As Others See Us
Views from the Mainland of Europe
Barry and Margaret Williamson
Locked Down in the Fylde
As Robert Burns wrote 'To a Louse' in 1789:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion.
Which in one translation reads:
Oh, would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would save us from many mistakes,
And foolish thoughts.
Here are some reflections from within the EU have been freely taken from Jon Henley's Guardian article:
View from the EU: UK 'taken over by gamblers, liars, clowns and their cheerleaders'
These comments on the English Brexit (Scotland and Northern Ireland are excused, having voted against) are typical of those being expressed throughout the mainland of Europe The overall theme is one of sadness and regret at what has happened to a great nation once widely admired and emulated. Now the country is ridiculed and isolated. The commentators lay the blame squarely on a privileged elite who shamelessly lied and deceived a public made gullible by the media's constant repetition of simple divisive nationalistic slogans, denying the reality that the UK is the most European of nations.
* The reputation for pragmatism and probity is shredded by a Brexit process most see as profoundly populist and dangerously dishonest.
* The UK has always been seen as like-minded: economically progressive, politically stable, with respect for the rule of law – a beacon of western liberal democracy. That's been seriously hit by the past four years.
* The Dutch have seen a country in a deep identity crisis; it's been like watching a close friend go through a really, really difficult time.
* Brexit is an exercise in emotion, not rationality; in choosing your own facts. And it's not clear how it will end.
* Britain's long-polished pragmatic image had been seriously tarnished.
* Trust in the UK had taken a heavy battering on the Brexit rollercoaster.
* Boris Johnson has always been seen as a bit of a gambler, displaying a certain flexibility with the truth. But observing him as prime minister has only made that worse.
* Johnson's willingness to ignore international law in the form, particularly, of the internal market bill, was deeply shocking.
* The idea that you'd willingly violate an international treaty that you'd negotiated and signed barely eight months previously … that's just not something you do among allies. That whole episode really damaged Britain's credibility.
* There was absolutely nothing good about Brexit, which would never have happened had Conservative politicians not, to a quite unprecedented degree, deceived and lied to their people.
* Much of the British media were complicit, constantly trampling on fairness and facts, leaving Britain captured by gambling liars, frivolous clowns and their paid cheerleaders.
* Johnson's lies were the biggest of all. 'Take back control' Johnson lied to his citizens. But all the British government will finally have achieved is to have taken back control of a little shovel and a little sandcastle.
* The 'sovereignty' in whose name Brexit was done remained, essentially, a myth. It is history, geography, culture, language and traditions that make up the identity of a people, not their political organisation.
* It is wrong to believe peoples and states can permanently free themselves from each other, or take decisions without considering the consequences for their citizens and partners.
* 'Take back control' is a nationalist, populist slogan that ignores the reality of an interdependent world. Our maritime neighbour will be much weakened.
* British populism is a political method, not an ideology, and it does not become redundant with Brexit. There are two key elements in this method: an emotionalisation and over-simplification of highly complex issues, such as Brexit, the Covid pandemic or migration, and a reliance on bogeymen or enemies at home and abroad.
* Populists depend on enemies, real or imagined, to legitimise their actions and deflect from their own shortcomings.
* If the EU has been the 'enemy abroad' since 2016, it will steadily be replaced by 'enemies within': MPs, civil servants, judges, lawyers, experts, the BBC.
* Individuals and institutions who dare to limit the power of the executive, even if it is just by asking questions, are at constant risk of being denounced as 'activists' by the Johnson government.
* Everyone has political motives – except for the government, which seeks to define 'neutrality'.
* Brexit itself is being framed as 'the grand departure', the moment the UK is finally free and sovereign, when all problems can be solved with common sense and optimism – justifying a more 'pragmatic' approach to rules, constitutional conventions and institutions that actually amounts to a worrying disregard for the rule of law.
* It is naïve to expect a political style which ridicules complexity, presents people with bogeymen to despise, and prides itself on 'doing what is necessary' even if 'elites' and institutions get in the way, to lose its appeal in times of hardship.
* The past four years had shown Europeans and Britons just how little we really knew each other. They had also revealed the fragility of a parliamentary system seen by many on the continent as a point of reference.
* It's been difficult for us to anticipate, at times even to interpret, what's happened in the UK.
* The direction Johnson has taken the Conservative party in – we didn't see that coming. The polarisation. And the way MPs have been bypassed since he became prime minister.
* The politics prevailing in Britain had become detached from geopolitical reality – from the way the world is developing. It's a political vision turned towards yesterday's world.
* The way the trade deal focused on goods at the expense of services. It's not the way the world's going.
* Painful as the Brexit process may have been for Europeans, however, it had at least demonstrated the reality and value of the single market, its rules and norms, and of the EU's basis in law. Those are at the heart of the European identity – and defending them has given the union a new political maturity.
* It's taught us all just how vulnerable our political processes are. Just eight years ago, leaving the EU was a seriously fringe proposition in British politics, and now look where you are. So we've seen how fragile it all is, what we've built – and how worth defending.
Our own perspective is neatly summarised by Gerry Rafferty in this chorus from his Stealers Wheel album:
Clowns to the left of me!
Jokers to the right!
Here I am stuck in the middle with you.