Monday, March 20, 2017

Brexit lecture - Glasgow university

So she is going to trigger Armageddon next Wednesday. I feel physically sick. Of course, this limbo isn't any better... Part of me wants the shit to start hitting the fan as hard as possible before it's too late for them to come to their senses, or so as to precipitate a collapse of that particular government. I know polls say the Tories would win again but some slightly more centrist Tories could at least be less mad than the current mob.

In retrospect, I was not as upset as I should have been on June 24. I was hurt and devastated of course because I wanted Remain to win but I wasn't suicidally depressed  because I thought that the only sensible option for the government, who after all had campaigned for Remain, was to opt for some sort of Norwegian solution retaining the single market and not curtailing my right to move around but losing their right to vote and veto. As a true European, the thought of an EU without England (and I'll call it that because I don't think it ever was the UK as a whole) vetoing everything like petulant kids felt almost attractive. I've always seen myself as European, then Scottish and not really British at all. It's only normal when you've spent the last 32 years living with an EU citizen and going home for holidays, never really setting foot south of the border. Europe is much more my home. Every time England threw a spoke in the wheel I thought in terms of what they were doing to us. I was on the EU side not the UK side, so a quiet, subdued UK appealed a tiny bit, at least long enough for them to come to their senses and resume full EU membership, a little humbled. Little did I know, a completely insane path would suddenly be followed forcing me to give serious consideration to changing my entire future.

Thomas and I attended this on Friday: It was very interesting. David McAllister (despite the misleading name) is a German (CDU) MEP (of Scottish descent, of course). He gave us an insight into what the EU and in particular Germany are expecting after next Wednesday. He was infinitely more prepared than our government (he even had two A4 ringbinders of notes with him!!!), and had looked into things in much greater detail. There was sadly, however, a naivety that the EU would be dealing with a sane group of MPs who would put the interests of their country at the heart of the upcoming negotiations and that worried me.

He underlined, for instance, that no one in their right mind would prioritize no deal over a bad deal because frankly, in the EU's eyes what we have at the moment is the best possible deal, anything on the table will be inferior but crashing out after 18 months on no deal would be way beyond the catastrophic implications of any bad deal that could be on offer. He was frank and told us that the 18 months (not two years as we keep being told) that our government will have to negotiate both our leaving terms and the setting up of a new deal fell so far short of the time needed for even negotiating the leaving (even with people who actually have a well constructed plan, set of goals and realistic ambitions), that there is a ZERO per cent chance of a new deal being in place by October 2018. All negotiating needs to finish then if everything is to be ratified before the 2019 EU elections. Their Canadian deal (which is much smaller in scope than what the UK is aiming for) took eight years, and nothing had to be disentangled before the new negotiations began. He said, realistically. we should be looking at negotiating a holding status within the single market for two, three or even more years, continuing to pay into the EU budget at a reduced rate but remaining inside the single market and the customs union if we do not want our economy to drop off a cliff and set us back twenty years. That seems infinitely sensible to me, and Thomas had proposed that back as early as last July (he has a lot of EU experience from his Danish political days so actually understands how it all works, having been down to Brussels on several occasions). I've always considered it better to base your knowledge of a subject on something other than the gutterpress's interpretation of it. But terrifyingly, I suspect that the people negotiating our kids' future will not be prepared to accept this sensible suggestion and instead will simply allow us to crash within the next two years.

There was a deep sadness at the fact that the EU had allowed the UK so many vetoes and opt-outs like a harassed parent trying to keep their child onside, only to have them believe the twisted truth of the tabloids and rebel anyway. He could not conceive of the UK not changing its mind and trying to get back in within a generation - especially given youth polling is up at 70% pro-EU. He feels desperately sorry for the kids here losing their open futures and potentially no longer being allowed to use the wonderful Erasmus scheme while watching their economy destroyed.

Ireland was an interesting topic. The EU will, of course, negotiate for Ireland. There will be no question of bilateral Irish/UK talks re the border as Ireland are part of the EU-27. He can see that we do not want to return to the pre-Good-Friday agreement days of a hard border. But given countries like Germany are entirely surrounded by Schengen members so have no control over their immediate land border, the EU must have hard borders to non-EU countries. In McAllister's eyes, he could see no solution other than to offer some sort of inside EU pseudo-status to Northern Ireland with a hard border between the island that is both Irelands and the island that contains Scotland, England and Wales. Call me a sceptic, but I suspect Theresa will veto this before they get to the end of the sentence suggesting it. I suspect peace in Ireland is lower down her list than a hard border to Britain (though if the EU pulls it off, I'll be first to look into moving to Belfast!)

He tried to remain on the fence re Scottish Independence, though emphasized greatly how warmly we have been thought of since last June. The 62% Remain in Scotland, he said, was higher than he would have expected in even some of the core EU states and between the lines he came across as in favour of us at least considering whether we wouldn't be better off inside the EU. We would finally have our own say on our future, sitting represented by our own people rather than distant Southern English ones who have little understanding of our fisheries and oil. The alternative would be to sit on the periphery, being exploited and ignored as England desperately tried to prop up its new status. He underlined how impressed the EU had been by Nicola Sturgeon, calling her the only visible UK politician after June 23. He ridiculed Boris and Gove's disappearing act while Nicola rushed to the EU to hold talks. He strongly criticized the tabloids for being affronted at Juncker's agreeing to meet with her, pointing out that no tabloids had blinked an eye when he, as former First Minister of Niedersachsen (one of the German regions), had often met with Juncker's predecessor Barosso when they were both in office. He told us to beware of double standards... He wished us luck with the decisions we have ahead while stating that although it is hard for a new country to join the EU, that is not the case for a country that is already a member - read into that what you will - personally, I can only see one country that might want to join that is already inside.

I also got the impression that everyone attending the lecture was Remain, if not also pro-Indy Remain as people shifted nervously and uncomfortably every time he expressed a regret that we had chosen that path but the EU would sadly respect it. It felt tangibly as if we might at any moment all scream in unison - we didn't - save us please - that is not who we are! I don't know if he's been to England and therefore had different experiences - it really is different up here. On a daily basis in the EU support groups on Facebook, EU citizens, full of anxiety, talk about the pressures of carrying on their lives where everyone is a Leave voter, confronting them in a hostile and racist tone. They feel scared to speak in public in case their accents set off a torrent of abuse. That never happens when Thomas speaks. We are eight months on and I have still never met an out Leave voter. There may be the odd closet one kicking about, I guess.

At the end there was a question section and Thomas asked the obvious 'If I lose my right to stay here at the same time as my wife loses her right to leave for the EU-27 with me, what does the EU foresee happening?' He said he saw no circumstances under which the spouses, partners or children of EU citizens living in the UK would not be granted leave to follow their partner to another EU member state. The right to family life could not be compromised in that way. I found it hard not to cry at this to be honest. Much as I don't want to leave as two of my kids will be at the uni stage when Brexit happens, I am prepared to do so if the government proceeds down the unforgiving path it has set out. I cannot bring up European kids in a closed-off, xenophobic, backward and inward looking country with a collapsing economy, if the option is on the table to leave for somewhere more open and tolerant. I owe it to my kids to take them somewhere with an economic future and if we can't create that here, I will have to make the hardest decision of my life. Had this happened five years ago, we could simply have moved as a family unit, doing it next year or two years from now will be gut wrenching but there will be no place for my family in Hard-Brexit Britain. I will simply have to hope the ones at uni come to join us as soon as they possibly can.

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