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Archive for June, 2016

Hi everyone:

It’s June 26, 2016 as I type this blog article – a typical hot and steamy Sunday morning here in Hamilton. I wrote the following posting earlier this weekend after the stunning results of the June 23 referendum in the UK (aka England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) in which a slight majority voted that the country should leave the European Union. This led to countless discussions on social media and led me to write the following on my Facebook page. But I also felt it might be nice to share this with a broader audience – hence the idea of publishing it here. Hope you enjoy this, and be sure to share all my blog articles with anyone you wish. My comments go something like this. Enjoy!

Although I have always felt that the UK should stay within the EU and was disappointed with the result, I can understand why they voted as they did. The UK has always had a “love-hate” relationship with Europe, and one would have to write a 5000 page book to fully explain why. I remember when I visited London with my family back in the early 1970’s there was heated debate in those days about whether Britain should join what was then known as the “Common Market” (which over time evolved into today’s EU). And for decades if not centuries before that, our British friends have struggled over what to do regarding Europe. So what we are seeing now is only the latest manifestation of something that has gone on throughout the entire British Isles (yes, including Ireland too) for hundreds if not thousands of years. I think much of the “Brexit” vote (as an aside, this appears to be the name most often associated with this EU referendum, and a clever play on words, combining “Britain” with “Exit”) was driven by a frustration with the ridiculous and cumbersome bureaucracy that exists within the EU headquarters in Brussels and which all member nations are subjected to. During her time as Prime Minister, the great Margaret Thatcher  once said something like this: “We didn’t remove trade barriers, reduce the size of government and bureaucracy in Britain only to have those same things re-imposed on us from Europe”. I don’t blame them for feeling this frustration.

After all, let’s suppose we had the same thing here in the Americas if Canada, the USA, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America were all in an EU-type system. Would we want our laws passed in Ottawa to be vetoed by a centralized Brussels-type bureaucracy based in Chicago, Mexico City, Havana, Brasilla, or Buenos Aires? Would Canadians want their sense of independence, self-determination and national identity denied by a bunch of bureaucrats who feel continental needs take precedence and must be obeyed without question? If the Americas had a “Greece” equivalent would we want billions of Canadian dollars used to bail out that failed country, especially if we are ordered by that above-noted bureaucracy to do this and have no input in the decision or even any hope that “Greece” could one day repay Canada (as has happened in many EU member nations)? I wouldn’t want any of the above things to compromise Canadian independence, and I suspect most Canadians would agree with me. Yet this is what they often face in the UK, many Brits resent that and have felt frustrated, angry and powerless. The Brexit vote was one way of expressing those sentiments. To use a phrase popularized by Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, they wanted to “take their country back” and I can appreciate why they are feeling this way. Hmm  – Trump’s favourite campaign slogan has been “Make America Great Again”. Dare I say that the Brexit folks wanted to “Make Britain Great Again”?

I think they also felt threatened by immigration and other factors which many Brits feel has also compromised their independence and sense of identity. Not to mention working-class regions such as in the NE of England (including places like Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne) where people seem to feel, rightly or wrongly, that immigrants have taken away their jobs and threatened their way of life. I think some of this is also the “island” mentality that can create a sense of self-determination and independence, but speaking as someone who has a proud English, Irish and Scottish ancestry I can appreciate that this uniqueness from the rest of Europe is an essential part of what it means to be British.

Finally, as many folks in the media and online have noted, I think this is part of a global phenomenon that also includes the aforementioned Donald Trump and other populist movements not just in Europe but in other parts of the world that tend to be, but not exclusively, conservative or right of centre – which features a mistrust of the so-called “establishment” and political elites. According to these folks the establishment and the elite have a sense of entitlement and always know the right thing for society. They are surprised when the public goes against their views (such as this Brexit vote) and can’t understand why people behave this way. To which the disenchanted reply that the establishment and the elite are out of touch with the real world.

I noted just now that while this often tends to manifest itself in conservative or other right-of-centre viewpoints, it can also surface on the left-wing, liberal, progressive side too. As evidence to support this view, I suspect this movement not only created Donald Trump, but that Bernie Sanders springs from the same basic roots. During his run for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the November 2016 American election, Mr. Sanders and his followers have railed against these same “establishment” and “elite” types, but from their left wing viewpoints. And they feel that Hillary Clinton (who at this time of writing appears to have wrapped up the Democratic nomination and will likely face Mr. Trump in that November election) is indeed part of that “establishment” that doesn’t listen to the average American. Indeed, just before I published this article, Sanders noted that he hasn’t endorsed Mrs. Clinton, in part because of the above concerns. Or to paraphrase some of his comments, he seems to feel that the Democratic Party should reflect Main Street and not Wall Street. I think it’s fair to say that Trump and Sanders are the right and left-wing manifestations of this discontent. I would even say that we could rightly argue that while these two men are polarizing opposites that have contributed to major divisions within the USA, Trump and Sanders have much more in common with each other than you might think – in part for the reasons I noted above. I’m not sure I agree with these people and their arguments that seem to blame the so-called “establishment”, but completely understand their viewpoint.

I could say a lot more about this (and likely have written too much here as it is), but will end it there. It’s still early days since Thursday’s vote. Whether we think the UK should stay in the EU or leave it, I hope that we can separate the rhetoric from the facts, and let things work themselves out. Even the Brexit supporters who won the day have said the same thing. Only time will tell.

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