Commentary / World

Britain: Keeping calm amid chaos

by Barry D. Wood

The Globalist

During the German blitz in the Battle of Britain, correspondent Edward R. Murrow marveled at how Londoners stoically carried on amid the nightly horrors of aerial bombing.

In an obviously different context, I find a similar mentality prevailing in England as the summer of 2019 ends. The message I take away from London and the countryside is, “We’ve had three years of continuous inconclusive debate, now let’s get on with it and leave the European Union no matter what on Oct. 31.”

This readiness to move on, I think, is what Prime Minister Boris Johnson is banking on when he called for “prorogation” (i.e., a suspension of parliamentary debate) until mid-October. Outside politically active circles, his announcement has largely been greeted with a yawn. There’s been enough talking.

Of course, in the Brexit debate, many important issues cry out for resolution. Foremost is the Irish border. And what about the nearly 2.5 million EU-born, non-British people living in the United Kingdom? I put that question to almost every person I met.

Whether in London or elsewhere, it’s clear that Britain would grind to a halt without foreign labor. Unemployment in the U.K. is at a 44-year low of 3.9 percent. In such an economy, there aren’t enough Brits to fill the jobs that exist.

And that’s where the Eastern Europeans come in. Their labor has contributed to the U.K. boom. At present, there are about 250,000 east Europeans working in Britain. Without exception, those that I talked to intend to stay.

At a hotel/restaurant near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, I discovered that 30 of the inn’s 40 staff are Eastern Europeans. They were lured to Britain by high wages and the English language. I spoke to five employees — from Bulgaria, Czechia, Latvia and Romania — and not one professed to be worried about Brexit. A Czech waiter said, “I’ve been here five years. Something will work out. I’m absolutely not concerned.” The Bulgarian barman sniffed, “they’re not stupid here. Of course, things will work out.”

During the three years since the Brexit referendum, uncertainty and the need to plan prompted many Eastern Europeans to leave. In 2018, 76,000 departed but that outflow has diminished this year.

Outside the circles of Tory hardliners, there are few who believe that Johnson can work any magic on the EU to win a better deal from Brussels and the other EU capitals.

That, however, is pretty much the prerequisite for Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament to make sense. If that doesn’t happen — and the very strong odds are that it won’t — then what Johnson is left with for a general election is the argument to get rid of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Already, Johnson and his hard-line advisers in Downing Street No. 10 have gotten rid of those obstinate Tories — many stalwarts of Conservative Party politics — that have been yammering for so long about further options. They were simply eliminated from the Tory party ranks, but may in future run as independent candidates.

Regardless of which side of the political equation of Brexit one stands on, most people in the U.K. have an abiding sense that the time for resolution has arrived.

After all, the blitz lasted only eight months. The Brexit conundrum has already droned on for more than three years.

Barry D. Wood is a Washington writer and broadcaster. www.theglobalist.comr