigration'

Hannan: "No one voted Leave because of immigration'

No one can say with certainty how deep and lasting the damage wrought by Brexit will be. (That fact alone should have been deterrent enough.) Most of the unaccountably maligned “experts” are pessimistic: between 3% and 9% off the country’s GDP, job losses in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, cooperative enterprises such as Erasmus and Cern wrecked, reduction in revenue for universities, loss of tax and talent from the skilled migrants now making plans to work elsewhere, and a colossal dent in the UK’s soft power. Even many Leavers quietly admitted that the UK might suffer economically and politically, at least in the short term, though they assured us that the advantages (the muezzin call of “Sovereignty!” that we hear five times daily) would eventually compensate.

Should article 50 be triggered, the ultimate fate of the country will hinge, of course, on the exit negotiations. The omens here are not good. We started out by offending our longstanding allies with our arrogant (and baseless) announcement that we would be better off without them. Theresa May’s bullish stance and the casually offensive remarks of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage then rubbed salt into the wound. And given that the EU is keen to make the prospect of leaving as unattractive as possible to deter other members from following suit, and given our woeful shortage of skilled trade negotiators, I see very little chance of us emerging from these talks with a lovely cake and a pleasant throb in the belly.

The UK, then, looks set to end up poorer, more divided, and more isolated on the world stage – at a time when the authoritarian right is enjoying an alarming renaissance, when Donald Trump’s presidency is destabilising world peace, when radical Islam still poses a potent threat, and when Vladimir Putin’s expansionist ambitions are gathering momentum.

Brexit risks being not just a faltering step backwards from economic, political and cultural standpoints, but a giant leap.

It comes as no surprise, then, that applications from foreign students to study at UK universities have already fallen by 7%. It will not shock you, either, that a large number of EU citizens resident in the UK are making preparations to leave. For some, the vote on Wednesday 8th February against the amendment on article 50 guaranteeing their rights was the final straw.

These are not scroungers, dossers or health tourists. These are hardworking, talented human beings who contribute hugely not just to the economy, but to society. They have jobs, they speak English (often to a higher standard than some of the natives I’ve encountered online), they have built lives here, and many have found love here. But their abysmal treatment at the government’s hands, and the new wave of xenophobia unleashed by the referendum vote, have made them feel unwelcome, and uncertain about their futures.

We risk throwing out not just the bathwater, but the baby, and the bath.

I’ve heard North Korea’s nice this time of year

I should add at this point that, if the government persists in its pursuit of a recklessly hard Brexit, if liberal values continue to be scorned and undermined, if racially motivated attacks continue to multiply, then I will be joining them in leaving. Am I overreacting? You be the judge.

Never mind that Brexit has destroyed my retirement plans. Never mind that the vote has already cost me almost £2,000 in increased holiday costs and grocery bills. What truly horrifies me is what seems to be happening to my country.

For simply airing the possibility that a hard Brexit might not be the best possible outcome for the country, or for suggesting that perhaps not every single Muslim on these shores is a western-hating rapist intent on killing us all, I have been called a traitor, a moron, a “cuck”, a “libtard”, and worse. For espousing views that I once saw as synonymous with the land of my birth – openness, tolerance, cooperation, trust – I have received multiple death threats.

I suddenly live in a society where where perfidious hatemongers like this man have acquired unquestioning followings in the hundreds of thousands.

A society where views like this, and this

'I hope all the refugees freeze to death'

and this

Guy threatening to kill Tim Farron

and this

Picture of drowning migrants labelled 'scroungers'

now routinely go unchallenged.

A society where behaviour like this, this, and this is becoming normalised. People are being verbally and physically abused, in some cases killed, for the crime of wanting to help other people – or simply for wearing the skin they were born in.

The country is falling to bastards and fools: bastards who weave lies and fools who believe them.

'The EU arliament is not elected'

If this is the new Britishness, then I want no part of it. I refuse to contribute any more to a country that tolerates, or even celebrates, racism, ignorance and spite. I’ll go to Canada, or Ireland, or Germany, where something like the British values of old still pertain. And I know for a fact that I will not be the only one.

A promise is just a promise

Theresa May seems intent on pursuing Brexit to its most brutal extent, no matter the cost. One can only assume that this is because she regards the referendum as a form of contract with the people of the UK; a promise.

But governments break promises all the time. The Tories broke nine of their 2015 manifesto pledges within 100 days of taking power. At least three more have gone for a burton since June 23:

Conservative manifesto: broken promises of Brexit

But there is a larger problem here. What if fulfilling one promise means breaking others? What if enforcing a disastrous Brexit leads, as it well might, to the breakup of the UK? To new borders and sectarian strife in Northern Ireland? To lost jobs, to further cuts to the NHS, to higher taxes, more austerity? Who is to say that the Brexit promise outweighs all others?

Politicians don’t like to make U-turns because they think they are a sign of weakness. But sometimes, backtracking is the bravest thing you can do. The sunk cost fallacy has been acknowledged as a fallacy for almost as long as the argumentum ad populum. You can always turn back. And sometimes it is the only sensible course of action.

In any case, Brexit is not the “will of the people”. It is the will of at most 17.4 million people – a total that undoubtedly included many who were voting purely in protest at Cameron and austerity. Even fewer wanted a hard Brexit, with all the upheaval and economic woe that it will entail.

I was delighted to discover that you were standing as my MP. You seemed that rare and precious thing: a politician with brains, integrity, conviction. A man who thought and spoke well and was not afraid to take an unpopular stance. As a result, in the 2015 general election, I put a cross next to a Labour candidate’s name for the first time. When Labour lost, and Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership, I thought he, too, seemed a decent man.

But unless you, and the Labour party, abandon your policy of pusillanimous submission to Theresa May’s every unmandated whim, unless you begin making substantive efforts to minimise the damage wrought by Brexit, and in particular, unless you start offering some credible support to my European friends in this country, whom you have, until this point, unforgivably betrayed, I will have no choice but to switch my allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, the only party that has shown consistent integrity on this issue. Until I emigrate, of course. Then you can do what the hell you like.

History is studded with stories of people in power faced with difficult choices. On the one hand, the safe option: give in to the will of the most vocal, even though they know the consequences are likely bad. On the other, ignore the clamour of the ill-informed, have the courage of your convictions, and choose the more difficult, but ultimately more beneficial, course of action. Those who choose the first path are invariably, like Pilate, reviled. Those who choose the second are feted as heroes.

You don’t eradicate the language and behaviour documented above by appeasing it. You eradicate it by fighting it with every sinew. Every day these bastards are not resisted, they grow bolder. To allow a hard Brexit is to pander to their tiny-minded, combative, backward, binary vision of the world.

How will you be remembered?

Yours

Andy Bodle

A patriot and a traitor

Bulldogs in union jacks

I am British, and glad to be British. But first and foremost, I am a human being

Bulldogs in union jacks
You do not represent me.

A fair few insults have been lobbed my way over the last six months. “Snowflake.” “Moron.” “Condescending prick.” “Cuck.” “Elitist.” “Libtard.” Most of them hit with all the force of a bullet thrown by a child, because most of the lobbers know nothing about me, and the rest know nothing at all. The most interesting one, by virtue of its sheer absurdity, was “traitor”.

The reasoning, I think, is that by arguing for the UK to stay in the European Union, or at least to remain on the closest terms possible, I am somehow denigrating it. Because I would prefer that my motherland remain a member of a progressive trade and customs union than become an inward- and backward-looking pariah state, I deserve, in the eyes of some, to be thrown in the Tower.

This is wrong-headed on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin, but here goes: I love my country. I love the gnarly combes of Exmoor, the wind-lashed crags of Gwynedd, Oxford’s defiant skyline, Whitby’s apologetic charm, the breathless majesty of the Lakes, Edinburgh, august and Escherian, the clumsy clash of then and now that is London. I love the internationally scorned food and the wildlife and the literature and the heritage and the majority of the people, and I don’t even mind the climate (England’s rainy reputation is overblown, and it’s never too hot or too cold for more than a few days). Crime is low, unemployment is low, the police and judiciary aren’t a law unto themselves, and until recently at least, most of our politicians seemed to rate the common people’s needs almost as highly as their own.

In short, I’m a reasonably well-travelled man, and I’ve yet to find another place on earth I’d rather live.

Now I’ve always been under the impression that when you love something, you want the best for it. And I happen to think that close cooperation with your neighbours, unfettered trade, attracting the best talent from around the world and open borders (with appropriate security checks) are beneficial to the UK – more so than isolationism, anyway – and 40 years of relative peace and prosperity would seem to back me up.

Only in the mind of a raving lunatic could taking a sober view of your country’s strengths and weaknesses be equated with hating it. Only someone who has read the Daily Express and nothing but the Daily Express could pretend that an aversion to huge risks being taken with your country’s economy and reputation is tantamount to treason. If your dad wants to bet the family house on a poker game, it is not treacherous to try to dissuade him. You’re doing it for his welfare as well as yours.

You are free to disagree with any of my reasoning here, any of my logic, or indeed my conclusion (provided you have reliable evidence to back it up) – but don’t you fucking dare question my motive. I may not be your kind of patriot, but I will defend the values of this country with my dying breath.

Whether I am proud of my country is a different question. Yes, I feel lucky, and grateful, to have been born in a relatively safe and prosperous country, where the citizens enjoy extensive choice, wide-ranging freedoms and where many, if not all, have opportunities to improve themselves. And during major sporting events, I generally root for England or Team GB, because, well, it’s more fun if you pick a side.

But proud? What’s your definition? In my view, you can only truly be proud of something if you have personally contributed to it. If you write a good book, or help build a sturdy house, or raise a child who wins a public speaking competition, then you are perfectly within your rights to be proud. But I don’t believe you have that privilege if your connection to the success is entirely coincidental.

Between 1845 and 1852, a million Irish men, women and children died during the potato famine, thanks largely to negligence by the British. Does that make you feel bad? From 1899 to 1901, 28,000 Boer women and children and at least 20,000 black people died in concentration camps set up in South Africa by the British Empire. Do you accept personal responsibility for that? During the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952 to 1960, at least 5,000 Kenyans were tortured by British soldiers. Shouldn’t you be ashamed?

Of course not. You had nothing to do with any of these events. But if that’s your logic – if you won’t carry the can for things you didn’t do – then how can you bask in the glory of England’s 1966 World Cup victory in 1966? How can you take pride in the Industrial Revolution or the Battle of Waterloo when you had no hand in either? How can you take any credit for Team GB’s Olympic medal haul in Beijing?

I’m careful not to litter, I pay my taxes, recycle, hold doors open for people, give odds and sods to the homeless, donate to a few charities and generally try to show consideration to my fellow man. But since I consider such behaviour the baseline for human decency, and since none of it has made Britain appreciably greater, no, I can’t say I feel proud, per se. And unless you’ve personally done something to add to the country’s wealth or reputation, neither should you.

I have a theory as to why the Brexit debate has divided the country so bitterly – why facts and reason are so often tossed aside in favour of emotion and aggression, and why so many people, from both Leave and Remain camps, have “doubled down” since the vote, becoming ever more convinced of their own rectitude and ever angrier with their opponents. It all boils down to this question of national pride and to our core sense of identity.

Most psychologists are agreed that humans base their self-image – the picture you have of yourself in your own head – on a few simple concepts. There’s no consensus on which is the most important, and they probably vary from person to person anyway, but chief among them are gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, region, sexuality, age, political affiliation and job. If someone were to ask, “Who are you?”, you’d probably reply something like, “I’m a middle-aged straight white British male writer.”

These concepts are very important to us – fundamental, in fact, to our sense of wellbeing. When they are threatened, we become defensive, sometimes to the point of irrationality. This may be why people are often accused of being “hysterical” when they talk about race issues, or gender equality. Because these subjects are so precious to us, we don’t always think straight when thinking and talking about them. We use emotive language, we oversimplify, our hearts run away with our heads.

For some people, their race and/or nationality is such a core component of their self-image that it blots out everything else. It trumps values, personality, rational argument. According to their maddeningly simple world-view, things like me are good and things unlike me are bad. Tell them they must choose between saving the life of a white British paedophile and a Pakistani doctor and they’ll choose the Brit every time.

I am not immune to those impulses. When someone attacks my gender, or my town, or my football team, I feel that rush of blood, and I want to spring to the defence of the People Like Me. But I also know that this sort of tribal thinking is dangerous.

When your mind works this way, in this automatic, tribal, binary, type-1, caveman kind of way, you think of life as a zero-sum game. You think every gain for another tribe is a loss for your own. But history shows us that life is categorically not zero-sum. Trade benefits both parties. Marriage (happy ones, at least) benefits both parties. The most successful creatures on earth – ants, bees, termites, chimpanzees – are the social species, the cooperators, the traders, the sharers, the communicators, the dividers of labour. It is the unparalleled cooperative skills of humans that have propelled us to become the dominant life-form on earth.

Tribal thinking – the unthinking, slavish devotion to People Like Me – lies behind all the -isms: sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia. Tribal thinking has been a major factor in every war.

But we move on. Sexism, racism and homophobia are on the wane, for good reason. The more humanity shakes off this mindset, the further it advances. Our time on this planet has been marked with less violence and fewer wars because we have slowly figured out that US VERSUS THEM is not the answer. US WITH THEM is infinitely more productive.

That’s why I try to fight the tribal impulse. Certainly, nationality and race are measures of how we see ourselves, but they’re not the only measure, and they’re probably among the least useful ones. Instead of building our self-image on accidents of birth, we can use other foundations: the company we keep, what we say, what we write, what we do.

I am British. I am glad to be British. But I am not glad to be British simply because I was born in Berkshire. I am glad to be British because a majority of people with whom I happen to share this little isthmus share many of my values. Values of tolerance and curiosity and openness and inventiveness and hope. And if those values are ever eroded, I may well stop being glad to be British.

I am British. But first and foremost, I am a human being.

I had planned to bang on at my usual mind-numbing length about the relative merits and dangers of patriotism and nationalism and the differences between them, but while researching this post, I discovered that far finer minds than mine – some of the greatest intellects ever to stalk this earth – have already done most of the heavy lifting. So to round off, here’s their wisdom on the subject.

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Samuel Johnson

“Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”
Bertrand Russell

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
Albert Einstein

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”
Pablo Casals

“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.”
George Bernard Shaw

“If I knew something that would serve my country but would harm mankind, I would never reveal it; for I am a citizen of humanity first and by necessity, and a citizen of France second, and only by accident.”
Montesquieu

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a citizen of the world.”
Socrates

“Borders are scratched across the hearts of men
By strangers with a calm, judicial pen,
And when the borders bleed we watch with dread
The lines of ink across the map turn red.”
Marya Mannes,  Subverse: Rhymes for Our Times

“Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on his own dunghill.”
Richard Aldington

“Patriotism, the virtue of the vicious.”
Oscar Wilde

“A patriot loves his country; a nationalist hates everyone else’s.”
Georges Clemenceau

“Patriotism is the love of one’s country and the desire to serve her; nationalism the hatred of others and the desire to do them ill.”
Pierre de Coubertin

“Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.”
Guy de Maupassant

“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”
Sydney J. Harris

“Nationalism is a state of mind permeating the large majority of the people and claiming to permeate all its members; it recognises the nation-State as the ideal form of political organization and the nationality as the source of all creative cultural energy and economic well-being. The supreme loyalty of man is therefore due to his nationality, as his own life is supposedly rooted in and made possible by its welfare.”
Hans Kohn,  The Idea of Nationalism

[Thought I’d better put a positive one in, for balance. But there really aren’t many.]

“It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.”
Arthur C Clarke

The Twelve Days of Brexit

EU wrapping paper

If only 12 was the end of it.

EU wrapping paper
Really. You shouldn’t have.

On the first day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
A lie on the side of a bus.

On the second day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the third day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the fourth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the fifth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the sixth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the seventh day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the eighth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the ninth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
One country splitting
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the tenth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Look, sterling’s crashing
One country splitting
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the eleventh day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Food prices rising
Look, sterling’s crashing
One country splitting
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

On the twelfth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Bankers decamping
Food prices rising
Look, sterling’s crashing
One country splitting
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

***

On the thousandth day of Brexit, my true love sent to me
Mass unemployment
Scots independence
Fresh Irish troubles
Bye, bye Gibraltar
Endless remoaning
Tourism waning
Health service failing
Colleges closing
Expats returning
Town centres burning
Fascists saluting

Bankers decamping
Food prices rising
Look, sterling’s crashing
One country splitting
Andrea Leadsom
Leave voters crowing
Jo Cox’s killing
“Unfinished business”
Bob Geldof shouting
Fake news sites
Nigel Farage
And a lie on the side of a bus.

68 dumb-fuck reasons for leaving the EU

Brexit illo

‘I did it to put everyone else in the shit’

Brexit illoThe UK’s vote to exit the European Union has created many uncertainties. Will the country be better off, or worse? Is the UK a xenophobic, retrogressive nation, or a brave, proud, forward-looking one? Can the Conservatives and Labour remain united in this time of turmoil? Will anyone be able to afford to go on holiday again?

The result has made one thing crystal clear: the UK is a bitterly divided nation, along lines of age, race, region, class, wealth and education. If we are going to begin to heal these divisions, it is crucial that we try to establish exactly why it is that 51.9% of those who voted decided that being outside the European Union was better than being in it. Once we have a better understanding of these grievances, we can address them and – hopefully, one day – resolve them.

To this end, I have begun compiling a list of reasons given by Leavers, gathered from Twitter, Facebook, comment threads, discussion forums and friends.

1. “Because of all the EU laws that we have no say in.”
“Name one.”
“Erm …”
“Come on, what are these laws are that you won’t have to obey any more that made you vote for this short-term economic hit? Can you name one?”
“I wouldn’t be able to, no.” (Caller to James O’Brien’s LBC radio show)

2. “As a protest vote.”

3. “Because I want it to be a close result.”

4. “It [Sunderland] already is [a giant jobcentre]. That’s why I voted Leave, to put everyone else in the shit like us.” (Twitter)

5. “To stick it to the toffs.”

6. “To give Cameron a bloody nose.” (Express website)

7. “To give Cameron a better negotiating position.”

8. “Because the EU closed the coalmines.” [The EU had nothing to do with the closing of the coalmines.]

9. “Because I thought we had been in long enough.”

10. “Because I had the hump.”

11. “Because now our lads will get out of prison, cos there will be jobs for them.”

12. “The main reason I voted out was because the EU parliament aren’t elected representatives. The second is, they pass laws that affect us, but we aren’t given a say. Third, we need to sort our own house out” (J, on Facebook, giving exactly the same – factually wrong – reason in three different ways)

13. “Because I felt uncomfortable when a group of brown people got on the bus the other day.” (Family member)

14. “Because the EU made them change Marathons to Snickers.” [That was Mars’s decision, not the EU’s.]

15. “Because they banned our bendy bananas.” (Express website) [The EU introduced a law stipulating that bananas should be given different classifications depending on their curvature. No fruit was ever banned – it was just a different classification system.]

16. “Because fishermen now won’t have to throw fish back in the water and Muslim women will no longer be told by their husbands not to wear make-up” (Caller to LBC)

17. “Because I’ve lived here all my life, and when I was growing up, that street over there was filled with shops.” (TV documentary)

18. “To stop the Muslims immigrating here.” [Migration is unrestricted within the EU. But individual nations are responsible for setting their own limits on immigration from non-EU countries, such as those where the majority of citizens are Muslims. Leaving the EU will have no effect on the number of Muslims coming to the UK.]

19. “Because I want our old lightbulbs back!” [The EU has placed restrictions on the sale of old-style incandescent lightbulbs in a bid to reduce energy wastage and slow global warming.]

20. “Because vaccines should not be mandatory.” [The EU has never passed any law making vaccination mandatory, even though vaccination is widely regarded as being a pretty good idea. Some European countries have done so of their own volition.]

21. “Because the Queen said.” (Pro-Brexit Facebook group)

22. “Because we should not be signing up to TTIP.” [TTIP is a trade deal between EU and America, which the EU has just put on hold. After the UK leaves the EU, most commentators believe it will sign up to a similar deal with the US, probably with fewer checks and balances.]

23. “Because we are like Germany, and Germany isn’t in the EU.” [Germany was a founding member of the EU.]

24. “Because the country is full.”

25. “To annoy my wife.”

26. “It will be an adventure!”

27. “Because the value of the euro is going to go down.” [Even if it were true, this would not have a marked effect on the UK’s economy. Since the vote, sterling is down 18% against the dollar and 15% against the euro.]

28. “So that I can get cheap photovoltaic panels from China.”

29. “Because otherwise, 7 million Turks will come over here.” (LBC caller) [Turkey would never have been able to join the EU so long as Britain used its veto.]

30. “Because I am fed up with being ruled by unelected bureaucrats.” [The EU parliament is directly elected in regular European elections. The European commission –basically the civil service – recruits its own members.]

Screenshot of online conversation
The people have spoken.

31. “Because I didn’t want my sons to have to join a European army.” [The EU would never have formed an army so long as Britain exercised its veto. Even if it did, conscription would be a political and practical impossibility.]

32. “Because there’s too many Pakistan people in Glasgow.” [I repeat: EU membership has no bearing on immigration from outside the EU.]

33. “Because it takes more than 5 litres of water to flush my shit away.”

34. “Because EU taxes are making our petrol more expensive than everywhere else in Europe.” [No, those would be taxes imposed by the UK’s government. The EU plays no part in setting national tax rates.]

35. “To send them women in the headscarves back home. One of them stole my mother’s purse.”

36. “Because I don’t like what the EU is doing to Africa.”

37. “Because I’m scared of black people. They’re so physical.” (mother-in-law of member of Facebook group) [The mechanism by which leaving the EU will rid the UK of black people is unclear.]

38. “I don’t want to send money to Greece. I don’t care about Greece.”

39. “Because the EU does nothing for us.” [Estimates of the value of EU membership to the UK vary from £31bn to £92bn per year.]

40. “Because the EU has devoted 26,911 words to the regulation of cabbages.” [Seems quite a minor thing to sacrifice 20% of your pay packet for, but in any case, it’s bollocks. There are at present zero words in EU legislation specifically governing the production or sale of cabbages.]

41. “Because our prisons are full of Polish rapists.” [As of March 2016, there were 965 Polish nationals in British prisons. That’s out of a total Polish population of just over 800,000 — so 0.12% of all Poles here are convicted criminals. The total number of prisoners is around 95,000; about 0.14% of the population as a whole. I can’t find any figures broken down into both ethnicity and crime.]

42. “Because the roads in Oxfordshire are full of potholes.” [Technically, such matters fall within the local council’s purview.]

43. “Because the EU is anti-semitic.”

44. “So that we can go back to the way Britain was in the 50s.”

45. “Because they sold off the water, gas and electricity.” [Once again, that would be the work of the UK government, not the EU.]

46. “Because I couldn’t decide, and my boyfriend voted Remain.”

47. “Because schools are no longer allowed to hold nativity plays in case they offend Moslems.”

48. “Because the EU spent £13m on art last year.”

49. “Because they never vote for us in Eurovision.”

50. “Because if we stop all the immigrants using the NHS, it will work properly again.”

51. “So we don’t have to queue at the doctor’s.” [There is no clear consensus on the impact of immigration on the health service. Undoubtedly, more people in a country means more people to treat. But it is widely agreed that migrants to the UK are on average younger and healthier than the local population, that inward migration is good for the economy, which gives us more money to spend on the NHS, and that without migrant workers – 24% of doctors and 12% of nurses were not born in the UK – the health service would collapse. Besides, the ageing resident population is by far the biggest strain on health services.]

52. “Because I want a more powerful hoover.” (via Facebook group)

53. “Because the EU is going to ban toasters, and I love toast.” (BBC interviewee) [The EU has never threatened to ban toasters. It is, however, considering a limit on the amount of energy that household appliances can use, in a bid to reduce the effect on the environment.]

54. “So we can have our electrical sockets low down by the skirting rather than have to put them little higher up the wall.”

55. “Because they are building houses for Filipinos and it’s blocking the view from my kitchen window.”

56. “Because I don’t understand politics. This is what my friends suggested.”

57. “Because there’s too much traffic in Sittingbourne.”

58.”Because they tell me I need scaffolding to clean my guttering.” [Really not sure where this information came from.]

59. “Because I fancied a change.” (Caller to Radio 4 programme)

60. “My uncle voted Leave because his sister told him to.”

61. “Because the European Parliament building is the same shape as the Tower of Babel, which is anti-Christ.” (Facebook group’s family member)

62. “So all the fucking Chinks will leave.” [China is not in the EU.]

63. “Because the ensuing recession is going to bring house prices down, and I can’t afford to buy a house.”

64. “Because I want to buy sweets in ounces, not grammes.”

65. “Because they don’t pay for NHS prescriptions in Wales and Scotland, and that’s not fair.” (Manchester woman) [Again, nothing to do with the EU.]

66. “So that I don’t have to pay the bedroom tax.” [The bedroom tax was imposed not by the EU, but by … oh, can’t you fucking guess by now?]

67. “Because I’m fed up of the French burning our lamb.” (Frank, Twitter)

68. “Because I want to use my teabag twice and the EU won’t let me.” (Aunt of friend of commenter) [Another falsehood peddled by Boris Johnson]

Thanks for contributing and helping to turn a sad list into a truly depressing one. I’m turning comments off here now because I’m getting spammed to death, but you can still add your gems to the version on Medium if you like.

You, me, and the EU Tree

Gnarled tree

And the people on the far east of the street … well, they just hated trees

Gnarled treeOnce upon a time, there was a street; and in the middle of the street, there was a tree. And the name of the tree was the EU Tree.

 

The EU Tree wasn’t perfect. Parts of it were a bit rotten, it cost quite a lot of money to prune and water, and its roots were starting to scrape against the foundations of some of the nearby houses. But by and large, people loved the EU Tree. It produced fruit for those too poor to buy food, its low branches allowed people to climb from one garden to the next, and it held the soil together when it rained.

 

But some people did not love the EU Tree. The people on the far west of the street were nostalgic for the days before the tree, when it was just a big field, and they said it starved smaller seedlings of light. And the people on the far east of the street … well, they just hated trees.

 

So the people from the west and the people from the east got together, and hatched a plan. They started talking loudly about the bad points of the tree, and telling fairy stories about how much better the street would be if it was gone. And then one day, in the middle of the night, they sneaked into the park in the middle of the street, and chopped the EU Tree down.

 

When the rest of the people in the street woke up to find a charred stump where the EU Tree used to be, they were sad and angry. The far westerners looked the other way and whistled; the far easterners laughed. As the people who loved the tree trudged miserably back to their homes, the westerners turned to the easterners and said: “We’re just going to go and get some new seedlings, to plant in the space where the EU Tree used to stand.”

 

And so the westerners left to find some seedlings to plant on the lot. And when they returned, they found that the easterners had built a fucking Starbucks on it.

A fucking Starbucks

The UK is not Beyoncé. It’s Bez

Bez and Beyonce

Britain needs to have the humility to admit that it’s better off being part of something great than trying to be great itself

Bez and Beyonce
The UK out of Europe: 24-hour party people – or crazy in love?

Here are my thoughts on the UK’s referendum on whether to stay in the European Union. Why should you care? Well, I’ve read and thought about it quite a lot, I guess. Judge the argument on its own merits, not mine.

I’m not going to heap statistics upon you, for three reasons. First, you won’t read them. Second, others have already handled that task better than I could. Third, there are so many variables involved that no one can hope to make predictions to any useful degree of accuracy. I just want to look briefly at some big-picture stuff.

(By the way, if you can’t abide geopolitics or statistics – sure, they’re the only real clues we have as to the likely outcome of an exit from the EU, but who the hell bothers with informed decisions these days? – just hit control + F, then type “pop music”. Return.)

The regularity with which history repeats itself borders on the tiresome. One of the most frequently retold stories might be titled “The Country That Went It Alone”. From time immemorial, the most isolationist and protectionist nations have been the poorest. Look at Albania in the mid-20th century, or Cuba or North Korea today. And America’s flirtation with protectionism in 1920s and 1930s was a major aggravating factor in the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, the most prosperous and longest-lived civilisations have all had one thing in common: size. The Egyptian dynasties, the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, the Pax Mongolica, the (first) Islamic caliphate, the Spanish empire and its British successor all derived their wealth and influence from their geographical reach and head count.

Most of these utopias, of course, were achieved through conquest. Suffice to say that route is frowned upon these days (and not a hugely viable option for the nation with the ninth strongest army in the world, after Italy and marginally ahead of Turkey).

Fortunately, killing and enslaving people and robbing other countries of their riches is not the only way to boost your stature. The wealthiest country in the modern era, the only success story comparable with the behemoths of yore, is the United States of America. While it clearly has no problem with war, it has largely attained its status by different means. The United States got big by trading, by welcoming migrants from all over the world, and by – the clue’s in the name – uniting.

The Divided States of America would be a pale shadow of the force the US is today. The Divided States of America wouldn’t sweep the medals at the Olympics or lead the world in technology or produce one-third of all the maize on the planet. The Divided States of America would never have intervened decisively in Europe in the second world war (California and New York might have had a pop, but there’s no way Kentucky or North Dakota or Wisconsin would have sacrificed a generation in someone else’s fight).

But since most people seem to prefer whimsical analogies to actual historical precedent, let’s talk about pop music. (Welcome back, history-haters!)

Think back to the moment when all the great bands – the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Spice Girls – split up. Not once did any of their individual members ever go on to enjoy anything like the success of the collective. The list is endless: Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the Monkees, the Beach Boys, Eurythmics, Take That (Robbie came close, I’ll grant you).

It usually goes something like this: one of the lineup thinks, “I’m sick of you losers holding me back – I’m the real star of this group. I deserve more glory and more money, so fuck you and your input and your constructive criticisms,” and then they leave, only to discover on the release of their first solo album that, lo and behold, their God-given genius wasn’t what was carrying the band after all. The band was more than the sum of its parts, even if some members may have been more talented than others.

The same goes for all collaborative enterprises. Nothing the members of Monty Python achieved alone has touched the heights of Life of Brian or Holy Grail. The cast of Friends were a riot together, but can barely raise a giggle as individuals. And we all know what happens in horror films the second one of the characters says, “Hey! We should split up!”

The lesson should be clear to even the densest of the dense: bigger is better. Collaboration is a good thing. Cooperation trumps competition.

There are, it’s true, a handful of exceptions: Wham’s George Michael. Rod Stewart. Michael Jackson. Beyoncé. (Although it is worth remembering that none of these people truly struck out on their own; they took with them talented and loyal teams of songwriters, producers and managers.)

But – and this is the absolutely crucial point – the UK is not Beyoncé, whose career in Destiny’s Child was just a springboard to global domination. It is not even Kelly Rowland. No, the UK is more like Bez, with delusions of Beyoncé: a likeable enough chap who was a fun addition to the Happy Mondays lineup, but whose greatest achievement after they disbanded in 1993 was winning Celebrity Big Brother.

The UK sort of was Beyoncé once, for a bit. It had an empire, it had naval superiority, it had global influence and power. It led the world in science, in engineering, in literature and the arts.

But Britain’s era of dominance (which in any case it did not attain in the most honourable fashion) is a distant memory. The coal and the oil and the steel and the fish are all gone. The two institutions of which we can still be slightly proud, the NHS and the BBC, are in the process of being torn apart by the Tories. The last rites are being administered to the UK press. Just about the only industry in which we still lead the world, banking, will crumble once Britain ceases to offer investors easy access to the largest market in the world. And the supremacy of the English language – which, by the by, has a lot more to do with the achievements of America than anything “Great Britain” ever did – is also threatened by the act of Brexit itself. How long is English going to remain the lingua franca of an economic union that contains just one English-speaking member [Ireland]?

Germany is richer than us. Denmark, Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg are happier than us. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain and even Greece all work harder than we do. And Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg are all less corrupt than we are. The UK is fast becoming a nation of feckless narcissists who consider jobs like cleaning, plumbing, construction, bar work and nursing beneath them (thank God for those pride-free immigrants!), and dream only of becoming writers, rock stars or footballers.

The Brexiters, with their rallying brays of “Take back control!” and “Make Britain great again!”, would have us believe that in 10 years’ time, the UK is going to be “running the world”, posting pictures of its Hamptons summer home on Instagram and raking in millions from perfumes it had no hand in designing. Whereas, as anyone with a speck of humility or realism knows, it’s far, far more likely to be losing its teeth in a bare-knuckle brawl and passing out with its pants round its ankles in a pool of its own puke.

To finish, a few bullet points that I’m sure someone else has already made somewhere, but I haven’t personally seen or heard yet.

  • If anyone’s thinking of using this referendum as a protest vote, as a means of giving Cameron a bloody nose, remember: this is not a local election, or a European election, or even a general election, the damage inflicted by which can be reversed in five years. This referendum is, for the purposes of all those voting in it, permanent. If we vote out, and decide we don’t like it, we can’t just tap Angela Merkel on the shoulder and say: “Terrible boo-boo, Ang, we’d like to rejoin now, please.” The EU doesn’t want to lose any more members, so it’s not going to make leaving and rejoining easy. We will have to live with the consequences of this decision for at least 50 years. (Even if they do let us back in one day, they’ll hardly be falling over themselves to restore all our preferential terms. No special rebate, no opt-out from the Schengen travel agreement, or the euro, or the charter of fundamental human rights. We’ll rejoin, if we rejoin at all, on their terms.)
  • Leavers do like to bang on about “unelected bureaucrats”. “We want our sovereignty back,” they wail. “No one is accountable!” In a word, bullshit. Most of the EU is elected, in the European elections. This is what MEPs are. It’s true that the members of the European Commission are unelected, but a) they are instead appointed by governments, which we did vote for, and b) the EC is basically the European civil service. When was the last time anyone voted in a civil servant?

We don’t elect the House of Lords, we don’t elect the judiciary, we don’t elect the head of the military, or the police. There has, to my knowledge, never been an election to determine our representative at the United Nations. These people are appointed by bodies that we did vote for. It’s too time-consuming and expensive to have elections for everything – we have to trust the government (however loath we are to do so) to do some things.

  • I keep hearing, from those who remember, how “Britain coped just fine” before it joined the EU. (Whether the three-day week, universal drink driving, houses made out of 90% asbestos, corporal punishment, widespread child abuse and rampant homophobia, sexism and racism count as “coping just fine” is a question for another day.) But times were rather different. For one thing, we still had the vestiges of an empire, and the advantages that conferred: cheap imported labour, access to resources, control of trade routes. For another, there was no internet. There was little international travel. There were no highly organised and sophisticated terrorist groups that wanted us all dead. There was no economic competition from China, or India, or Japan. There were no huge global corporations with GDPs bigger than small countries who were accountable to no one.

We may no longer have any immediate worries about an attack from Russia, or China, but in this era of globalisation, it’s not countries we have to worry about so much as corporations. Banks are already “too big to fail”. The UK can’t hope to stand up to the likes of Google or Facebook by itself. We need strength in numbers. Allies. Not to sequester ourselves on our little island and daydream of a halcyon, foreigner-free age that never really existed.

  • The four horsemen of the apocalypse (Johnson, Gove, Duncan Smith and Farage) have repeatedly laughed off warnings of a new recession if the UK votes to leave, but it’s the closest thing to a certainty we have, purely because of the uncertainty. Investors don’t invest in risky conditions. Banks don’t lend in risky conditions, and employers don’t employ. Whatever you think are the long-term consequences for Britain (and personally, I think they’re dire), for the next few years, it’s a copper-bottomed certainty that we are looking at higher unemployment, static pay, more tax rises, and more austerity. For no good reason. And all on the watch, more than likely, of a self-aggrandising Etonian clown.
  • Virtually every piece of evidence the Remain camp has produced has been met with a swivel-eyed jeer of “Scaremongering!”. In fact, it’s been pretty much the Leave camp’s only rebuttal. The value of our pensions might fall. “Scaremongering!” Trouble might resume in Ireland. “Scaremongering!” Our higher education system might suffer because of lost revenue from foreign students. “You giant mongers of scare!”

A few points here. One, describing the manner of someone’s argument does nothing to invalidate the content of their argument. If I warned you that walking naked into an Arsenal pub with your balls painted in Tottenham colours would get you castrated, I’d be scaremongering, but I’d have a fucking point. Two, this is a binary debate: stay or leave? The only choice campaigners on both sides have is to depict the positive consequences of voting their way and the negative consequences of voting the other. Remain are rooting for the status quo, so there’s no point in their spelling out the advantages of remaining: they’re staring us in the face. All they can realistically do is draw attention to the potential pitfalls of leaving, thus opening themselves to the charge of scaremongering. What the Leave camp should be doing is not describing how Remain are shouting, but explaining why what they’re shouting is wrong. Three, I’d rather be a scaremonger than a hatemonger any day.

And four, scaremongering is, as far as I’m concerned, an entirely legitimate tactic, because I am genuinely fucking terrified of yet another recession, of a sterling crash, of a government in the buttery grip of Boris fucking Johnson, of chronic labour shortages alongside mass unemployment, and generally of the prospect of living in a country that stands as a joke candidate in general elections, throttles its ex-girlfriend, and is declared bankrupt not once, but twice.