Travelling across Europe provides the opportunity to quiz Germans, Swedes, French, Spanish and UK nationals living abroad about their attitude to Brexit.
Somewhat surprisingly, given how much attention is focused on the Brexit aftermath in the UK, the reaction from everyone, including a travelling Japanese lady, is most aptly put by German-born Constanza: “We have other things to think about now. So Brexit isn’t something we have much of an opinion on.”
“That said,” continues Constanza, “we think Brexit was totally stupid. It is very arrogant of the UK to think they can be a serious power on their own outside the EU, when Africa and Asia are also forming economic and political blocs. You have just made yourselves small and insignificant”.
Has Brexit affected them?
Parisian economist John confesses: “To be honest, I do not really follow Brexit and I don’t really care about the topic in the sense that it doesn’t affect me much day to day.” He goes on to say that Brexit does not come up in French politics. Then caveats that with: “Apart maybe from slight problems with fishing and more importantly, though this was also before Brexit, the conflict over small boat migrants.”
Chris, a UK national who has lived in France for many decades, says: “The most important change for me is the effect of the exchange rate on my UK savings and retirement pension. It seems that the main sterling drop was at about the time of the Brexit referendum rather than the Brexit itself.”
He continues: “That said, Brexit hasn’t affected us much although sending stuff between the two countries is more complicated.”
Was Brexit a factor in his decision to adopt French nationality?
“Yes and no. I had intended to take French nationality for many years. It simplifies things but I have always put it off because of the paperwork involved. With Brexit it was either that or a residence permit which also requires much paperwork. The choice was evident.”
Christina from Sweden echoed Norman Lamb’s sentiment that the UK often shared the same views as the Swedes. “So we miss the UK support in negotiations.”
She adds: “It’s hard for Swedish students. Given they learn English, the natural place for them to study, and their preferred choice, was the UK. But not now.”
Constanza grins, “Well we don’t have the fruit and vegetable shortages that the UK has!”
What about the UK re-joining the EU?
Jose Antonio gives his Spanish perspective. “I believe it was a hasty decision and without proper debate. I think European unity was a great achievement and good for all members. The separation has hurt both parties. It would be good if the UK returned.”
“Yes,” says Stefan, “it would be good if the UK re-joined. Nordic states would be happy.”
Anna, who lives in Paris, says: “It’s not that we think the UK re-joining the EU is of little importance, it’s just that there are more important matters for France. With the pandemic and Ukraine, Brexit hasn’t been on our radar for a long time! Brexit just happened. Discussion of it got quickly wiped out by the other striking news“.
John concurs: “I think the topic had a lot of resonance in French news when it happened / was on the verge of happening. But since then, it isn’t much in the news.”
He goes on to say: “I haven’t travelled to the UK since Brexit and I’m not even sure it changes much apart from the fact that we need a passport instead of an ID card. But since it was never in the Euro Zone and never really in the Schengen free-movement zone, it doesn’t change much for us in practice.”
“But of course we would prefer if the UK was in the EU,” says Anna. “And even more if the UK had adopted the Euro. For the French travelling in the UK, the UK never really felt like a European country without the Euro”.
The feeling in Germany was that the UK, like Hungary and Poland, want the EU money and none of the commitments. “The UK seems to forget,” says Constanza “that the Germans also have to follow the agreed rules. The EU needs commitment. If you are in, you are in.”
What of Boris Johnson?
Inevitably the topic of Boris Johnson came up. “Boris Johnson was very entertaining with his tousled hair and crumpled suits. Great for a dinner party,” chuckles Stefan. “But he makes wrong decisions.”
“Ah,” says Klaus, “that reminds me of a joke that was doing the rounds in Germany during the Brexit negotiations.”
Boris Johnson: We want a Unicorn! EU: Unicorns don’t exist. You can have a Pony instead. Johnson: We decided by a referendum that we don’t want to have a Pony. EU: You can have a Pony or Nothing. Johnson: We decided by referendum that we don’t want to have Nothing. EU: You still don’t understood at all, do you? Johnson: We need more time to think about it. EU: About what? The Pony or the Nothing? Johnson: We want a Unicorn!
On a more serious note, Christina observes that Boris Johnson, and Donald Trump have given more life to a pernicious legacy: the three-word slogan.
“It’s the same in Germany,” says Klaus. “People are only prepared to read headlines.” He laments how worrying it is when friends say about a well-written article that they didn’t read it because “it was too long”.
He goes on to say that another worrying trend is the adoption of innocuous-sounding names for political parties and think-tanks that give an impression completely the opposite of their intent. “In the main it’s the right-wing groups that adopt these.”
A Japanese view
And what of the Japanese perspective? Junko says: “Many Japanese firms like Honda have moved out of the UK to Düsseldorf or Frankfurt.” This is confirmed by Constanza. “Yes, a lot of Japanese are in Frankfurt and Germany”.
Junko made this pertinent observation: “What is lost with Brexit, is there is no strong country to temper the French / German axis. The UK played this role.”
Stefan agreed. “The Nordic countries feel they have lost a champion.”