30 years waiting for Brexit
A half true story
When I watched Bloomberg TV the day after the Brexit referendum took place, it felt as if the world had come to an end. My wife had stayed up all night following the recount of votes. It is worth noting that my wife is from New York, I am from Barcelona and we live in the Middle East. I still ask myself, why the hell did she, a woman from a not so hyped up part of Brooklyn, stayed up all night feeling stressed as a Shire, that she had never heard of (and that sounded more like a resort for Hobbits than a European plot of land), close to Northampton, voted to leave the EU. Brexit should have meant, at least to us, just another piece of glorified information that wouldn’t make it to our dinner conversations. But it wasn’t, it lasted 14 days, a record. The news outlets saw it as a tragedy of cosmic proportions.
As I sat next to her with my morning coffee, Bloomberg TV in front of us showing all sorts of cool colored graphs, I said: ‘I’ve known, for 30 years, this was going to happen’. My wife, as much as she might love me, trashes any opinion I might have that is not sports related. She answered: ‘Cut the shit boy, this is serious’. I did cut the shit. I did not want to aggravate her unjustified stress. If she thought that a zombie hecatomb was about to hit the world, I was not going to try and change her mind. Too risky. What she didn’t know is that I had been a privileged observer of how Britain (like all countries) is a place of contradictions. One of their contradictions, until Brexit, was if it was worth it for them to be or not to be part of the EU. What Brexiteers called ‘retain their British identity’ or the opposite side ‘to be part of the European project’. I will explain to you why I told my wife that I knew this was coming for 30 years.
30 years ago (I was 10 then) we (my parents, my brother and I) moved to Milford Haven. A small town in South-West Wales.
It was the end of the 80’s. My father was then a young entrepreneur from the coastal city of Santander, in the north of Spain. He was in his mid-30’s and (typical of people from Santander) loved boats, came from a boat loving family and had owned a small fishing vessel insurance business and a fishing trawler based in Ondarroa (Basque country) when he was in his late 20’s. If someone knew anything about the boat business it was him. When he was 30 he detected a business opportunity in Wales (why Wales and not another fishing town like Grimsby? I don’t really know). He rightly saw that dog-fish, a specie that I have been lead to believe was not popular then, had a great market potential in France and the UK. He purchased a fishing license in the UK and did what he had always wanted to do, he designed and oversaw the construction of his own boat. He achieved this thanks to financial aid and loans from public institutions. The EU (or whatever it was called then) and the UK government loaned him most of the money. He had the trawler built in Scotland. He then recruited people from the UK, many of them from depressed areas of Wales (as was and I still think is the South-West of Wales). And he tried to get his business started. It is at this point in history when we first experienced the full force of the Great Brexit contradiction (to be or not to be European).
He was barred from fishing due to a Law passed by Her Majesty’s Government under the sponsorship (if I’m not mistaken) of conservative Minister Michael Portillo that barred all vessels not managed by a ‘qualified company’ from fishing. By qualified the Queen meant that the corporation operating a fishing vessel needed to be 75% owned by a British citizen. My father was fuming. He had put all his money into a business project in the UK, he had been given money by the UK government to build a boat in the UK, he recruited British citizens, he was paying taxes in the UK since we were residents there, his kids were being raised in the UK, he had purchased a god damn house in a depressed area of the UK that will probably never recoup its value. I can see him screaming ‘What-the-fuck-else do they want!’. Simple, the British authorities said, you are entitled to British citizenship, why don’t you apply for it? If something pisses my father off (and me), its blackmail. He stuck to his principles and he fought the case against the Queen. He sued the Queen and won (in reality it was some expensive ass lawyers from the City that won not because they wanted to help a broke Spaniard like my father, but because of the glorious compensation they knew they were going to get from, curiously, their own head of state, Elizabeth…contradiction?).
This case was part of a bigger law suit known as Factor Tame and it forced Her Majesty to get rid of a law that discriminated European citizens’ vs British citizens. All must be said. The law was passed for a reason that was the result of another European contradiction. The reason being that Spanish vessels had been abusing British fishing stock for years thanks to European law. But so had British vessels, though there were less of them. My father was always disgusted by the lack of scruples many Spanish vessels had towards exploiting the European fisheries policy and agreed with the spirit of the law, to stop the overexploitation of fishing resources in British waters (or anyone else’s waters). But he, who had tried to earn a few bucks but also gave a lot back to the UK was pissed off by how this law was going to be implemented. He was also pissed off that the cause that triggered the elaboration of the Queens law was the bitching the press gave the government about the ‘Spanish destroying our resources’. Fortunately for me, it is now another crowd that gets lynched by the British press, ‘the poles take all our jobs because they’re uncompetitively (don’t know if this word exists) cheap’. No, it’s not unfair tax laws or government sponsored inequality, or the Chinese that have taken all our manufacturing jobs, it’s the Polish plumbers and ‘Rumanian social benefit hoarders’ that are to blame for our national problems. Mind you, all of Europe plays the blame game. In Spain, we Catalans blame the Spanish government for our problems and the Spanish government blames us for being tight and cheap. In Europe, the French blame the Germans; the Germans blame the Greeks; the Greeks blame the Germans, the EU and the IMF; the Dutch are more grandiloquent and blame the whole of the Mediterranean region; the Danish and Swedes blame the refugees…and the Italians are too classy and busy doing their own shit to blame anyone.
I remember, after my dad was compensated by good old Elizabeth, he told me (I was a teenager by then): ‘Look kid, these Brits, they are very proud, but they are also flip-flops in a way, they have money now to buy houses and holidays in Salou, so its ok for them to continue being in Europe, but the day will come when they get tired of Salou, or they struggle to pay their mortgages, this is when they will blame Europe for their miseries and will decide to leave ….but, once these Brits are out, they will then say, hey, where’s that Spanish guy who paid taxes and employed people in this godforsaken little town that is 6 hours away from London. They think they can go at it by themselves, and they’ll figure out that they need help with some stuff…like everyone…and maybe, only if their pride allows, will they ask to be part of Europe again… it reminds me of the stories they used to tell us in school, in Franco’s time and we all believed it…all that glorious shit about how we lost Cuba. We thought we were tough just because we had hair on our chest and the biggest nuts in the world. Then came the Americans with metal boats and just rammed our shitty little wooden dingy’s to scraps…no matter how much hair and how big our balls were, they didn’t stop our trashy boats from being sunk’. True dad, couldn’t have said it any better.
Anyway, what I tried to tell my wife, while she watched doom unravel on Bloomberg TV, was that I saw Brexit coming for years. But it’s unnecessary now. Brexit happened three months ago. She’s not traumatized anymore. In fact, she has forgotten about it. Now it’s all about the money that the Paralympics need and Russian doping.