An Opinion Piece by Interculturalist, Matthew Hill Enough is enough of “Brexit means Brexit” – Red, White or Blue. Stop already. The returning weak and wobbly Conservative and Unionist coalition is in chaos and it is their LOSS of a … Continue reading
Words from a divided nation
This week Prime Minister May called a snap election to, “unify the country” and allow her to negotiate with the EU on behalf of all of the UK so that she may go out there and get all the good things and have none of the bad.
It will not play out like that.
The scene of the crime – Prime Suspect – David Cameron – Do not approach
Before we look at the cultural aspects of BREXIT, let us remind ourselves how we got into this mess in the first place.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne had suffered from criticism and power plays from various factions within their OWN party. This was a Conservative party spat, a “Blue on Blue” bun fight. Chancer Cameron had bluffed his way through the Scottish independence vote and won. He had made another reckless referendum offer before the 2015 election and had never, in his wildest dreams, considered that the UK would be so stupid as to vote the wrong way. And then, in an historically irresponsible and arrogant move, proposed that a simple majority, either way, would dictate the UK’s future relationship with our closest neighbours and largest trading and defence partners. When, the old, the poor and the anti London / anti-elitists (and racists) voted to leave in June 2016, the UK was plunged into uncertainty and became the laughing stock of Europe, all over again.
And now CULTURE
In the war of words BREXIT supporters tended to focus on “immigrants taking our jobs in the UK” and, ”taking back control from Brussels”. Subjects on which both sides were quiet or silent were the cultural and historical perspectives that will come into play now we are leaving Europe and how these will affect us all.
The cultural benefits of immigrants
Between 2004 and 2014, 2.5 million EU citizens chose to come to the UK to live and work. This has made a net positive contribution to UK GDP, productivity measures per worker and tax revenues for the Treasury. In addition, the cultural benefit has been palpable. [Most British people struggle to speak even one language properly (innit)] The vast majority of newly arrived workers speak their native language and passable English as well. Many speak two or more languages and add to the country’s human capital, fuelling the most important parts of the British economy – the export of goods and services to other countries. Having freshly arrived people from our target export markets helps us with both local language and market wisdom as we send our crated goods on their way in lorries headed for the Continent.
A Small Island Near Europe
Immigrants work harder
This sometimes unpalatable truth is most threatening to the unskilled sector where jobs are performed by employees that are exchangeable and expendable. This is not the fault of the newly arrived workers or the indigenous population. It is the way jobs are designed today with most school education being instantly forgotten and individuals adapting to the job market, ending up as minimum wage and sub-living wage employees. Our history as a rich and formerly powerful empire has created a subtle level of expectation for many British workers below which they will not consider working. The average Brit is not rushing to get up at 5 AM and wait for a van on a street corner to head off and pick vegetables on a chilly spring morning. Other EU nationals are.
Fight or trade?
From an historical perspective, when a couple of tribes live in close proximity they have two strategic directions in which to go. They can either battle or exchange goods and services. The main rationale for the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 thus establishing the European Economic Community, the EEC, was to facilitate trade and exchange as the best way of preventing the repetition of the double tragedies of the 20th century.
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing.
Whilst we are on the subject of not learning from history, let us remember that what unified Germany and the Axis powers in their support for Hitler’s strategies and ideas in the 1930s were austerity measures set out in the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Imposed by the victors upon the losers, it created an attractive option for Axis powers – support the German war effort in return for the restoration of lost power and lands – Hitler promised to turn back time.
The EU agreement was the equivalent of a peace treaty. When a peace treaty is signed all parties agree to forgive, to back down from aggression and to cooperate. A lot of European history and baggage has been locked away in the cupboard, for the sake of trading cooperation, EU subsidies and grants and peace. Culturally speaking, Brexit is the key that opens this cupboard and opens many wounds from the past. [Do we really want to re-examine the roles perpetrated by Hitler and Napoleon at a time when we will be negotiating trade tariffs?]
Do we really want videos of the Euro-skeptic rhetoric played before we enter the room with our Continental cousins?
The subjects discussed around European dinner table may turn to reparation, retribution and rebuke.
New bilateral treaties
Instead of the centralised and overly controlling Brussels technocrats telling each of the EU member states what they can and cannot do, we are now in the unique position of sending out negotiation teams to each EU country and negotiating separate bilateral terms regarding defence, trade and the mobility of citizens (country nationals).
To some this represents the essence of opportunity and control. We will finally have a say on our terms of business in Europe. They are perhaps forgetting that it won’t be all smiles and handshakes. We have 950 years of history that will be raked over, brought up, and may well be used against us. This will not be a quick squiggle of a Mont Blanc pen on parchment in some grand hall. Troubled President, Francois Hollande of France immediately hinted at damaging changes France may make to border controls. If British lorry drivers feel frustrated by striking farmers and burning lorries full of lambs now (within the protection of the EU), what will they face if this civilising treaty is ripped up for the Brits? The bottleneck of the channel is our weakest point. Something the wise business people of Britain are well aware of. Add to that the predictable Air Traffic Controllers strikes in summer (we have just suffered from our 47th Strike in the last 8 years) and we begin to form a clear picture of our rather isolated future.
Can we afford the divorce?
Our future will be in the hands of a dubious, and tarnished group of British ministers along with overstretched lawyers shuttling from EU country to EU country trying to preserve as many of our assets as we can like a skewed game of giant Monopoly. And, who will get custody of the golden child? The City of London generates more than 30% of UKPLC’s GDP. Outside the protection of the EU, Germany, France are already having a pop at attracting the golden goose and shrinking the number of eggs it produces. If we don’t retain custody of the country’s best cash generating asset, we will again become an “embittered single parent” after the divorce, contemplating putting on a superhero costume and climbing up the walls of Brussels in a futile and crass protest shouting, “Former EU Fathers for Justice”
Facing a coalition of the weak.
The goodwill and support shown to Britain by the majority of the 10 enlargement states that joined the EU in 2004 that we have enjoyed and required for the past 12 years is beginning to evaporate. Especially as, in their own living memory, the promises of infrastructure grants and bountiful economic progress have begun to disappear, disappoint the local population and put their politicians under pressure. Poland, the striking example of post 2004 success, is now the 7th ranked economy within the EU. As alone most Central European countries are virtually insignificant, they still relish being part of one of the largest trading blocks in the world. As slighted states, sitting across the table from us surrounded by “divorce” lawyers, the energy and relationship will shift. They have got what they want. Why should they now continue to support us so generously? We are on the outside of the tent “looking” in.
Flags and racism
In your culture trainings you teach that culture is less about countries and flags and more about a range of values, beliefs and drivers that subtly influence behaviours and choices. This subtlety will be lost when Brexit becomes a hard reality. We are seeing a return to table thumping Popularism, less sophisticated and more hostile country stereotypes and an increase in racial slurs, prejudice and, inevitably, violence perpetrated upon immigrant populations. And, these include British populations abroad. The Brits in Spain are already treated with disrespect due to their lack of language skills and integration into local society.
You are about to cross the line
The EU is a mechanism designed to control the behaviour of member countries. Brexit is currently pushing against that reason and control. The Pandora’s box of cultural difference, historical resentment and Britain’s lack of future power will make for a volatile negotiating environment to send our ministers and lawyers into. The British election voter should be fully aware of what cultural consequences they face after the inevitable June Tory election victory aimed at repairing an avoidable Tory mistake.
Part if this blog post was written for Farnham Castle Intercultural Training last year.
Then and Now…
Part 1 – THEN – 27th June 2016
“This weekend, with news of the results of Brexit spreading across the world, has been a very challenging time for a lot of People, and I would like to share not only what I went through but what some of my fellow European and pro-Remain British friends may have gone through too.
I am an Intercultural Consultant. I help expatriate and global managers adapt to their new environment. In facilitating their adaptation I always refer to the Culture Shock curve and its five stages: Excitement, Denial & Depression, Culture Shock, Acceptance and Acculturation. The last time I experienced the Culture Shock curve for myself was moving to Singapore 10 years ago!
Over the course of this weekend I moved through the first two phases and am now heading, at some speed, towards culture shock.
The excitement phase was before the Referendum results, I think most of us were positive that the UK would vote remain and thus demonstrate that we are a strong Europe and that Europeans fit naturally along side British folk. When the results came in on Friday morning, as I woke up at 5:30am, I couldn´t believe that Brexit had happened. I was in complete denial, I just couldn´t wrap my head around it although I had an aprehensive feeling that it might happen, but again, my excitement was stronger. I found myself accepting the decision of the British public, as I live in their Country, and I need to accept their wishes but, trust me, I still felt out-of-place especially going heading out for dinner that evening. The atmosphere felt colder than usual, but I put this down to my own projections.
Tears in the morning
The rest of the weekend was set aside for the depression phase – waking up in tears not knowing what the future will bring, especially working as a freelance Consultant and delivering Trainings to, mostly, European expats – teaching them how to integrate into the UK, so that was a big shock ! What will I do? I thought I would spend the rest of my life here, I have friends which are now part of my Family, I have a home that I bought, I have a car, what will that mean? What does the future hold?
I also had a few talks over the weekend with a few Young British People and asked them what they thought of Brexit and a lot were shocked and angry. They said they were “Europeans” and not British citizens, what will happen for their future and their kid´s future? They won´t have the opportunity to have work experience abroad, travel, learn languages and go abroad to train themselves, so, overall, a big shock all round.
When I spoke to European friends and colleagues most felt betrayed, stabbed in the back, not welcomed and also fearful for their future.
We now know that nothing major will happen over the next two years and that, as Europeans, we will be able to stay. What will be the conditions after though? I think the acceptance phase after the shock sounds like, “One way or another if there are no Jobs, I/we will have to move back to Europe”. I think this is what our culture shock is about, leaving a beautiful country, our friends, our lives.
For now, however, we need to wait and see and try to get out of the shock phase to get on and live our lives.
Part 2- NOW
6 Months post Brexit:
Six months have passed since the Brexit Referendum vote. What has happened up to now? How do I feel? And, how do we as Europeans feel in the UK?
Since the announcement of the referendum and even after Brexit was voted into reality, many of us, in the intercultural world and in broader Training and Development have noticed a significant slowdown in business. A colleague of mine mentioned that some of his programs had been canceled, another said that some clients were backing out of training committements and that they wanted to wait for the New Year. Why is that so?
Unfortunately there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment, Brexit was one major event and shock in 2016. This was closely followed by the election of Mr Donald Trump, and now we can hear, throughout Europe, the loud voice of right wing movements, Austria was close and France will be the next test. What will happen there? At the pace we are going, everything is possible!
What will this mean for the world…for Europe?
What we can see is that there is mistrust of politics in general and a fear of the unknown and its consequences for peace, employment and our way of life. All of those participating in racist actions, protest votes and the results they are generating are people that want CHANGE . They are asking – who else can give them change? Noone but those who run against the existing political system.
We need to bring back trust and respect for one another. It is through cultural consciousness that we may avoid further conflict and make sure that our children grow up in a peaceful world, where citizens are respected, have a job and can practice their religion without challenge.
So, where am I then, after these last 6 months? I think I am still in the shock phase. And there is hope. I am edging toward the acceptance phase. we need to wait and see, and to see past what the press is telling us, go past what politicians are trying to sell us (from their own position of confusion, choas and fear) and make sure that our objective is for harmony and making sure that we engineer the conditions that allow for all of us to live together in peace.
Author Profile – Nadège Welsch
Nadège is Franco-German starting her career with a major German Telco based in Munich where she worked with Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa.
She expatriated to Singapore for a year and half before immigrated to the UK to pursue her passion for culture. With an MSC in Business Psychology she created Be-a-Chameleon seven years ago, training individuals as well as groups in cultural awareness, working effectively across cultures and working effectively in multicultural teams.
Nadège speaks English, French, German and Spanish and is a passionate advocate for cultural consciousness.
We are all global citizens now, but what does this actually mean?
If we accept that an individual can have multiple non-opposing identities, it would logically follow that it is possible to have multiple citizenships, as indeed many of us do…yet this multiplicity seems only to mean that we can use different passports to facilitate travel from one political system to another….and has nothing to do with sharing values, rules etc. Having looked at the questions for the UK citizenship test and scored a big fat zero on history, just scraping through, I am having an(other) identity crisis…… a UK passport holder born, brought up, educated and tax paying in UK for most of my working life, having taught English, acculturation and intercultural communication for 35 years, I am somewhat surprised at the criteria for citizenship of “my” country.
multiple non-opposing identities
Multiple non-opposing identities
For the first time I ask myself “Do I want to be a citizen?” Though I feel a strong connection with my home culture and I understand that on a deep level I probably make assumptions and bear prejudices that would link me to membership of a group of “people like me”, I have long preferred to introduce myself to “others” as a European- thus avoiding the Westerner (i.e USA) or the British (i.e. football hooligan) labels. I am proud of the values which underlie the formation of and continuance of EU, and believe passionately that the institution, for all its faults, has gone a long way to building bridges, to signalling a third way of “doing things”; an alternative to purely money or military oriented politics…. And a clearly stated definition of citizenship.
Yes, I like that…….
To note the ease with which I can explain my choice of association and acknowledge the possibility of duality here may go a long way to explaining my utter bafflement at recent events; but does this also indicate that EU citizenship as a concept is doomed to be more divisive than inclusive? A Them or Us sense of belonging which by its very nature hints at republicanism?
This brings me to a third model: global citizenship, whose qualities seem to be espoused by international NGOs like Oxfam and which is defined as a quality a person demonstrates whose identity is linked more with a common humanity than with any political or other allegiance- but if citizenship means to be held to account by a system; history; shared values, how can any of us possibly call ourselves global citizens except as representing an academic intellectual stance?….
Recent developments have forced me to reflect on what it means to belong….to an organisation at odds with my personal values; to a country hurtling towards xenophobia and isolationalism……
Am I the only one to feel like le Petit Prince?
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
About the Author – Daphne Laing is a renowned education professional in the field of culture, language and citizenship.
Laughing through the tears…
(Reader Warning – This is a opinion piece that takes a helicopter ride over a complex subject and contains ironic humour.)
Looking back on the dramas of the last 2 weeks in the Dis-United Kingdom there are some things that have now become clearer and other things that we may never know.
Two issues – It seems that there were a multiple of issues being decided on 23rd June 2016 and not just the notion of EU trade vs World trade.
Perhaps the quietest issue was to prove the most profound – the voiceless hard working people of regional England and Wales protesting successfully against the London elite and their pursuit of personal positions of power whilst continuing to marginalise the existence of the regional population.
The disenfranchised voted and were heard. And they will NOW be ignored as a tiny minority of the country (Tory MPs and party members vote for the next Prime Minister to lead the country at this, the beginning of a 40 year negotiation marathon to divorce from the EU (whilst keeping the cleverest child – Access to the Single Economic Market), forging new trade ties with the US, China, Russia, and returning to former lovers – Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Irony – It was the poorer parts of the country that wished to distance themselves from the EU. Despite the fact that they are the greatest beneficiaries of EU largesse when it comes to being awarded valuable Regional Development Grants.
Fisheries – We heard a lot about “loss of control of our country” – the one concrete example was UK fishing grounds (should that be water?) The depleted fishing fleet of the UK will now be able to fish more freely and… export their fish to Spain (or will they?)
Racism – The police are reporting a spike in verbal racial abuse, physical racially motivated attacks and a general increase in xenophobic rhetoric. This harks back to the extremes of the campaign and the ethnocentric chant of “Give us our country back” (from Whom and to Whom?) Scapegoating the Polish for coming over here and displacing us with their intelligence and positive work ethic seems to have found resonant favour with the mob. These visceral abusers have dulled their senses to history (we are all immigrants. Britain robbed, stole, enslaved and killed in the name of empire AND the British Government gave right of abode to the 800 million people of empire in 1931 and the right to work in the UK to 507 million people of the EU in 2004.) The sacrifice of Polish and Czech pilots during WWII is conveniently forgotten in the heat of the moment as emotions fear and stress take over.
The lies – the Leave campaign talked of a two year divorce, the £350 million a week fee to the EU now being available to fund hospitals and schools, EU having sovereignty, 60% of British laws coming from Europe, an immediate halt to immigration and that the EU would beg us to continue trading on terms of our choosing as they needed us SO MUCH.
Unfortunately none of this was true.
And the remain campaign was not above telling vast fibs in support of their cause. Their message though was undermined more by internal conflict, a complacency based on the notion that not enough people were crazy enough to want to leave and that they could continue to fight internal political battles with each other instead of devoting their time and full concentration to producing an agenda leading and honest campaign for reform from within the EU.
Corby-Nation – The most complex sub plot of the last decade surrounds the leader of the opposition – overwhelmingly elected Jeremy Corbyn suffered an assassination attempt, a coup from Tony Blairs’ faction both inside his own party and from powerful lobbying groups and Tony’s cronies populating many powerful places in the media and the outside world.
The Conspiracy is that – it would be better not to unite and attack the current political vacuum and provide some national alternative leadership but, instead, to destroy the Labour party thus providing a distraction from the Chilcot report on the even bigger disaster of the second Gulf War.
WMD – Widespread Ministerial Deception – The Chilcot report (after 7 years) says, in the longest and most British way possible, that the war was an all round cock up from start to finish. (Interculturalists please note the 2.6 million word report is the most low context document on earth and Sir John Chilcot’s speech the most high context one you will hear this year.)
PS – Honest Jeremy did, however, contribute to the disaster we all now face as his incorruptible stance did not allow him to give a clear boost to the remain campaign.
Onwards to the Negotiation table – In the early 1970’s we put away the history books and moved on from the past. The EEC The European Economic Community was the thing. No more mention that Britain had been at war at one time or another with just about all of the major EU players with the only exception being Greece.
From a cultural perspective, those dusty history books look like being opened up again and used against us in a court of law, during the elections in France and Germany and around the negotiation table as we sort out 27 new bilateral trading agreements.
Cultural Perspective – For interculturalists this mad moment provides an expensive and invaluable case study with rich content for your classrooms – The Brexit being an example of the dangers of Government lead patriotic rhetoric, the power of the media to spread negative country stereotypes, a case of complexity keeping reason and clarity from the masses and, the reversal of 40 years of Diversity and Inclusion practice in the workplace happening in a matter of weeks.
What’s next? – a second referendum will not happen. The exit negotiations will be delayed but will begin. The next wave of opportunists will take their places in Parliament as Prime Minister and head of the opposition. The pound will be weaker, speculative and dirty money pouring into the UK PLC will diminish (not a wholly negative thing), The economy will move into mild recession as investment and strategic corporate decisions are delayed and the regions that voted leave will begin to feel the immediate cold wind of economic downturn even before winter arrives.
PS – Scotland will leave the UK and the violence in Northern Ireland will increase.
PPS – Summer holidays will be 10% more expensive.
The End – Going Going Gone – On behalf of the leavers – Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn – “Sorry” (They have not uttered this word themselves but we know they feel burning shame and guilt at this time.)
(Number of words in this post – 1066 – that is a British history joke.)
The Author Matthew Hill is currently applying for Albanian Citizenship.