opinion : Andy West

The cost of Brexit… for those who care

Andy West

NOVEMBER 26 — Those nasty Europeans.

For years they’ve pretended to be our friends, but now — at the slightest hint of trouble — they are showing their true colours and proving themselves to be nothing but a bunch of mean and vicious Brit-haters. How dare they?!

I am talking, of course, about Brexit, and this week’s discovery that the United Kingdom’s impending divorce from the rest of the continent will actually have some negative consequences.

It’s been a pretty busy week in the strange world of Brexit, and none of it has been good news for the UK.

On Monday, it was announced that the European Medicines Agency, which until now has been based in London, will relocate to Amsterdam, while the European Banking Authority will also leave the English capital and move to Paris.

The direct impact of these administrative shake-ups will be the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, with an additional indirect hit of the removal of thousands of pounds of revenue for hotels and restaurants due to the departure of regular well-attended conferences.

Perhaps most importantly, the UK will also now have to set up its own system for vetting new medicines following the impending relocation of the central European authority, which is sure to be a complex and costly process and, it is feared, could lead to tens of thousands of patients being denied access to treatment while the new processes are put in place.

Another snub was delivered later in the week when the EU confirmed that British cities will no longer, in the wake of Brexit, be eligible to apply for the status of “European City of Culture” — an award which is bestowed each year upon a couple of cities and results in a series of high-profile cultural events along with considerable investment in infrastructure.

To complete a miserable week for Camp Brexit, there have also been leaks from an Irish government report which paints the British government in a highly unfavourable light, with leaders from across Europe banding together to brand their UK counterparts as incompetent and ridden by internal conflict.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and European Council President Donald Tusk (right) attend a bilateral meeting during the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, on November 24, 2017. — AFP picBritain’s Prime Minister Theresa May (left) and European Council President Donald Tusk (right) attend a bilateral meeting during the Eastern Partnership summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, on November 24, 2017. — AFP picAll in all, then, you’d perhaps conclude that even the staunchest supporters of Brexit would be starting to have second thoughts about the consequences of last year’s vote.

But in reality, that’s not the case. Because the truth is that Britain is brutally and probably irreconcilably divided between opponents of Brexit — the kind of people who will have been saddened by this week’s developments — and supporters of Brexit, who really couldn’t care less.

The average supporter of the British divorce from the EU has no interest whatsoever in the location of some obscure administrative medical and financial offices.

They don’t give two hoots about Dundee or Leeds or wherever being denied the opportunity to call itself a made-up title like a cultural capital. They don’t give a damn what foreign politicians think about Boris Johnson.

All they care about is Britain taking this moment in time as a chance to reassert itself as a proud and independent nation, answerable to nobody but Britons and keeping itself at a safe distance — at least 20 miles, the width of the Channel between south-east England and north-west France — from whatever might be happening “on the continent”, as they habitually refer to the rest of Europe.

At the more extreme ends of the Brexit spectrum, all they care about is “getting our country back”, whatever that means, and kicking out the foreigners — especially the brown ones and the ones who talk funny languages.

Why on earth would people who think like that, whose window on the world is so narrow, be at all disappointed to learn that an obscure branch of medical services, which they have never heard of, is moving to Amsterdam?

In fact, they’re likely to be pleased rather than disappointed, happily waving goodbye to one of those many unnecessary groups of Brussels bureaucrats who have been slowly but surely chipping away at British sovereignty in the last few years.

“We don’t need a European Medicines Agency!” they will be yelping. “We only need a British Medicines Agency! And it will be much better than anything involving those Frenchies!”

Ok, I’m painting an exaggerated (slightly) picture for effect, but you get the point. People who are opposed to Brexit are dismayed by the news that a pair of prestigious administrative bodies are leaving the UK because they believe that pan-European co-operation and the exchange of ideas are good things.

But the many millions of people who like the idea of the UK abandoning the EU and following its own path are, in direct contrast, fervently opposed to the idea of foreigners meddling in British affairs. For them, pan-European co-operation and the exchange of ideas are bad things, and anything that makes them go away should be celebrated.

So it’s really a bit of an impasse, and the only thing which will make either side revise their opinions is if their lives are directly impacted by the changes that are bound to take place.

If the pro-Europeans discover that conducting business and providing health care becomes easier and more efficient without the irritating red tape of over-sized European organisations, they may start to think that Brexit is actually a pretty good idea.

Or, and much more likely, if a member of the “Make Britain Great Again” gang suddenly becomes aware that Aunty Ethel can’t get the medicines she needs because they haven’t been put on the market yet in the UK, even though sufferers of the same conditions in Germany and Italy are receiving effective treatment, their assumption that British is best could come under revision.

For now, though, the only people who will be saddened by the “bad news” surrounding Brexit are those who don’t want Brexit to happen in the first place. For everyone else, it’s business as usual. British business, that is.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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