Brexit: Trade is free, people are not

flags-8220_640As a Brit living in the Netherlands, I enjoy the freedom the EU provides people. This week I was in Denmark – no border controls but a different currency and even that felt like an inconvenience compared to trips to Spain, Belgium, France and Germany.

The UK vote to leave the EU is a depressing turn of events.  Of course there are many issues but then no one would claim that there are no issues with Westminster either.  For Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, having UK governments you did not vote for is quite common.

It has been too easy to pin Britain’s woes on the EU.  Immigrants, bureaucracy, and an endless list of myths like Brussels banning the “Great British” bananas and sausages or whatever other nonsense some xenophobic rag cares to invent. Ironically the Brits have typically been the most zealous at implementing every rule to emanate from the EU.  Most other countries quietly ignore or indefinitely postpone anything that doesn’t suit (e.g. Dutch continue to provide tax breaks on mortgages).  Even more ironic it was the UK that pushed for EU expansion into Eastern Europe … and then acts surprised when these new EU citizens decide to move around a bit: who would have thought?

Immigration played a major role in returning today’s outcome.  People forget that immigration works in both directions.  When I came to the Netherlands I initially had a job contract for 6 months.  The immigration office gave me a “visa” for 6 months, but this was all bluster.  I could have quit the next day and hung around as long as I liked.

What will the UK be like for average people a few years from now?  Successive UK governments have shown little regard for human rights or for the well-being of workers.  The government has already floated the idea of exiting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which would bring the country on to the same footing at Belarus; the only country between the Atlantic and the Bering Sea that is not a signatory.  This will give free reign to all manner of Neo-liberal lunacy: zero hours contacts, no minimum wage, no welfare, no privacy, minimal rights.

The UK we are told would look to become a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), you know like super-rich mini-nations such as Norway and Switzerland.  It is convenient to ignore that they must still implement a rather higher percentage of EU rules but have little say in the decision making process.  A great position to be in for a large country like the UK, though maintaining a scapegoat is likely to remain attractive for British politicians.

The UK being a member of the EEA but not the EU represents a continuation of the flaw in globalization: trade is free, but people are not.  Democracy and Capitalism is the best system we have created for people to exist under, but it has rarely ever been truly implemented.  Permitting free flow of goods but not permitting the free flow of people (especially less educated, lower skilled people) is the major glaring fault and a scenario that will perpetuate inequality.  How many people slaving in sweatshops in Asia would leave if the door was open to them?  Would this not serve to drive up salaries and improve conditions in these countries?  And of course force the Western Empire to become more efficient while making more locally?

It’s unfortunate that the UK feels it needs to pull up the draw-bridge.  Have they kept the world out or just locked themselves in?  The rich and highly skilled will continue to enjoy crossing borders along with the goods and services they control; the rest of the population will learn that while trade is free, they are not.