Brexit: The Second Battle of Britain
Explaining British voters' decision to leave the EU to a traumatized elitist
You are not very likely to knowingly meet someone who strongly supports the European Union — unless you happen to work at an elite college/ major investment firm; go to meetings of “mainline” Protestant churches or Catholic bishops; or regularly fly Business Class or better to countries like Germany or Belgium.
So imagine the following conversation takes place when you are flying to visit some historical site in Germany, and are surprised by getting bumped up to First Class. You settle into your amazingly comfy seat, and see that next to you the steely-eyed, impeccably dressed 50-something Prussian is staring dourly at his copy of The Economist—whose cover story bemoans the voters’ decision to leave the European Union.
This businessman (we’ll call him “Klaus”) is simply beside himself, and he starts to vent in your direction. He holds up the magazine in a pink fist which actually trembles, reminding you absurdly of a baby gripping a rattle. His English is flawless, but heavily accented; he sounds to you like Colonel Klink on Hogan’s Heroes.
KLAUS: Some people don’t know their own interests, eh? Don’t know what’s good for them.
YOU: Well, the people have spoken.
KLAUS: Ah, yes, the people. The same people who read those hysterical tabloids with the topless models on the beach on one page, and a story about how evil Muslims are on the next. The “people” who cling to their useless little jobs in wasteful, polluting industries, or their petty pensions, who want to make sure that the same nasty little fish shop where their grandfather ate himself into obesity and heart disease stays exactly where it is, so that their grandchildren can do the same, till the end of time.
YOU: I’ve heard of worse things.
KLAUS: But there are better things too! There is dynamism, and progress, and an intelligent use of resources. There is planning, and strategy, and efficiency. There was a vast, powerful and wealthy pan-European Nation in the making, which could have stood up to the United States, and to Russia, and spoken with a single powerful voice … But the blinkered little English shopkeeper with his grease-stained newspaper full of “chips” wouldn’t know anything about that. That’s for the “nobs” who live in London who actually understand economics, and currencies, and employment statistics. John Bull voter wants nothing to do with someone like that, like the writers for The Economist — they might have gone to Oxford or Cambridge and actually studied these questions in depth. So we must sweep them all aside and vote in the little men with the pig eyes and blinkers, with no vision of greatness.
YOU: Well, I don’t know much about economics, but I’m wondering …
KLAUS: I have an advanced degree in Finance from the London School of Economics, and I work in Brussels managing currencies, so perhaps I can answer your question.
YOU: Well, the Euro was a catastrophe, and Britain just barely dodged that bullet when its voters insisted on keeping the Pound.
KLAUS: You have the causality actually backwards. Exactly backwards! The Euro should have worked, would have worked — I actually took part in the studies for Brussels that proved this, beyond doubt! But it was sabotaged by the British, when they refused to take part in it. Now they have wrecked the federal union, too — smashed it, like the man who took a sledgehammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta.
YOU: So all the stifling regulations that enraged British fishermen, and French cheesemakers, and Italian olive-growers, which the EU passed in secret without any vote by elected lawmakers …
KLAUS: These people would have learned to live within the law, for their own good. For the common good! Sure there were some growing pains. Economic adjustments that would have worked themselves out in ten or twenty years, if we’d been permitted to stay the course. I have seen the projections that demonstrate this beyond question. I would explain it to you, but I’m afraid that the math involved would be too hard to follow. Sorry!
YOU: Was that the kind of argument which EU supporters used in Britain? I’m not surprised that they lost.
KLAUS: This is precisely why such important questions should not be subjected to the whims of the uninformed. We do not make such mistakes in Germany. We have none of these Swiss-style referendums. We learned, at too great a cost, the dangers of mass democracy.
YOU: So that’s the lesson which you, as an EU official from Germany, take away from the Nazi period — the dangers of democracy?
KLAUS: And of vulgar populism, reactionary religion, and petty nationalism that clings to the past and makes distinctions between peoples when in fact they are all the same in every important measure. They are economically … interchangeable.
YOU: So there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Pole nor Frenchman, neither Muslim nor Christian but all are one in the Euro?
KLAUS: Yes, precisely! This is, in a sense, what the Bible actually meant. Strip out the miraculous nonsense and Semitic sexual taboos, and this is its message. All are one. The Muslims believe the same thing, you know — though they express it a little differently.
YOU: Just a little … Wow. So that’s why Angela Merkel unilaterally decided to accept more than a million Syrian migrants — who stopped being “refugees” when they set foot in Turkey, the “first safe country” under international law.
KLAUS: It was all about the numbers. The birth rates are too low across Europe, and we needed fresh young people to fill in the ranks in the actuarial tables. To pay for our old age pensions.
KLAUS: I see that you are a member of the extremist Far Right. I think this conversation is finished. Just let me warn you — don’t try saying such things in Germany or Belgium. You might get a little visit from the police. What was your name? I didn’t catch it …
YOU: I’m sure that British people really loved hearing threats like that coming from … Germans. It brought back memories of the last time a European empire dominated by Germany tried to stamp out democracy in Britain. Your kind lost then and you’ve lost again now. You’ll go on losing, at least with the British — who really are exceptional. That’s where we Americans learned it.
KLAUS: Flight attendant. Flight attendant! I would like to change my seat.
YOU: Yes, indeed. I vote that you Leave.