As a Brit living in Berlin, Pete Carvill suspects he is not allowed an opinion on Brexit – not that that has stopped him
For the last decade or so, I have made Germany my permanent home. This has had its challenges – to a Brit’s ears, at least, German is surely a language whose sound only Germans could ever enjoy – but it has given a greater perspective on what is happening in the UK, looking as it were from the outside in.
The problem with having any type of view on politics when you are an expat is that it invariably invites two unwelcome responses. The first, if I give my view on German politics, is that I should shut up and be grateful even to be allowed to live here; the second, which I hear when giving any view on UK politics, is that I should shut up and continue to live in Germany. Apparently, my right to have an opinion on the UK is only valid if I am within its borders.
Perhaps, in writing this, I am inviting grief from some parts of the political spectrum, but UK politics seems to be based around one trend that has been apparent since 2016: the British public is sick and tired of ‘experts’. As such, the current administration’s efforts are at least partly tolerated because it is feared the Opposition would be much worse.
Lack of energy
The past few weeks have seen supermarkets shelves across the UK emptying as the nation is suffering from an acute scarcity of HGV drivers, much of which has been blamed on Brexit. And this week has seen at least two power suppliers – Avro Energy and Green – fail, with the national regulator Ofgem openly stating this will soon be followed by more. Even this somehow can be blamed on Brexit, although there are larger forces at work. We have also seen a proposed increase in National Insurance in order to pay for social care – a form of taxation that largely falls on the young, who are not traditional Tory voters and financially much worse off than the generation they would be supporting.
Cynics among us might point out that the amount of money the National Insurance increase would raise would easily be dwarfed by a figure of, say, £350m a week that could be given to the NHS. I usually link to my sources in these analyses, but I cannot remember much about where I saw it other than it may have been on the side of a bus …
There were many who, throughout 2016, cried ‘Project Fear’ when the Remain camp tried to outline some of the probable outcomes of the UK leaving the EU. As each of those outcomes comes true, it may be time to rebrand the old ‘Project Fear’ as an ongoing ‘Project I Told You So’ – though it seems doubtful anyone still proud of their vote for Brexit will take ownership of its consequences.
Certainly UK prime minister Boris Johnson has never been one to own his mistakes and, given how forcefully he led the Brexit campaign, then shamefully hid from his actions until Theresa May took a bullet that was surely intended for him, the Covid-19 pandemic may insulate him from the political cost that comes with a tanked economy resulting from leaving the EU. Lucky boy.
Never to sleep again
At home in Berlin in June 2016, I went to bed on the night of the Brexit referendum under the impression the country would vote to ‘Remain’. My assumption was that it was a case of ‘Better the devil you know’ and that, despite all the talk and bluster, the nation would not make such a momentous decision. That was obviously mistaken. After I had a similar feeling that November about the future President Hillary Clinton, I made the decision to never sleep again.
But that week, after the Brexit vote, I went into work. The place I was at then, in my hiatus from being a reporter, was a pretty international workforce – though, for the longest time, I was the sole Brit. And that week, not a single one of my colleagues said anything to me about Brexit, other than a confused: “Why? Why would you do this?”
The answer, like all good answers, is deep and complex. But the UK had decided to leave, even if until the last minute it had not decided what leaving would look like. Right now, we are in the foothills of Brexit. And if we were looking to the Labour Party for some sort of respite, that is a false hope. After 10 years out of power, after multiple failed elections under Jeremy Corbyn and uninspired leadership under Keir Starmer, the party is so far out in the wilderness the vultures started circling long ago.
The view from Europe – and it is not mine, although I do subscribe to parts of it – is that the UK is adrift, a silly nation without proper leadership and largely peopled by those who have never managed to move past the fact that, yes, their grandparents won two world wars.
Brexit was supposed to make Great Britain into Global Britain. It seems pretty far from that. Johnson’s ‘sunlit uplands’ now seems like a bad joke – one that most people would even hesitate to utter.