Once upon a time there was a farmer named Brit who lived with his faithful hunting dog near a village secluded in the middle of the mountains. That village had been built over the years by people arrived from all surrounding territories. Although there had been disagreements and disputes because of their differences, the villagers lived in relative tranquility. The village was known for raising chickens, especially Brit´s farm where the chickens reproduced quickly and happily. However, Brit and the villagers had no other types of food because of the place geographical conditions.
In those mountains also took refuge a gaggle of foxes who barely survived stealing chickens from the farms. One day, the foxes plotted a plan to take advantage of the farmers and improve their existence. One of the foxes disguised himself as a humble cat and went to visit Brit. With sweet words, the fox proposed to Brit the idea of finding other villages and try to exchange with them chickens by other types of food. Brit thought that it was a great plan and so he transmitted it to the villagers who, excited, agreed. Thus, it began a period of prosperity. Soon the roads were full of food shipments; all villages enjoyed a great variety of food; people shared knowledge and traditions, and could move and live with freedom where they wanted. Many of them settled down in Brit´s village which was growing in diversity, services and population.
In the meantime the foxes were carrying out their plan. They were stealing on the sly small quantities of food from the shipments that were journeying the roads without the owners noticing it. On this way, the foxes were gaining on weigh while the food was diminishing. After a while, the losses were noted by the villagers although nobody knew exactly what the cause was. Even though, the villagers kept on contributing with the same sum of chickens for the exchange, but little by little they were receiving less and less food. This damaged the wealth of the village and brought an epoch of austerity. People began to suffer deprivation and scarcity, and discomfort and suspicion spread throughout the region.
Brit was not an exception, the seed of the suspect had also been sown in his hearts, and he spent the days in conflict thinking that perhaps that exchange had not been a good idea. One day when he was loading his wagon discovered a fox hidden among the chickens. Immediately he raised his shotgun and he aimed the fox with the intention of shooting him. The fox, terrified, begged for his life and offered Brit to reveal the reason which had led the village to austerity if he did not killed him. Brit consented, and the fox explained to him that it was the fault of the other villages which were providing much less food than they were receiving. Also, the fox convinced Brit that the foreigners who had been settled in his village were taking advantage of the resources without giving anything in exchange, and they were corrupting the his village´s identity.
Brit went mad and without thinking too much met with the villagers and told them what the fox had reported. After trying to negotiate best conditions with the other villages, the villagers called for a general vote on the matter and decided, based on the results, to break the union of free trade and movement and throw out all people who were not native of the place. In a short time, the villagers were only eating chicken, the old habits and traditions were restored, and they were once again insolated in the middle of the mountains, but this time without there were not possibilities of new horizons.
After that, one night Brit sat on his farm porch to gaze at the stars. Suddenly, he heard a strange noise in the barn that he could not distinguish, and he thought that maybe one of the foreign locals had returned to steal from him. He picked up his rifle, walked between the darkness towards the place where the noise came from, and without thinking shot to a bulge that it was moving. After a few minutes, he approached to the bulge to discover his faithful and beloved dog dead with an injured fox between his teeth.
United Kingdom, land of immigrants
United Kingdom, land of colonial past, immigration, and cultural diversity, has been building over decades with the help of people from all parts of the globe. After the Second World War, the vast British Empire was dismantled, their colonies gradually were obtaining the desired independence, and the Commonwealth1 was created as a legacy from this historical period. This intergovernmental organization had as a main objective to establish cooperative relationships between United Kingdom and the former colonies, which facilitated immigration to UK mainly from India, Southeast Asia, Oceania and Caribbean.
This migratory flow2 was promoted by the British Government due to the urgent need for labor to rebuild the country after the Second World War. The government appeals attracted thousands of people especially Caribbean and Hindus3 in the 50´s and 60´s. Also Polish4 and Ukrainian people, displaced because of war, joined to the workforces. In the next decades, Hungarian5 and Somalian6 refugees, escaped from the civil wars in their countries, were enlarged even more the immigrant number. That progressive increase of the foreign population made that immigration laws became tighter. However, the British society was already a population of great ethnic diversity and multicultural.
Although the incorporation of immigrants to the British labor market was the key for the reconstruction of a devastated country and its subsequent economic development, foreign people were not always been accepted by the society. Many cases of discrimination7 and racist attacks8 have been happening over the course of the decades to the present day. At the same time, this situation was offset from the 1970s through the development of a series of protection laws. As a result, the Equality of Opportunities Act 20109 attempts to ensure justice against any type of discrimination by race, religion, age, sex, disability or sexual orientation. As in our fable, villagers managed to live together in a relatively tranquility despite their racial and cultural differences.
Union between Unions
As a result of the two World Wars, it was purposed the creation of a European countries Union in order to ensure peace in the continent and avoid future wars. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, defended this idea in a speech at the University of Zurich in 1946. Five years later, the first treaties were signed among the 6 initial countries which constituted what we know today as European Union10. Since then, the UE has been building and expanding until reach the 28 current members. Numerous and arduous negotiations have led to the establishment of a Single European Market11 based on four freedoms: free movement of goods, capital, services and people.
UK incorporated in the Union in the 7312, this decision was supported through a referendum two years later. Since then, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU has been distinguished by continuous negotiations, discrepancies and concessions. After Schengen Agreement in 1995, it began the elimination of internal borders among the Union members. Great Britain and Ireland have not acceded to this agreement. In 1998, United Kingdom decided to stay out of Economic and Monetary Union and the consequent introduction of the euro as the single currency. In 2011, the UK was the only union member who opted to refuse the European budget agreement to support the Eurozone in their attempts to get out of the economic crisis.
A year later in 2012, still in crisis and recession times, for the first time conservative president David Cameron presented the possibility of conducting a referendum to vote if UK should remain or leave the EU. In 2015, the British Parliament granted the permission to hold the referendum and the President undertakes to carry it out. At the end of that same year UK expounded their demands to the UE, among which ones were requested a greater national control over the European law, less regulation in the single market, and the restriction of benefits to European workers as a measure to curb massive immigration.
Although the EU granted a great part of the UK requests, like the restriction of European worker rights through the so-called "Mechanism of alert", the referendum would determine the final decision. On 21st June 2016 the results13 show that 51.9 per cent of UK citizens voted to leave the EU. On this way, a European historical period ends to open a new chapter still uncertain. But, why it was decided to hold the referendum at that time? What was happening in the United Kingdom to make such a decision? Let´s go back in time until the moment of not disagreements.
From economic prosperity to austerity
As our fable there was a prosperity period. For 15 consecutive years, between 1997 and 2008, the British14 economy experienced a constant growth becoming the richest European nation. A neo-liberal economic15 politics, already started in the 80s by Margaret Tatcher, based on financial liberalization, public industries and services privatization, labour market deregulation, and lack of social protection, was the key to success. The free circulation of products, goods, services and people that the EU offered favored the wealthy period and contributed to cover the demand of workers.
In 2004, 10 new countries from East Europe joined the union. Many of the former members temporarily restricted16 access to European workers for fear of a massive wave of immigration. However, United Kingdom did not adapt these preventive measures but, on the contrary, the newcomers were welcomed to satisfy the needed labour force of a booming economy. During this time also there was a rapprochement from the UK to the EU. In 2005, President Tony Blair expressed the possibility of joining the euro if given the appropriate economic conditions in the future, and in 2008 the British Parliament approved the Lisbon Treaty17, a project to ensure the best operation of the union.
The plan hatched by the foxes had been a success. It was a thriving time in which neither the European immigration, nor the EU politics were a problem for UK. This economic growth increased the pockets of the richer ones, but also the poverty and inequality levels18 in the country. Since neoliberal economic measures began to implement at the beginning of the 80, the number of people living below the poverty line doubled reaching 13 million and half of British people during the next decades. But the worst was about to come, the global financial crisis also hit the United Kingdom strongly ending with the illusion of a constant and unbroken economic growth.
The financial crisis initiated in United States in 200819 with the burst of the housing bubble spread like wildfire to the European countries. In UK, as in other state members, the government had to rescue the banking system to prevent the collapse of the country. Economic recession20 along with the precipitous fall of the pound and the dizzying loss of employment was the beginning of a new era of austerity that still continues. The 2010 elections21 established a coalition government between the conservative and labour British political parties, with conservative leader David Cameron as Prime Minister. It was then when a series of austerity measures started to be imposed to try to stimulate the economy and reduce the deficit. The government put into effect the highest cuts of public expenses since the Second World War in social services like health, education, or unemployment benefits.
Who are the foxes?
Cuts22 from the coalition government have caused an accelerated unemployment increase in the public sector, affecting especially to women who are the 68% of this labour force. As consequence purchasing power has decreased, retail sales have fallen, local economies have been affected, debts and difficulties to afford mortgage payments have increased, and more and more people live on poverty line. However, while the worker population sees how their wages are devalued, large corporations increase their profits. They are the results of the privatization of important economy sectors, the progressive market deregulation, the strategic evasion of corporate taxes, and the restriction of the union voice.
On the other hand, the financial crisis also brought a new wave of European immigration to the UK. Thousands of Europeans who are trying to escape from an uncertain future have been adding to the immigrants who arrived after the enlargement of the EU in 2004 and the incorporation of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. During the last decade European immigration23 has significantly increased to 270 thousand people getting close to the immigrant number of no European countries, 277 thousand at end 2015. The total number of immigrants reaches 630 thousands which beating an historical record. On this way, those newcomers who in thriving times were welcomed, in crisis time become a controversial and serious problem.
On this landscape of austerity, cuts, social insecure and massive European immigration, is not a coincidence that certain xenophobic ideas and anti-European political parties have gained a great popularity. It is the case of UKIP24, United Kingdom independence Party, leads it by Nigel Farage from 2006. In the last years this ultra-conservative party has accumulated supports and has obtained a bigger representation both in the Parliament European and in the last elections in 2015. Its main objective is that UK leaves the EU. Accordantly, UKIP has been the principal sponsor during the campaign in favor to Brexit in last June referendum. Their arguments insist on the fact that the EU imposes excessive regulations and costs in contrast to what the UK receives in exchange. They also defend the ideas of recovering UK border control, and decreasing the amount of immigrants who have the same rights and social benefits than British citizens. Moreover, they advocate for regaining the British sovereignty and cultural identity based on its historical and cultural distinction with respect to Europe.
A divided country, an uncertain future
This campaign of xenophobic tinge and clearly anti-Europeanist obtained a great popular support as the referendum results demonstrated, in particular in rural localities without migratory precedents where many East Europeans had settled after the enlargement of the EU. The long-term consequences of this British decision people are still to be determined. However, we can be already observed some of the separation25 effects: economic uncertainty, depreciation of the pound, flight of companies, division and confrontations between citizenship, increases in racist attacks and riots26… these are just the prelude of a new era for the United Kingdom and Europe.
A new era that begins with a separation, not only at the political or economic level but also among those who make up a country, those who supposedly decided, they are the British people. There are those who persist in the rupture, convinced that the Union is stealing their wealth and identity; they are the ones who think that their subsistence depends on the closing of the borders to those who one day helped to build their houses. There are those who suffer attacks and scorns from these fearful people; they are the ones who, like the beloved Brit´s dog, are beaten by their peers just because they are or look like foreigners. There are those who generations ago came to settle and, locked in their fear and comfort, they feel threatened by their peers; they are the ones who refuse to grant the opportunity that once they were provided with. There are those who doubt, they do not exactly know the reason which lead them to place that vote in the ballot box and later, shocked by the consequences, they look for explanations in untimely time; they are the thousands ones who typed “what is the EU?” after the results. There are those who regret their decision and in a common retraction come together to ask for a second chance, a second referendum; they are the Breget27 movement. There are those who had it clear in their minds and remained faithful to the proverb "unity is strength"; they are, for example, thousands of Scots. There are those who could not vote and have to resign themselves and accept what others decided; they are young people under the age of 18 who may not discover their continent freely. There are those who, even being part of the Kingdom, had no voice; they are hundreds of Europeans who have lived and contributed to the country for decades. There are those who even holding a British passport could not pronounce themselves; they are those millions of English criticizers who live abroad. There are also those who persist in expressing themselves and be people of the world; they are the ones who identify themselves with the motto that adorns London tube: "The dignity has no nationality".
• Commonwealth of Nations
• Modern Immigration to the United Kingdom
• HMT Empire Windrush
• Poles in the UK
• Hungarian Revolution 1956
• Somalis in the UK
• European Union
• European Union Single Market
• Economy of the UK
• Elecciones Generales del Reino Unido 2010
• Partido de la Independencia de Reino Unido
internations.org > Discrimination and racism in the UK
irr.org.uk > Institute of Race Relations. Racial Violence: Facing Reality. Jon Burnett
20minutos.es > Cronología Brexit: Relaciones entre la UE y UK. Miguel Maiket, 2016
internacional.elpais.com > Reino Unido vota por dejar la Unión Europea. Pablo Guimón y Claudi Pérez, 2016
tradingeconomics.com > UK Economy Growth Statistic from 80´s to 2016
europarl.europa.eu > Parlamento Europeo: Libre circulación de personas
ec.europa.eu > Archives: Lisbon Treaty
oxfam.org > UK Study Case: The true cost of austerity and inequality, 2013
cafebabel.es > La crisis económica de 2008 explicada. Dave Keating, 2008
elmundo.es > Reino Unido, en recesión con una económica del 1,5%. Agencia EFE, 2009
pcs.org.uk > There is an alternative: The case against cuts in public spending
ons.gov.uk > Office for National Statistics: Immigration to the UK
theguardian.com > One month on what is the impact of the Brexit vote so far, 2016
aljazeera.com > Brexit increase racist attacks after UE referendum, 2016
elmundo.es > El lamento de los británicos que votaron por el Brexit, 2016