Peter is an English sound engineer who has had a home in France since 2005 where he now more permanently lives with his wife. Peter has kept strong ties with his country where most of his family still live. He is employed by his business which he runs with his son, in London and he regularly crosses the channel to meet with his business partners, carry out his sound engineering activities and to represent a European manufacturer for around ‘200 days per year’ in his exact words. Even though in a very British way he admits that ‘regrettably his opinion no longer matters because the vote has been passed’ he has agreed to be the first contributor to this series of Brexit portraits.
« We may need to take our own action to ensure the best possible life »
What did you vote for at the referendum?
I went back to the UK and voted Remain. My perception is that without any shadow of a doubt the UK is better placed as part of the EU both from a trading and a commercial perspective but also from a perspective that is not often mentioned which is in a cross-border communication and mutual understanding.
What were your first reaction when you and your wife took notice of the referendum results?
Shock, dismay and disappointment; we immediately knew the negative effects that this would have on Britain.
It was also a mixture of surprise and discomfort because just the night before we had met with people that we had known for years, from a similar social background to ourselves, who said they were voting for Brexit and this we had not anticipated.
With the benefit of hindsight what do you think motivated brexiteers ?
The thing is that the people who campaigned for Brexit spoke a very loud populist message, they spoke in a very simple language. Many brexiteers were deluded, imagining that England is still some great empire with a powerful amount of wealth. There is a strong attitude within some English quarters of believing that the rest of the world is trying to tell them what to do. For example it is widely acknowledged that it was very unhelpful for President Obama to go to England and say “I’m sorry but in a trade deal you will be at the back of the queue compared to Europe”. People became very angry.
What were the benefits of the EU membership in your opinion?
The EU has provided a lot of support for under developed areas in England and underprivileged people. It is widely publicised that the UK has to pay to be in the EU and this has been presented as a waste but incredibly there was very little mention of the regions that had received a lot of money donated by the EU; that some money was coming back: Cornwall in the extreme west of Britain, Wales, the North East of Britain. The normal English media could never say “Hey this is a great thing the EU is doing”. For example the EU paid for fibre broadband to be installed in the West of England, and nobody knew. The EU paid for certain roads to be constructed around areas in Wales to encourage regeneration, nobody spoke of this!
I have never heard any British invoking European citizenship as an argument, why so?
It seems that the only way people could be persuaded the EU is a good thing was to persuade them it is good from a trade perspective. The other problem is that the English have a certain perception with regards to immigration. Britain has been built on immigration with enormous numbers of people migrating in to England long before it was a member of the EU from every part of the world.
There is also a hidden issue here, which is rarely spoken of in the British media, which is that there are many towns where the majority of the population are second and third generation migrants from an earlier, pre-EU period and this is a category that voted Brexit because Europeans represented a direct Labour competition to them.
Prior to the Brexit debate how did you perceive the EU?
In general terms I was entirely positive towards the EU. In 2010 when we had a coalition government we felt really quite optimistic because the Liberal Democrat element were both highly economically qualified and competent but also socially leaning and Pro-European.
Within the David Cameron conservative party there was always immense pressure from the backbench MPs, many of whom were fairly extreme right wing, old-fashioned English politicians. I am thinking of many of those who are now in power and who, quite frankly I incorrectly thought had long since gone away. Admittedly, during Margaret Thatcher’s time they inherited some horrendous industrial problems from the 1970’s that needed to be addressed but they do not seem to have been able to acquire a socially caring approach which has caused many less fortunate people to feel forgotten. The UKIP party appears to have grown out of these attitudes and, bizarrely, is somehow blaming the EU for problems caused long before EU membership.
Unfortunately, David Cameron finally relented to the pressure and agreed to this referendum, the extremists reappeared, campaigned very powerfully and as we now know, were telling all sorts of lies about the EU but they have been successful!
It sounds like your political elite disappoints you. Is Brexit rather a problem emerging from British politics than a direct response to the EU decisions and policies?
The sort of thing we had probably hoped for was that the campaign by the moderate Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would have been successful; the Labour Party failed to show up. Lib Dem policies were in my perception, about lessening the tax burden on low wages, trying to regenerate run down parts of the country from an informed economic position. When they were political partners of the Conservatives they had a very positive influence, they were pro Europe. We were very much in favour of their approach. Things were looking reasonably encouraging. So we would have liked to see that continue.
The core catalyst which enabled Brexit to happen is that with the country already being ideologically divided and a growing right-wing separatist sort of approach developing amongst so called ‘forgotten people’ it was possible for Brexit campaigners to go to those towns and say “Hey look what’s happening in your town, all these Europeans are coming in and taking your jobs”.
How do you see the future of Britain?
Britain certainly is in a serious situation. First of all what we need to be prepared for is that the Scots are willing to try to seek independence from the UK. The SNP is a very socialist EU leaning party. Scots have no social connection with England and the Labour Party has lost his influence in the North so Scotland could well break away, personally I believe that it would be in their interest to do so. One of the phrases that is being used at the moment by the Scottish National Party is “this is not just about trade, it is about how do we wish to be seen by the rest of the world, what sort of people are we”. The English are showing themselves as being prickly and hostile and, understandably the Scots do not wish to be associated with that position.
What we have not touched upon yet is that there is an awful lot of European citizens living and working in Britain now. The sort of people that I am thinking about are the large number of Polish, Bulgarians and Romanians who have moved to some of the poorest parts of the country and somehow through their own hard work have generated some sort of an economy, if they chose to leave and go back to wherever they come from those areas would be like a desert.
As a British citizen living abroad how has Brexit already affected you?
At the moment there is uncertainty as to what the future may hold but at present we have not been affected, we may need to take our own actions to ensure the best possible life for our family.
Today, if a person who is not a French passport holder wishes to become a French resident, they have to apply for the “carte de séjour”. But that only applies to people who are non EU-residents. I do know that there are many other British citizens carefully considering the position of apply for French citizenship through tax means.