Ingeborg van Teeseling

Hand over heart: Lessons the Australia of today can learn from the Britain of yesterday

Our problem with those who arrive on our shores is well documented, however, after recently visiting Britain, who harbours a similar problem, the solution is obvious.

 

 

I’ve just come back from London. I wanted to say “Great Britain”, but like New York isn’t really the United States, London, thank God, isn’t really Great Britain. They are Free States, anomalies, the exception that proves the rule. In this case, the rule is that the US and GB are largely places where people have lost the plot. In the meantime, New York mayor Bill de Blasio told a protest meeting in Germany that he was ready to fight Trump on just about anything, while London’s Sadiq Khan compared the president’s language with that of ISIS. Fighting talk. Anti-talk too. Lovely. But I digress. A little. While I was in London, I went out a lot. Restaurants, bars, museums, libraries, hotels, shops. Yes, half nerd, half tourist, certainly. But my point is that I met a lot of people in those varied places. But none of them were white-bread and white-bred Brits. You know, the clichéd Londoner. I spoke to people from Venezuela, Poland, India and Jamaica, but met nobody who was born in the UK.

That made me think about Brexit. As we know, the only reason so many dimwits voted Leave was to get rid of migrants. The question is how that is going to work in practice. As I said, I didn’t see any non-migrants at work, and there are others who wonder what is going to happen to fill the hole they will leave if Theresa May and David Davis get their wish. Last month, the British Office for National Statistics did the sums. There are, they said, about 2.2 million EU nationals who work in Britain. That is roughly 7% of the overall workforce, but some sub-sectors of the economy are almost totally reliant on migrants. In fact, in 18 sectors, EU workers account for more than 20% of the workforce, and in some, like hospitality, retail, but also farming and construction, it is much, much more. So, unions and employers alike are calling the post-Brexit future potentially “catastrophic“. The head of the National Farmers Union, for instance, put out a warning for a “massive disruption to the entire food supply chain”, while the chief-executive officer of Travelodge calculated that “Even if the hotel industry recruited virtually every person on the unemployment register, there wouldn’t be enough people to fill all the roles needed”. To give it a number, the British Centre for Economics and Business Research said that the proposed reduction in migrants would “knock 3.1% of the GDP by 2025 and lower tax revenues to the tune of almost 38 billion a year”.


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Of course, these are not the only scary figures floating around. One of the biggest European banks just assessed the cost of Brexit between 7.5% of GDP for a soft landing and 13.5% for a hard one. Prices for British consumers would go up by about 30%, while Eurozone countries would lose roughly 2% of their GDP. And recently the Financial Times weighed in with some financial facts of its own. The EU, it wrote, had been good for Britain, raising the UK’s prosperity by about 10%. EU migrants, usually young and employed, contributed far more to the UK finances than they took out, and “much more than UK-born citizens“. Lastly, the Institute for Fiscal Studies anticipated that leaving the EU would cost the UK between 20 and 40 billion pounds a year. “Rarely has there been such a consensus among economists”, the paper wrote. Most of them think that leaving is bad for the UK economy and throwing out migrants completely counterproductive. Actually, they are so much in agreement that the OECD has just asked the UK for a second referendum “to reverse Brexit or destroy the economy“.

Are you listening, Pauline, Malcolm, Dutton? Migrants good, romantic nationalism bad. Just saying. And we need to pay attention too. Because let’s play out the non-migrant scenario. Without migrants, there will be a deep hole in the British labour market. I am not even talking about the astrophysicists, bankers and teachers who are already packing their bags and leaving. They will simply be impossible to replace. Instead, scientific organisations, banks and other institutions will move to Europe, causing an enormous brain drain to the UK. What is far more interesting is what will happen to all those jobs done by the people I met in London just now. The people running the restaurants, hotels, shops, museums, libraries. Without migrants, the British government will have to ask people on the unemployment registers to do those jobs. When they refuse, because they don’t want to work 16-hour days or wash dishes or be nice to tourists, they will be forced. If they then still say no, they will see their pensions and benefits cut. First a little, then a lot. And you know what: maybe I am paranoid, but I suspect that this is what the real aim of Brexit was all along.

No more sitting around receiving money for nothing. Migrants out, unemployed forcibly in. That will teach them to mingle with affairs of the state, which should only be run by the higher-up. What fun!

Think about it. In the beginning, Brexit was a dick-measuring contest between private schoolboys David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, with a little help from UKIP street fighter Nigel Farage. What do those Eton and Oxford tossers despise even more than migrants? People who don’t belong to their class. Us, poor schmucks who work for a living, pay our dues, and sometimes momentarily get into trouble and need some government help, like a cheque from Centrelink, or the Department for Work and Pensions, as the UK equivalent is called. Sure, we are sometimes useful. To serve them at their clubs or bring the crates of champagne to the backdoor. But when we start to have opinions about politics, or the way a country should be run, it is time to shut us down again. That they left to Theresa May, who is what they call a “one-nation conservative“. I won’t bother you with the history of that idea, but basically it emphasises “a paternalistic obligation of those who are privileged to the poor”. In its best form, this means social justice or even noblesse oblige, but in May’s case it has more to do with the Tories deciding what is good for the rest of us. And what is good for us, I suspect the consensus in the gentlemen’s club is, is to feel the cane again. No more sitting around receiving money for nothing, but getting reacquainted with the sweat of our brow. For as little payment as possible. Which will be the case after Brexit. Migrants out, unemployed forcibly in. That will teach them to mingle with affairs of the state, which should only be run by the higher-up. What fun!

So next time we vote for or against anything, let’s first wonder about the traps that are laid for us. We need to get used to thinking more. And asking the same question over and over: “and then what will happen?” Who is proposing what? What will happen to us when they get their way? And what is the next step, and the step after that? Are we being played, pitted against each other? And who benefits from that? Maybe if we do that, we can prevent Brexits and Trumps in future.

And become smart enough to run the world ourselves.

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website www.australia-explained.com.au, and runs www.lifebooks.com.au, telling people's life stories.

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