I was talking to a Polish colleague on the morning of the announcement of the result. I asked her what she thought of what was happening, she was concerned about being able to afford her mortgage and whether the interest rates would go up. This surprised me, I expected her to be worried about being allowed to stay, things like that that. As our conversation continued she expressed bemusement at the way the UK treated EU immigrants. She had a part time job as a translator for local government, one of several people doing that job. She added that if I were to go to Poland, there would be no such help from local government and that I would be left to fend for myself. She believed that the way we go out of our way to help (and spend money on) these people was our undoing, the reason for so many people being disillusioned with being in the EU.
On the face of it she is right but it’s not that simple. Our open door, welcoming and helping all-comers is one of the things that makes us British. Our generosity of spirit is recognised around the world as being a trait of our nation. The problem is not the fact that we do it, the problem is that too many immigrants know this and take advantage of it.
Most of the people of the nations making up the original EU core stay in their home country. There are probably roughly an equal number of English in France as there are French people in England. Amongst the core nations, there is this balance of immigrants. Some of the later nations, Poland comes to mind in particular, probably have more of their population in other EU nations than those nations have people in Poland, but the Polish are hard working people. I know of a lot of Polish in the UK and they are all in work and skilled work at that. they are spread evenly across the country and have become an accepted part of our communities.
The problem is not just when this balance is uneven. Several countries on joining the EU had large numbers of their population bomb-burst across the EU with no real work to go to apart from the manual work in factories or on the land. Many of these people are also hard working, taking their families for a better life and they are prepared to work for it. They integrate into the communities, speak the language of their host nation and generally contribute. However there are a significant proportion that are not like this.
In the UK we do have a comprehensive social security system, much more generous than many other countries in the EU. EU rules stipulate that we treat all EU citizens as we treat our own nationals. So they come to us because they get more than they do at home and we have to pay it because the rules say we have to.
That is what pisses so many people off. Our social security system and NHS are pushed to breaking point trying to accommodate a lot more people than were planned for. Chemists are dealing with EU residents turning up with prescriptions from our Doctors with lists of drugs, and at the same time fielding questions from native British elderly because they cannot even get a doctors appointment, never mind a prescription. Our system cannot support what the EU says we must do. So we either have to cut the cost of the benefits that people get or we reduce the number of people getting them. No one wants to cut the benefits, the Conservatives are trying to do it but face battles with every change. We try to restrict what non-British citizens can get from our system but the other EU nations block us.
Something had to give and it was being in the EU.
I have no idea what will happen over the coming months, but I hope we do not give away control of our borders for access to the common market. Yes, we are stepping out into the unknown. I’m not that worried about what the EU leaders or our politicians are saying at the moment, it’s just pre-negotiation posturing. I am cautiously optimistic about the long term future. No one is going to kick out the migrants that are already here or send back the ex-pats currently living in EU countries. I can’t see us not being able to go and work in the EU, it may involve a bit more paperwork but so what. Same with people coming to work in the UK, if you have skills we need then I can’t see you not being able to get in. Businesses will adapt to the new trading environment, whatever that may be, of course there will be pain, a recession maybe but it will eventually end and we’ll come out the other side.
Yes, I did vote to leave, but I was changing my mind back and forth constantly on the run up to the vote. In the end it came down to one thing for me, do I stick my head in the sand and pretend everything is OK, or do I say this isn’t working and it will just get worse, knowing I have no idea of what the alternative may look like.