The Sleeve

The Germans call it the Ärmelkanal. Elsewhere in Europe it’s known variously as La Manche, or La Mancha.

But in England The Sleeve becomes the English Channel—and when the fog comes down, it separates the Continent from Britain, rather than the opposite.

And there, as they say, is the rub, as we approach June 23rd 2016.

The Brexit referendum was one of Cameron’s truly bad ideas, considering he is opposed to Britain leaving the European Union.

The current prime minister did it to hold on to his perch as leader of the Conservative Party, a position threatened by right-wing Tory MPs. The (then) UKIP leader Nigel Farage had systematically tormented Cameron as a weak leader on Europe, and the Tories bled votes to the far-right.

The British electoral system is firmly stacked toward returning parliamentary majorities in general elections, but when it comes to electing the European Parliament, fringe parties win seats—there’s a certain irony that the only voice granted to UKIP was in Europe, because of a fairer electoral system.

The think tank at Chatham House profiles the Brexit voters.

Our analysis of around 30,000 Britons reveals that, broadly, those who would vote to leave the EU tend to have left school before their 17th birthday, to have few or no advanced academic qualifications, to be over 55 years old, and to work in less secure, lower-income jobs. In contrast, those who want Britain to remain a member of the EU tend to be younger, to be more highly educated, and to have more financially secure and professional jobs.

The next two questions would therefore be:

How many people voted in the previous referendum on this issue, held in 1975? The answer to that one is 25,848,654 in total, of which just over 67% voted to stay in.

and

How many Brits over 55 years of age left school before  they turned 17? This question is trickier—there are probably around twenty million people over 55, and a report to parliament from 2012 tells us that in the 1970s, less than 30% of kids that age continued their education.

So there’s a potential universe of fourteen million ‘outers’, to which must be added a supplementary number that includes educated, hard-line, Tories.

In 1975, 64% of the electorate voted. If we project that to 2016, then about nine million ‘outers’ are in the game. Throw in a couple of million from the upper crust, and we’re at eleven or so. For this scenario, in a universe of twenty-six million, Britain stays in—just.

This kind of proximity is dangerous in a referendum, particularly because the militancy lies with the ‘outers’. So to the why question.

Why are the British so anti-Europe? In reality, the question is really why are the English anti-Europe, because the Scots and Welsh don’t march to the same drum.

The fact is the English are anti-everyone: the US, France, Europe, and of course each other. In the UK, everyone knows the meaning of living north of the Watford Gap—it’s a kind of Mason-Dixon line for citizens.

It is also quintessentially English to blame foreigners. Bloody Scots, Welsh gits, Paki immigrants… well, all immigrants really. And of course Brussels.

The perception in England, writ large, is that European Directives have replaced English law—which is true to a degree, as it is in all EU Member-States. Which makes perfect sense, because the UK participates in the drafting and approval of those laws, every step of the way.

Often, the implementation of such legislation is more stringent in the UK than in other EU countries, and in areas such as health and safety, the national perception that things in Britain would be far easier is just plain wrong.

The same applies to immigration. After Brexit, the influx of immigrants into the UK will continue—because menial jobs rely on people prepared to work for low wages: the Filipinos, Pakistanis, or Nigerians (bloody foreigners!)

Terrorism is another red herring. In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, terrorism is associated with Islam. Not all animals are cats, and not all Muslims are terrorists, obviously. However, all cats are animals.

European immigrants to the UK, the Poles and Czechs, the Italians and Portuguese, integrate well, because they have a much closer cultural connection. The only challenge to that integration comes from the English themselves.

The British pound, sinking like a ship in the warm-up to Brexit.

The British pound, sinking like a ship in the warm-up to Brexit.

The first immediate consequence of the lead-up to Brexit has been the crash of the British pound—it tumbled fifteen percent against the euro in the last five months.

I suspect sterling will fall further next month, as the very real possibility of a British exit becomes clearer.

If Britain stays, the pound will surge. If Britain leaves, things get more complicated. There’s Scotland. There’s the consequences for UK trade. There’s the potential weakness in the EU, perhaps a crisis, when Germany finds it is the only locomotive pulling this train.

In this year of El Nino, it won’t just be the weather that’s upredictable in June.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

 

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