Why Brexit is So Likely

As a German I would definitely like Britain to remain in the EU – with my English hat on it is, however a bit less clear cut.

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This is based on the transcript for a speech given at the Kapitalmarkt Forum of Commerzbank AG in Hamburg, October 2015. Lesen Sie diese auf Deutsch

There are a number of reasons why the British people may prefer an exit in the forthcoming in/out referendum. These are quite apart from any economic arguments that have been put forward and which may point to staying in.

Firstly this island paradise is already overpopulated and has too much foreign influence – in most British eyes. Immigration from Commonwealth countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean started decades ago, is still strong and the integration process in many peoples’ eyes has not gone well.

The new immigrants from Europe were welcomed to start with – Polish plumbers were much in demand during the big housing boom prior to the recession. Instead of using the permissible EU quota system, Labour decided to let all in who wanted to come. During the recession when unemployment was high and afterwards, when wages remained depressed, politicians like Farage and others took advantage to blame Britain’s membership in the EU. The fact that Europe went through a terrible time made their argument even stronger. The Merkel invitation to all refugees from Muslim populated countries into Europe is possibly the final straw in the debate about immigration.

Whilst Germany may be able to cope and eventually integrate these people and bolster its workforce, the rest of Europe is struggling with it. And so is Britain. One big reason is that Britain has never had and probably will never have an infrastructure to cope with large scale immigration. No identity cards, no border controls on exit are just two examples. Students come on a six months visa and stay for twenty years; nobody knows how many are living in Britain. This is one of the main reasons why Britain has become the preferred immigration country – apart from the fact that the whole world speaks some broken English and that seemingly unlimited numbers of unskilled jobs are available in the service sector.

Secondly, structures and regulations are quite alien to the British and they do not care for them.

It’s a cultural thing; it starts with the language: a grammar with more exceptions to rules than rules themselves. Easy to learn, but very difficult to perfect. One also prefers to express oneself vaguely rather than clearly, as the anthropologist Kate Fox describes beautifully in her book Watching the English.

Very interesting” usually means “boring” or “rubbish“. “You must come for dinner” means you never hear again. Speaking your mind is – particularly if it comes from a German – called blunt, or in your face, or worse. Proper English is not only a living and constantly evolving language, it is also an important domain for the true Brits.

My friend Prof Thomas Kielinger, correspondent for Die Welt, has showcased this splendidly in his book “Crossroads and Roundabouts” – everything is constantly in flux.  The Germans like regulation; they stand patiently at a road crossing and wait for green to cross the street – whether there are cars coming or not. But in the UK, self-reliance and self-regulation is more important than rule by the authorities.

Labour flexibility is the name of the game in the world of business in Britain, and employment laws don’t fit easily into an adversarial culture. For Germans with their more consensual model they are the norm.

Another huge difference – Britain sports “case law” whilst the Continent has written law – another non-fit and quite alien.

So it’s not surprising that that there is so much opposition to the huge amount of regulation coming out of Brussels, lots of it of course unnecessary.

Thirdly, the press in the UK is mostly Eurosceptic, and their owners are probably frightened of all the possible rules and regulations that might come their way one day. For them the debate has started in earnest and their influence on the referendum should not be underestimated.

And finally, the Exit Supporters have simpler messages:

  • We want our country back from those unelected and overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels
  • Being outside the Eurozone, Britain will have little influence and will be a second grade player forever
  • In language, history and politics, the UK is closer to the USA than to Europe – and when it matters, has to follow America.
  • The Europeans sell more to us than we to them – it’s all to their advantage
  • You can’t trust the Europeans – least of all the French and the Germans, who are suspect, as they want to rule Europe again
  • The City contributes more to GDP than manufacturing and Brussels wants to break or undermine its supremacy in Europe.

As a German I would definitely like Britain to remain in the EU – with my English hat on it is, however a bit less clear cut.

The more EU or German politicians try to help the UK to remain in the EU, the more it appears to the Eurosceptics that the Europeans are doing it for their own advantage. A real conundrum. It will require very finely tuned political handling to find the right tone here. Sentimentality is neither suitable nor wanted. The Anglos always were from Mars and the Europeans more often from Venus (even the Germans nowadays – to everyone’s confusion).

Will Britain exit? The Scots were very close to leaving and to creating a social democratic country. They have promised that if the UK overall votes “out” and the Scots vote “in” then there will be another referendum in Scotland, and the Scots may well leave the UK. There could be some tactical voting here!

Much depends on how Europe portrays itself until voting day. If the Eurozone develops on a positive trend economically, as it appears to be doing at the moment, that will take some of the wind out of the sails of the no campaigners; if not – and if the immigration problem gets worse, which is more likely, then I feel that many Brits will want to shut off the tunnel for good.

BB/January 2016

Author: Bob Bischof

German Robert (Bob) Bischof has lived and worked in Britain for 40 years. He is convinced that the two countries can gain much by learning from each other. Well-known for his outspoken comments on economic, political and industrial issues concerning Britain and Germany, he is a regular contributor to a range of newspapers and other publications, including the Financial Times and other national papers.

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