I have little economic insight to add to the various projections made by other economists in Britain about the Brexit scenario that follow under various outcomes of the negotiations with the EU. Like all of them, I think severing trade ties will not work out well in the short run for the economy of the UK, though I am less convinced than others that it will necessarily all work out badly in the longer run.
Most importantly, Britain can always come back to the EU in the future, so if it doesn’t work out as you thought, you Brits can change your mind again.
Yet, I think economics is a distraction, even though all kinds of economic interest groups are tugging in various directions. Break-ups are nearly always bad for the purse, but the immediate reason is seldom money but emotions and identity.
I thus want to talk about the feelings and identity of the Brexiteers, which I think is the heart of the matter.
A large number of you were persuaded you did not belong with the rest of Europe. You were seduced by over 30 years of negative media stories that the rest of Europe looked down on you and was looking for ways to get one over you. You were constantly told and encouraged to believe that you were different, better in fact, than the rest of us Europeans. That mentality is perhaps best illustrated by the ‘Football is coming home’ anthem so popular in the UK at the time of the World Cup. That smug entitlement mentality stings us ‘other’ Europeans but we will try and keep our disdain to a minimum because you remain family. In my case, with an English mum and a Dutch dad, you are literally family.
What I want to mention is the political perspective from one of your main friends in Europe: the Netherlands, perhaps your strongest and oldest ally, sharing royal families since William and Mary, and being very close language and culture wise too. We are close cousins in the Germanic language tree, with old English very close to Frisian (a language and people in the North of the Netherlands and along that coastline into Denmark). There were also several waves of immigrants to Britain via what is now the Netherlands. And of course, we have been on the same side in the second World War when our government and Queen was seated in London.
In truth, English culture is largely a blend of the Dutch and the French. The structure of your language is largely Dutch, with massive French influences. Whilst your words for some of the animals you eat are hence the same as in Dutch (‘Cow’ is ‘Koe’, ‘Sheep’ is ‘Schaap’, and ‘Goat’ is ‘Geit’), what you call them when they are cooked is French (‘Beef’ is ‘boeuf’, ‘veal’ is ‘veal’, and ‘Pork’ is ‘porc’).
So too English culture. The class structure, with elite schools and an upper layer that has owned most of the country for centuries is quintessentially French. They got rid of their nobility in the Napoleontic Wars and in the two World Wars, whereas you were (un)lucky enough not to have yours swept out by an invader. Your nobility, which of course is largely French or other-European in origin, headed by the House of Hannover (!), never left. You have elite private schools and Oxbridge, the French have ‘Grand Ecoles’ and ‘Lycea’. Like your language is old-Dutch, your class system is old-French. Continue reading