That was the question put to the British public on June 23 this year, and on the eve of the election day, the Remainers were some 8 points ahead of the Brexit camp, making the result a foregone conclusion that we would be staying in Europe. However, this didnât take into account the 20% who hadnât declared their hand, so the Brexiters still had some hope to cling on to. In all my life I have never witnessed such emotions being whipped up about an election or referendum in the UK. Governments have come and gone in my lifetime, and if the wrong result came in, you merely shrugged your shoulders, cursed a bit in the local pub, then stole yourself for 5 more years of whichever government had won.
Here in Moscow it was harder to find Remain supporters than Brexit supporters, and the ones that were here were rather aggressive in their approach. I myself was ambushed in a well known expat bar by one such supporter and subjected to one way rhetoric, complete with fist thumping on table till another friend sat down and brought a merciful end to my torment! Another teacher friend stated on Facebook: âdemocracy sucksâ after the result came in, which accentuated just how divided the nation had become. On the morning of June 24, the headlines screamed at us the shockingly axiomatic news that Brexit had won by just over a million votes with a 52%-48% majority. If ever there was a result to put a cat among the pigeons, this was it: the tabloids had a field day with even the broadsheets joining in the fray. First casualty was our Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had no choice but to fall on his sword; the Remain camp demanded a recount and held demonstrations as well as being ultra aggressive to any known Brexit supporters in their area.
The fact is no one had truly anticipated this result and there was no plan in place to accommodate this extremely unlikely event taking place. As if the press hadnât had enough material to feast on, there followed an ugly battle for the PMâs successor, which even by Westminsterâs notoriously tawdry standards, had the participants fighting like rats in a sack. One such participant, Michael Gove, had stabbed Boris Johnson in the back in an act of such treachery, plunging such depths, that even Shakespeare would have had difficulty in conjuring up such a fiendish plot. I was at once reminded of that oft-quoted line of Sir Walter Scottâs play, âMarmionâ – âOh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.â
Theresa May managed to keep her head above the murky waters of unadulterated vitriol flying around, and emerged to become the new Prime Minister, and then proceeded to provide even more cannon fodder to the tabloids with her inaugural Cabinet shaping up. One by one people traipsed into number 10 Downing street, and there was the memorable picture of Boris Johnson, assuming the worst, walking nonchalantly to the front door with his hands in his pocket, only to emerge a few minutes later as the new Foreign Secretary, waving happily to the waiting crowds. Next we saw Michael Gove walking confidently to the door, expecting the world, despite his appalling treachery, which was ably assisted by his conniving and Machiavellian wife, but was summarily fired along with George Osborne, and was forced to leave by the back door with his tail between his legs in a delicious twist of fate â Oh what a fall from grace!
The pound plummeted, the EU had emergency meetings and slowly all involved were able to get their breath back after this merry-go-round and palaver had subsided. Itâs true to say that no one quite realized on the Brexit side that when they were voting to leave, they were in fact voting for a new Prime Minister. I met up with two people on each side to discuss the fall-out and impact it would have on business in Europe as well as gauge their own personal opinions.
Meet Svetlana Malkarova, Remain supporter, PR guru extraordinaire and CEO of Media Consulting PR agency. Her agency promotes Russian culture and tourism abroad, has been established 6 years, and works alongside Worldcom PR Group who are based in LA and boast many of the top 100 most eclectic PR companies in the world today in their stable. Svetlana herself has 18 years in the PR industry, and Media Consulting adopt the Worldcom adage of of trust, friendship and professionalism while propagating globalization as their predominantly driving force in their bid to unite all people from different cultures. Svetlanaâs company works with some government organizations (indeed she can often be found at the geopolitical forums in St. Petersburg), FMCG companies, financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies to name but a few industries.
So what about Brexit I ask her? She admits to being a strong Remain supporter and is sad to see Britain go it alone, believing a collective and united EU is a much stronger operation. She went on to say I firmly believe in unification to assist globalization, but individuality helps preserve a countryâs identification. This prompted an ironic smile from my side as this is exactly what Britain wanted to do, in my opinion, in their Brexit vote; she then mentions that no one country should dominate (more smiles from me as I instantly think of Germany!), but instead be in a position to cooperate.
She does however concede that in the current EU migrant crisis, no one had predicted such a stampede, better checks should have been made, and rules should have been in place allowing the migrants to acclimatize and become better employees for the future. The main problem, she feels, is that the EU has been reactive in lieu of proactive â a point she says is amply demonstrated when her clients ask her what her proactive plan is in the event of any forthcoming crisis. In synopsis, she suggests a three-point plan: firstly people should cooperate and learn to work together; secondly, with the economic process in this integrated world, we should be able to depend on each other in this one market; and finally: problems in the EU raised their ugly head because leaders who were meant to be making responsible decisions, didnât have an assimilated process in place for them.
Next up I met Luc Jones, Commercial Director of Antal International, a highly successful recruitment company that needs no introduction among the business fraternity here in Moscow. Luc is a larger than life, ebullient person who is not backward in coming forward, and was more than happy to dispel a few pearls of wisdom as to why we should leave the EU. He said: âwhilst I can see the plusses and minuses of both Remain and Brexit, (seemingly unlike the majority of the UK population) the recent referendum certainly brought out the best and worst in a lot of people on both sides. Remaining in the EU may well sound like the safe option, but in the long run is a road to nowhere fast. Europe has the lowest growth of any continent except Antarctica and as things stand has no chance of improving. Most of the southern European countries are either bankrupt or close to being so, and are simply being kept afloat by âricherâ economies, namely Germany and to some extent France.â
He went on to say: âthe current EU structure is rotten to the core and in dire need of reform, yet the Brussels elite, who live in a bubble and ride the gravy train, are in complete denial. They love everything about the EU and why wouldnât they when the mug taxpayer is funding the very lifestyle they subscribe to, so why would they want to change anything? The idea that we are âbetter inâ as we can influence things is completely naive. Weâve never been able to instigate any change when we were in, as the EU couldnât care less what Britain thinks â all they want is our money!â
The fact that there is no apparent strategy after Brexit is piss-poor. Granted even Farage and Johnson themselves never thought it would happen (nor did the bookies and most of the nation for that matter), but that doesnât mean they shouldnât have had some sort of contingency plan in place. Iâm confident that the UK economy will not only recover but will gain in strength, although this wonât happen overnight; global markets donât like shocks.
The Brexit vote was as much about the situation in the UK as it was about Europe. Large swathes of the population feel utterly alienated by mainstream politics, hence the rise of UKIP. Most major politicians (both past and present) urged the population to remain, so this was in effect two fingers up at them, saying âf**k you, donât tell us what to think or do!â Outside of the Westminster bubble, immigration IS an issue for many people in the UK, yet unless you are permanently âcelebrating diversity,â and all the benefits that come with it, then you are automatically labled a racist, bigot or âLittle Englanderâ, in my opinion. The perception is that immigration is completely out of control and the UK is a free-for-all. MPâs havenât had their wages driven down by millions of (admittedly hard-working) immigrants who are prepared to toil for less, as itâs a whole lot more than they could ever hope to earn back home. And thatâs even before the pressure on schools and the NHS by so many new arrivals having landed on our doorstep so quickly.
The bitterness from the Remainers is at first glance laughable, but in fact extremely condescending — âoh the working classes didnât understand what they were voting against, so the result shouldnât count;â although such thoughts sum up the loony left. Democracy is great until it delivers the âwrongâ result, in which case we should have a re-run until itâs the right one- you lost, so move on! I canât help feeling it should never have come to this, and in a way I wish it hadnât. Had the EU done what it was set up to do, i.e., be a free trading body rather than building a political European super-state, we probably wouldnât be where we are today.
For me, one of the biggest ironies is that the lefty liberals who were baying for British MPâs blood during the recent expenses scandal in the UK, and who believe that MPâs are overpaid, see no problem whatsoever with 10,000+ unelected bureaucrats in Brussels earning more than the British PM. As the old saying goes: âif socialists understood economics they wouldnât be socialists!â I reckon Brexit is only going to have a negligible effect on British-Russo relations, if at all; in fact a weaker sterling should make life easier for UK exporters to Russia.
I next met Amalia Saftoiu, a legal consultant for Laurence Simons, and a Romanian Remain supporter who has travelled extensively for work in such places as: the USA, Dubai, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Norway and now Russia. She originally studied in Bucharest and has two masters degrees from Oslo and Paris universities; in fact she met her husband when in Norway (heâs Norwegian) and they now have two children â a five year old girl who already speaks Romanian, Norwegian, English, Russian and French (a true polyglot in the making!), and the younger son is progressing well in the same languages.
Amalia says: we like to think of our family as truly international one, which has a global view on the world around us. Romania has been part of the EU since 2007, but the UK maintained visa restrictions for us for a further 7 years until 2014. Where possible I avoided the UK as I couldnât be bothered with the visa arrangements or to contribute financially or otherwise to a country who went to some extent to make Romanians to feel unwelcome. Many of my fellow white collar workers felt similarly to me and went to other countries in the EU to ply their trade, and this may go a long way to explaining why today the UK attracts the less desirable element of Romanian society.
Amalia goes on to say: some of the things I didnât like about the Brexit situation are as follows:-
1) The Leaversâ arguments had no factual backing, were sensationalist, with catchy phrases as well as playing on peopleâs fear of terrorists and âimmigrants stealing our jobsâ etc.
2) Farage and Johnson stated itâs 2016 and our children deserve to see a better politician and Britain.
3) It brought a big division to the whole country.
4) It validated a hateful message, a dangerous doctrine and instigated racism which never ends well.
5) It was an expensive way for the UK to show Europe they were serious about making real changes.
6) Puts Britain in a situation where they have one of the least desired currencies, and they now face years of business uncertainty while negotiations with the EU take place.
Another staunch Brexit supporter is Robert Knights, a Moscow veteran with 23 years in, a Russian wife and child, and someone who holds dear the values of living in England during yesteryear â the good old days, he enthuses, with a twinkle in his eye. He reiterates the 1970âs which I can easily identify with as we both grew up in a similar era with the IRA dropping bombs on us âwilly nillyâ as well as the infamous 3 day working weeks and endless power cuts. Robert is the Country Manager for a Polish recruitment company called âWork Serviceâ, having started life many moons ago in the car industry around Coventry, where joining a trade union was âde rigeurâ if you were offered gainful employment.
Asking him about Brexit he feels that in or out of the EU weâll still share intelligence with Interpol as well as trading with the EU countries as reciprocal business is still needed by both parties. He maintains itâs difficult nowadays to find a piece of real England that we all know and love. So what about Schengen? He thinks it should be completely restructured and that no decent, law-abiding citizen would ever have a problem with passport I/D. He would like to see trade discussions with Russia kick-started again, this time without Brussels saying âyeaâ or ânay.â
In summary Robert feels that Brexit offers:-
1) Ability to sign agreements without Brussels intervening.
2) Tough border controls will enable the UK to reduce immigration to a sustainable level.
3) The bureaucratic and Neanderthal self-serving EU members are completely dictatorial in their self-aggrandizing âomni-cultureâ attitutude.
The Remainers pilloried the Brexit supporters in a relentless and aggressive manner, he says â all we said was âno thank you!â
So there you have it from various people with a couple of common denominators highly prevalent. Firstly the EU should be completely restructured and then the likes of the EU President, Jean Claude âDrunkerâ Juncker should be put out to pasture. At 77 years old heâs had more than enough sauce from the EU gravy train (literally and metaphorically), and represents everything negative about the EU. Secondly, Angela âMuttiâ Merkelâs open door immigration policy has been nothing short of disastrous, and only her previous popularity has kept her position thus far intact. Hiltaire Belloc, an early 20th century satirist and sometime President of the Oxford student union, stated and was recently quoted in relation to Angel Merkelâs position in power: âAlways keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worseâ â paradoxically âthe nurseâ who has been responsible for so much of Europeâs immigration problems of late, may soon find herself in dire need of some of that prescribed medicine if sheâs to survive!