Don't Leave Us! Why Germany Needs the British
Part 2: 'The More Mud You Throw, the More It Sticks'
The Brexit movement has invested a lot of energy in exposing its opponents' contradictions, focusing on immigration and the billions in contributions Britain makes to the EU. Many of the claims made by the Brexit supporters are just as outrageous as Ukip head Nigel Farage's claim that sexual harassment like that in Cologne on New Year's Eve would happen in Britain were the country not to leave the EU. And the £50m that London allegedly sends to Brussels each day is just as misleading. In fact, it is less than half that.
"The more mud you throw, the more it sticks," says Hugo Dixon. He is fighting for Remain and runs the website infacts.org, where he tries to refute Brexit propaganda. Dixon has made it his mission to rescue the truth.
His favourite myths: Turkey will become an EU member in four years; Brussels is in the process of building up a secret army; the British healthcare system, the NHS, can only be saved by Brexit; and Europe needs Britain more than Britain needs Europe. But the campaign has shown that many British people believe such claims. The Daily Star recently reported that the EU wants to ban kettles. Some surveys indicate that the Brexit camp is in the lead.
The majority of supporters are older, working-class British citizens. Matthew Goodwin, a political scientist at the University of Kent, calls this group the "left behind". He has been monitoring the Eurosceptic movement for years and says that the country's two main parties have given up on the fringes of society and focused their attentions on the centre. As a result, in the course of deindustrialisation, a new, economically insecure group has developed that holds views diametrically opposed to those of liberal city dwellers. They are less open to the world, largely anti-immigration and Eurosceptic.
Animation: Why we love the British
Goodwin also sees long-term generational changes in the values that shape the outlook of voters on issues such as race and immigration, national identity, Europe and ethnic diversity. But not everybody shares these different values. Ukip has cleverly taken advantage of the potential of the "left behind". Last year, the party received almost 4 million votes. That is 4 million people who will vote for Brexit.
Britain has often derived part of its identity from its separation from the European continent. The conservative elite has also promulgated the narrative of an island that must defend itself from external threats and, if necessary, face those dangers alone. For those who buy that narrative, Europe was always populated by the others.
There's also the fact that the UK entered the European Economic Community in a time of economic weakness. The British were sceptical in 1975 when they had to decide between staying and leaving. The Conservative party fought to stay part of the EEC for economic reasons and saw Europe as an opportunity for advancement and growth, while the majority of Labour fought against it.
In the 1980s, the Margaret Thatcher decade, the Tories' mood turned against Europe. If one wanted to identify a date on which the Conservatives turned to Euroscepticism, it would have to be September 8, 1988, the day that Jacques Delors, rhetorically at least, spat in the Iron Lady's face.
Delors, who was the head of the European commission, was speaking in support of the EU before the British Trades Union Congress. He promised more protection and security for workers - an outrage for Thatcher, who had gone to great lengths to rip the country from the grasp of the unions and strengthen the business and banking sectors.
A short while later, she said, "We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European superstate."
That statement was a battle cry for the Tories. "Europe" was no longer a mere free trade zone, as Thatcher wanted it, but an ideological project driven by the Germans and the French and steered by bureaucrats on the continent.
We can no longer convince the British to love the EU. It's too late for that. But perhaps we should use this opportunity to mention how much the rest of Europe admires them. It's unbelievable that they don't seem to see how much they've shaped the continent, how much we value them here, how close we Germans feel to them - that too is part of the story.
This island is part of the global avant garde - in human rights, in freedom movements, in culture and in its talent for being cool. The urge for freedom is a thread that runs through British history - from the Magna Carta in the 13th century, when English barons cheekily wrested their rights from the king, up to the suffragettes of the 20th century fighting for women's right to vote. It was only a short step to the miniskirt, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and punk. In the 1960s and 1970s, Europe wanted to be just as free as England. The British may have lost an empire, but they invented pop and presented the world with cultural exports from James Bond to Twiggy's haircut. They are more colourful, shriller, louder and livelier than anyone else could ever be.
Germany has always looked across the Channel with some degree of envy. On our emotional map of Europe, the Italians were responsible for love and good food, the French for beauty and elegance and the Brits for nonchalance and progress. They have an inner independence that we Germans lack, in addition to myriad anti-authoritarian, defiant tendencies. A lot of what happened in Britain spilled over to us sooner or later, reinforcing our cultural ties.
The country has always exerted political power in those moments when it has pursued a specific goal and thrown all its energy into achieving it. Churchill freed Europe, Thatcher drove forward the single market, Blair pushed ahead with enlargement. The British contributed greatly to security and prosperity on the continent. But every time they pulled back, order began to crumble. Britain is always at its best when it doesn't turn its back on Europe, writes historian Christopher Clark.
Strange that it is again necessary to tell the British that they are most successful when finding allies and forging alliances. Over the past few decades, the country has been granted many of the special requests it demanded from Brussels - contrary to claims often made by the pro-Brexit camp. They are neither in the eurozone nor in the Schengen area, and likely never will be. Countless initiatives that were jump-started by London are essential for Europe, such as the liberalisation of the services sector. The British government was on the winning side in the vast majority of European council decisions.
Back in 1984, Thatcher negotiated a rebate on EU contributions and since then the country has been reimbursed a considerable portion of those transfers. The savings over the course of three decades has amounted to 111bn. Should the British remain, they would no longer be bound to aspire to an "ever closer union" or have to go along with EU integration.
When it comes to trade, the British are a pragmatic people, which makes it even more incomprehensible that the Brexit movement wants to cut the links to the continent that the UK has built up over decades. Even Eurosceptics admit that an economic shock would follow Brexit. Those who want to avoid such an outcome cannot leave.
Britain's recent resurgence as a car manufacturer was only possible because foreign companies were able to send their vehicles across Europe easily from their British factories. Almost half of the cars produced in Britain last year were sold in the EU. Honda, Toyota and Nissan put their factories there because they could export to Europe without paying customs.
Only a third of the parts for the auto sector come from Britain and the supply chains stretch across the continent. The consultancy Roland Berger estimates that 80,000 jobs would be lost in the Midlands and northern England were Britain to leave the EU. Furthermore, foreign investment in Britain amounts to over £50bn each year and no leading economy has a greater share of it. More than half of those investments were made because the investors are interested in accessing EU markets. The purchase orders for the successful British space industry are likewise almost entirely European.
To torpedo all that isn't just irresponsible, it's dangerous. Cross-border trade, of course, wouldn't come to a standstill in the event of Brexit, but the consequences for the British economy, fragile enough as it is, would be bad. Indeed, the uncertainty created by the Brexit debate is already having effects. Since the end of November, the British pound has dropped 10% against the euro, and further losses are certain. Central banks across Europe are already working on a crisis plan and one official at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt says that British financial institutions may need a significant injection of euros on June 24 following Brexit because investors would become nervous. His institution, he says, has set aside precautionary funds.
London owes its rise as a global centre of finance to the fact that it is where Europe's business is done. The British financial sector is responsible for close to 10% of the country's economy and after Brexit, it would be forced to contend with ascendant rivals. Investment banks like JP Morgan have suggested that they would move parts of their businesses away from the UK.
- Part 1: Why Germany Needs the British
- Part 2: 'The More Mud You Throw, the More It Sticks'
- Part 3: The British Have a Lot To Gain If They Stay