The divorce has gone through, and now begin the negotiations as to who gets the house, the car and the kids.
What Boris Johnson defined as “Independence Day” remains a great mystery. Doubts include what will happen to footballers who are foreigners. Whatever happens, it is already “too late.” The English Brexiteers celebrated the departure from the European Union on Friday as if their country had won a World Cup. Especially repellent was the victorious parade through Brussels of that perverse species today extinct, the European parliamentarians of the Brexit Party. Tiny flags, trumpets, chanting, drunkenness, “liberation” slogans, scorning the European dream that the Belgian capital embodied. There we saw the essence of hooliganism – miserly, miserable, mediocre, aggressive and deep down cowardly – of English anti-European nationalism.
The truth is that not all the English were throwing a party. It was not a national victory. It was as if Manchester City had defeated Manchester United: one half of the fans happy, the other depressed.
Too bad the referendum was not about football, about, for example who should be in the line-up for the English national team. There, people would have known what they were talking about. The amazing thing about all this huge Brexit mess is that almost nobody knows what it was all about, or what the consequences will be.
I remember that about six months before the referendum I was dining in London with a Labor MP. I said to him: “I believe that not even one percent of the population understands what is at stake here.” He looked at me stunned. “How did you get one percent? Not even 0.000001 percent have the remotest idea of what Brexit would mean for our country!” He was not exaggerating. Three years after that dinner, in January 2019, I was at my London house watching another inane television debate about the Great Question of Our Times.
I commented about this here in this column. A woman who ran a company involved in measuring the English political pulse revealed the result of a national survey. One of the questions had been: where do you position yourself from zero to ten, if ten means knowing all the details of Brexit and zero means not knowing anything at all? Before the horror of the presenter of the program, the woman revealed that the majority of the respondents did not answer seven, or five, or three, but zero.
And here we are today, ladies and gentlemen, with more than half England with a hangover a couple of nights after celebrating what Boris Johnson defined as “our independence day.” Or the day we “regain control.” That was the winning slogan in the referendum. Regain control. Sounds good. We all wish we had more control over our dubious destinations. But if one asked the Brexit voters what that pretty phrase means to their own lives, none of them would know where to start.
Do we know anything today? Not much, since the British government will spend the next eleven months negotiating with the European Union the terms of the divorce. Who gets the car, how much will each contribute to the family budget, what will be the frequency of visits to the children? But what seems to be certain is that the British will lose the right they have enjoyed for half a century of being able to live, work or study in Berlin, Rome or Madrid with the same guarantees and the same ease as if they decided to move from London to Birmingham or to Newcastle. They have judged that it is a price worth paying in order to prevent Germans, Italians or Spaniards from moving to England when they feel like it. That is, an end to the free movement of people. We are going to shrink our world, to lock ourselves in our grey but proud little island: hooray!
What else do we know? Logic would say that by ending free trade with the neighbouring European market, the largest that the United Kingdom has by far, prices will rise and people will become poorer. It is also probable, although equally irrelevant in the electoral calculations of the Brexit voters, that the United Kingdom sees a decrease in its international influence at levels prior to those of the times of Elizabeth I (mid-16th century) and a decrease in the geographical territory occupied by this ancient and venerable nation. There is a serious risk that Northern Ireland will leave the United Kingdom and join the southern republic, as there is that Scotland will become independent. Little Britain would become Little England, plus the three million inhabitants of Wales. I say “serious risk”, but as all polls indicate that the English do not care if the Scots or Northern Irish leave or stay, why bother even thinking about the subject?
Returning to football, I was this week in Manchester, a region next to Liverpool where perhaps the greatest concentration of foreign players on the planet lives, and I spoke with someone who makes a living playing the game that the English invented. Apparently, there is enough concern about what Brexit will mean for football on the island. If obstacles are imposed on the arrival of European players, and if English clubs are much more dependent on poor national talent, the Premier League will soon cease to be the most followed and richest league in the world.
This could bring about the result that many want: that a demand for a second referendum will emerge from here in a few years. Of course, the pity was that the European Union Football Association never became involved in this matter. As I said too many times, if the English had been informed that as a result of Brexit, the participation of European players in the Premier League would be prohibited, all this absurdly unnecessary mess would have been avoided. Holding the referendum would have been a waste of time.
Oh well. It’s too late. The English were always the weirdos of Europe, the misfits. Most of them did not share the ideal of a continent united in peace and prosperity. Brexit has confirmed it. Perhaps what happened was that, beyond contemplation or logic, the English nature prevailed. Don’t have second thoughts. They are like that. It is done. Enough. Adiós. Adieu. Arriverderci. Auf Wiedersehen. Goodbye. Good night and good luck.
John Carlin is a journalist, author and columnist for both English and Spanish language newspapers. His main areas of interest are international and national affairs, food and football. He is the author of a number of books about Nelson Mandela, and writes regular columns for La Vanguardia and Clarín, (Argentina). This column appeared in Clarín, Argentina, on 2 February 2020, and is translated by Kieran Tapsell, https://www.clarin.com/opinion/brexit-buenas-noches-buena-suerte_0_vIt6elUy.html