(Editor’s note: Dispatches Europe is dedicated to the global mobility of talent. With the Brexit vote in June 2016, the United Kingdom effectively closed its doors to internationals.)
It’s 2021, and the United Kingdom is strong and stable.
Britain has broken free of the tyranny of the European Union. Bananas are curved again. The fairy tale has begun.
Unfortunately, certain of Nigel Farage’s, Boris Johnson’s and Michael Gove’s promises have turned out to be just that … fairy tales.
Not that they care.
All three have left the UK – Farage as an advisor to Donald Trump; Gove to his native (and now independent) Scotland where he’s an education official and Johnson to his roots in Turkey as spokesman for President Erdogan.
Freed of the onerous EU rules and regulations, and once again kings and queens of their own kingdom, the Tories promised Brits they would negotiate favorable trade agreements just like Switzerland and Norway.
Trouble is, Switzerland and Norway were never in the EU and negotiated treaties in a climate of good will and mutual cooperation.
“Bitter, table for one …”
Britain, of course, divorced the EU, and you know how divorces tend to turn out … bitter.
During their Brexit campaign, Farage, Johnson & Co. conveniently forgot eight of the UK’s 10 largest trading partners are in the EU.
Emboldened by the fact they control access to a market of 500 million consumers, EU officials piled on punitive trade tariffs while demanding Britain observe the same regulations regarding freedom of movement, pure food and clean air and water as it did as an EU member … and Britain refused.
After all, what was the point if Brexit means Brexit?
Now, the UK is bravely going it alone, outside all three of Europe’s trading blocs — the European Economic Area, the European Free Trade Area as well as the EU.
The most fervent Brexiteers always say they’re willing to trade the economy for autonomy, and that’s how it’s worked out. Win – win, as the Americans say. Though, it turns out in the global economy, an island nation of only 65 million people – and with no clear competitive advantage in technology or finance – doesn’t have much leverage.
Brexit: Back to the future
We looked in on our friend Reg, a 50-something fellow who reads the Daily Express and supports Brexit passionately. Brexit, Reg says, “is better than I could have imagined.”
Britain is once again the proud, self-sufficient island it had been in the 1950s. And, not coincidentally, with an economy that now resembles 1950s Britain.
Prime Minister Teresa May never bothered to articulate a vision of post-Brexit Britain beyond “strong and stable.” But there were warnings early on that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
The first to leave the UK post-Brexit were the banks, financial firms and trading houses, mostly to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Luxembourg. Then the multinationals, which did not share the same affinity for going it alone as the Brexiteers, moved on to various EU countries, guaranteeing business as usual.
Ford Motor Co.’s top UK executive, James D. Farley, Jr., warned back in 2017 that if Britain didn’t get a favorable deal with the EU that guaranteed “frictionless” movement of cars from plants in England to the continent, Ford would drive off into the sunset.
Downing Street didn’t, and Ford did.
So, Reg’s job at the Ford engine plant in Dagenham went to Germany.
Bad luck, that.
Ah, but the UNITED Kingdom (minus Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, of course) has returned to its bucolic past, and Reg has a lead on a shepherd job up near Newcastle.
It doesn’t pay very much, but there’s not a brown face or a Pole in sight up in the pure English air.
Real Englishmen stay home
Does Reg miss his old life? A bit, he says.
Reg used to have a beach house in Almería, but had to give it up. Now a Polish chap, Lech, owns it. The same guy who used to work at the nursing home down the road from Reg’s place.
Of course, Lech was chucked out after Brexit, forcibly deported back to Poland … where as a multi-lingual, highly skilled international, he got a job as a middle-level manager in a booming economy with the lowest unemployment in decades.
In fact, ol’ Lech rang up Reg recently to tell him how getting thrown out of Britain was the best thing that ever happened to him! And to invite Reg to visit him at his former beach house.
“So, it really was the best for everyone,” Reg said, smiling faintly.
Of course, vacationing in Spain is out, Reg said, if for no other reason than it’s very tough now for Brits to get tourist visas to cross the English Channel to their neighbors.
Anyway, the May government decided the best place for real Englishmen to vacation on the sea is England, preferably Jaywick, which could use a bit of help, let’s face it.
In his younger days, Reg and his lads liked to skip over to Amsterdam or Hamburg for a few laughs; a pint, a little ganja and maybe a pretty girl in the Red Light District.
That’s in the past. Reg’s son has to settle for naughty snapshots of Bella Thorn getting groped on the The Sun website.
The Final Solution
With Brexit a momentous success, conservative forces led by Katie Hopkins have moved on to a new campaign – “A Final Solution” – a referendum on returning Britain to its roots by forcing out any resident of the United Kingdom who cannot trace her or his lineage back to the Domesday Book.
As with Brexit, the blow black has been significant but had very little effect on anti-immigration sentiment.
Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple Computer’s legendary British-born designer, said the UK must keep its doors open to international talent if its technology firms are to thrive. Final Solution Leader Hopkins replied, “If Jony wants to live with the cockroaches in Cupertino, I say good on him. But he can’t come back here and tell us how to run England.”
As for Reg, he says Brexit has refocused Britons on what really matters. “Though I do wonder if the Remoaners had pointed out how bloody hard it would be to get a decent curry, things might have turned out a good deal differently.
“Funny thing, though … in the old days, the sun never set on the Union Jack. But now, I’m starting to feel like this old island is really quite small.”
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.