We Need to Talk About Brexit

We Need to Talk About Brexit

It’s been hard to avoid the B word in Britain over the last few years. The sound of “Brexit” has taught me where the exits are in many a room frequented during this period. It’s not that Brexit isn’t important – it is – it’s because both sides are so entrenched in their beliefs there is no “Brexit Debate” nowadays. It’s either a well-rehearsed rhetoric on the virtues of either Leave or Remain.

For this reason, it’s a subject I’ve avoided on social media and never thought would grace these pages. Then a Twitter friend asked for my take. He wanted a genuine insight, not a rehash.

What followed was a measured debate on both sides. Something that hasn’t occurred during polite conversation in this country since the referendum result. For that, we can thank the politicians and news reporters. The take on Brexit has been skewed from the start and has continued ever since. Dazzler on Twitter had found the key to the problem: All I hear is negativity, and I am concerned.

The term Project Fear exists for a reason. This isn’t a cheap trick to throw scorn on Remain from the start. Fear politics is en vogue at the moment. It’s the one fashion accessory every budding politician wants to be seen with. Leave loved Fear in its campaign during the referendum and Remain ensured it didn’t go a day without work since.

All Fear does is give politicians a big out card. There’s no need to solve problems when you can let Fear into the room. There’s no need to present strong, undeniable evidence when Fear’s around. Hell, you can sell feelings and predictions as economic certainties once everyone’s familiar with good ol’ Fear.

But it wasn’t fear that got the Brexit ball rolling with momentum. It wasn’t even Nigel Farage (though his diary probably disagrees). It was the disenchanted and the disenfranchised. For too long, people could see the 1% were swallowing the world’s riches while the majority struggled on. From financial crash to years of austerity, with no end in sight to clear a national debt that meant nothing to them.

Perhaps the EU became a symbol of this structure. Sat pulling the strings of governments to keep its own agenda ticking over. This, of course, doesn’t paint an entirely fair picture but when people feel they’re losing control they turn against those with power. Staying in the EU kept everything the same, with the coffers of the 1% swelling each year.

The status quo needed to be broken. It isn’t working wherever you sit on the socio-economic spectrum. The rise of far right, and now far left extremists are a product of a broken model.

The status quo has become a breeding ground for hatred.

This ignorance has been perpetuated on both sides. Remainers assume those that voted Leave must be racist, Leave think Remainers have rose-tinted glasses and can’t see a country in decline. And every excuse or assumption in between. The truth is: the majority of Leave aren’t xenophobic and Remainers can see failings at home and in the EU but still believe it’s the best model we have to fix things.

The problem is, it’s been a model in play long enough to tackle many of the issues facing the world today and instead has become part of the problem. Leaving the EU removes the government of the day’s first go-to excuse: we have to because of Brussels. It gives the public a greater degree of transparency over decision making, implementation of laws, the management of change. By turning Brexit into a doomsday device, it gives the next three or four governments a new excuse: we’re suffering the consequences of Brexit. This one can run and run, “We’d love to do what you suggest, but we can’t . . . because of Brexit.”

At this point, it’s no longer about the pros and cons of the EU. That was the debate before the referendum. Talk of a second undermines democracy and the viewpoint of those who felt alienated in the first place. If Remainers are hellbent on discussing the virtues of the EU, they should read And the Weak Suffer What They Must? first. When you see why the EU was formed, how it needs to maintain key surplus to deficit nation strategies, the requirement to recycle debt for its single currency, and the propensity to break its own rules for preferred nations, you’ll begin to wonder if leaving isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Remain claim Leave voters didn’t understand what they were voting for. They did: change. It’s Remain that seems to miss their own point. They are voting to stay in a system that supports a single currency the majority of them would vote against joining. It’s like taking out a gym membership but flatly refusing to use the equipment then becoming incensed with changes at the club.

While we’re doing analogies, there’s another doing the rounds about a man ordering fish in a restaurant. I won’t bore you with the entire play, the brief version is after several arguments involving different chefs and a long delay, the man would like to be asked if he still wants the fish. That’s a fine analogy for a service. But the British public didn’t buy anything; they took part in a democratic vote.

To agree with the analogy, you’re saying to those in power around the globe it’s okay to ignore mandates if you argue long enough and make more noise than the initial majority.

Any argument stating that people have changed their mind as more information comes to light is flawed. The argument against Brexit has been a relentless multi-year campaign. The Leave side became largely inactive following the referendum result. The questions Remainers have been asking now, should have formed their narrative before the vote. Much of the evidence that’s followed is subjective – much like the Leave campaign was.

It’s proven that if you tell a human something enough times, it begins to believe it. The Remain campaign has banged the same tune for over two years, people have listened and logged the Fear. Doubt has crept in and pushed democracy aside, for nothing more than feelings.

There is no hard evidence for what follows Brexit. Economists are making predictions. The same type of voices that failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. The same people that have idly sat by while personal debts are now higher than 2008. The same experts that bandaged up a fatal axe wound to the global monetary system with a plaster and pushed it out of the door for one last go around.

The UK’s imminent departure from the EU upsets this apple cart. They were prepared for the party to end at some point – and God only knows what they have concocted next – but they wanted to milk the current system a little longer. When the cards come crashing down a second time, they want it to be a controlled explosion.

The truth is, there’ll be no catastrophic event when the UK leaves the Union, any recession – home or abroad – will be down to laziness from those in power. Germany has enough deficit nations it can leach from; Britain isn’t short of countries with free trade deals to explore. Yes, some industries will struggle and others will collapse. This isn’t the sign a bad Brexit scenario, it is a sign of the times that’s always been a factor. Workers have to reskill or look for employment in new areas.

When coal mines shut down in Wales, no one can expect Silicon Valley to relocate. Just as the country needs to envisage fresh scenarios, the individual has to recalibrate their position in the changing landscape.

Brexit isn’t bad, it’s something that requires change. How the country’s ruling party and the people within it adapt will determine whether it’s good. The responsibility is with humans, not abstract terms. The time for mudslinging and Fear has long since passed, there’s only room for positive contributions now to a situation you may personally dislike or favour.

Brexit needs to happen to restore faith in democracy. To force politicians to work for a result and sack Agent Fear. Brexit needs to happen so we can abandon excuses and look for reasons to make it work. And if it doesn’t, learn from the experience and explore the reasons why. Brexit needs to happen so we can prove we’re not xenophobic and wish to invite the entire world to our shores, not just the select members of the EU.

Brexit needs to happen so we can move forward from a messy breakup and learn to think positive again.

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We Are Daniel Blake

We Are Daniel Blake

Sometimes a film comes along that offers more than social commentary, or even with the intention of raising awareness. It becomes social responsibility. The voice of the voiceless and ignored masses. It presents a civic duty to us all. Its power doesn’t arrive by inflating issues to fill the big screen but allowing the uncomfortable truths – the government would have you ignore – stand front and centre.

Ken Loach’s film, penned by Paul Laverty, shows us what people can be reduced to in modern day Britain. A working-class man that genuinely wants to work but can’t receive assistance from the state despite medical professionals insisting he doesn’t resume activity.

A single mother that only wants the best for her children but is faced with impossible choices as she sees support slip away. Surely the net of despair is closing fast when trips to the food bank aren’t a turning point, just a brief interlude to delay starvation.

She collapses, eating in an aisle, ashamed but desperate. Apologetic to those who do care for her plight and don’t need her pleas for forgiveness. All the while, an unsympathetic state turns the screw. The starvation of her soul becomes more debilitating than malnutrition.

The cold faces of benefit officers symbolic of the callous government peddling senseless rules. These only exist to ostracise the most vulnerable, placing a buffer between real world issues and the comfy 1%.

The working-class man is the title featured Daniel Blake. A far from workshy joiner who suffers a cardiac arrest. Following this, his dignity is placed under lock and key by the benefits system.

His cardiologist flatly refuses a return to work but a work capability assessment – carried out by a person so devoid of humanity and common sense, they resemble a primitive android – declares him ineligible for support allowance.

It transpires his doctor was never consulted and he can’t challenge the judgement until contacted by the appeals officer. This racks up his phone bill and even when, in person, he explains at the benefits office he isn’t computer literate, the stock response is to consult the website.

There is one helpful face there but even she is reprimanded for offering assistance instead of letting people flounder and fail.

Katie is the single mother. A woman in Newcastle after leaving London due to a housing shortage. A long way from home and alone, her first taste of “assistance” comes in the form of a week without payment due to her late arrival.

It creates a volatile scene that begs the characters involved – along with the viewer – to realise it’s just a person that needs help. Shouldn’t the rules exist to aid, not obstruct?

The Daniel and Katie dynamic shows how people pull together when faced with insurmountable odds. If it weren’t for this, the country would collapse because the powers-that-be have stopped listening. And watching. And caring.

Daniel’s neighbour, a young man that offers help when asked, provides some light relief. And in spite of the main subject matter, the spirit of good-nature and humour somehow manages to find its way out of the few available cracks of light.

Ultimately it will be viewed by those with differing political views as either observation or incitement. A warning shot or a motivational video. Those that fail to take heed of the message, are ignoring the real problems the country faces. It’s easier to look the other way: the government encourage you to do just this.

Writing this on the eve of a General Election, it seems pertinent. Right now, Daniel Blake’s problems may seem far away and unconnected to your own. As perhaps the elderly care debate, student fees or NHS funding.

But excusing one wrongdoing because it doesn’t directly affect you, gives the government carte blanche to move onto other political agendas. If you continue to allow the Daniel Blakes to grow in number, one day you will find yourself among them.

By then it will be too late to call for help or expect change.

You are Daniel Blake. They are Daniel Blake. I am Daniel Blake.