Brexit or not to Brexit, that’s the problem
After British Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested an extension to the UK’s exit from the EU, the block agreed to a “flextension” (flexible extension) until 31 January. On Tuesday night, the UK parliament voted overwhelmingly for a Christmas election which is due to take place on 12 December. Campaigning has already begun, with it being billed as the Brexit election.
Jenny Manson, the co-chairperson for the Jewish Voice for Labour, the party headed by Jeremy Corbyn, isn’t surprised by how events have unfolded. Like so many British Jews who arrived in the UK after World War I or during the 1930s after fleeing Nazi persecution, Manson’s mother’s family were immigrants. It was this background that motivated her – and she believes the majority of British Jews – to vote in favour of remaining in the EU.
“It’s a certain universalistic view of the world and connection with Europe,” she says. “For me, the language of Brexit is extremely uncomfortable, especially the language of anti-immigration. People naturally move to where there is work and they’re able to practice their religion.”
Lance Forman, a Jewish Brexit party politician, couldn’t disagree more. He was elected in May to the European Parliament on behalf of this anti-EU party, having jumped ship after being a Conservative party supporter for almost 40 years.
“Why would one want to be part of Europe today?” he asks. “There’s massive youth unemployment, Germany’s going into a recession, Italy hasn’t grown for the past 10 years. The single currency is killing Europe, and is causing a great dependency culture that breeds resentment and extremism.”
While agreeing with Manson that most British Jews favour remaining in the EU, he believes they’ve read the situation superficially.
“Instead of approaching Brexit from an economic perspective, they’re considering it from the standpoint of wanting peace in Europe and avoiding anti-Semitism. My analysis is the opposite. Jews say they’re afraid of nationalism and that it leads to anti-Semitism, but I say if you don’t believe in nationalism, then why do you believe in Israel? If Israel had existed in the 1930s, there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust as Jews would’ve had somewhere to go. There is nothing wrong with a nation state so long as it’s a liberal democracy. Nazi Europe wasn’t liberal.”
The SA Jewish Report caught up with two former South Africans living in the UK to gauge their opinion.
Beauty therapist Dallia Beifus, 43, left South Africa in 1996 as a 20-year-old backpacker looking for travel and adventure. She returned to Cape Town twenty years later with a husband and three children. Last year, she moved to the UK after her husband, who has a German passport, was offered a job there.
“I can’t believe people voted to leave. It goes against everything I believe in like inclusivity, collaboration, and creating more co-operation in the world,” she said.
“What I also can’t believe is that there wasn’t the requirement for at least a 60% majority to make such incredible changes to the country. All this mess over 4%, and even then the people voted only for a concept, and did not know what a messy process it would be. What about all the people that leave everything to try and make a future for themselves and their families in a new country? Immigrants work harder than anyone else to earn their new life. Having lived in so many countries myself, I’m extremely conscious of being an expat or the ‘right kind of foreigner’ in these countries.”
Johannesburg-born journalist Hayley Bentley (not her real name) moved to the UK 16 years ago after being hijacked and feeling “very uneasy about the high levels of crime and lack of job opportunities” in South Africa. Married with a toddler, she was fortunate to have a British passport and a job waiting for her in the UK.
Bentley voted for Brexit “because I believe that the European parliament – which consists of people who are not voted into their positions and certainly not voted in by me – has so much sway over decisions and laws in the UK. For example, if someone commits a crime in the UK and the courts here find him guilty, that person can go to the European courts of appeal and more often than not have their verdict overturned.”
Bentley was also worried about the prospect of Turkey joining the EU. “There was always the possibility that Turkey would join the EU after [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel decided to let everyone into Germany. I know that sounds racist and it’s not meant to be, but I was concerned by what this would mean for the UK.
“While I have a lot of sympathy for refugees, and I do think we should be letting them in, I was unhappy with the way it was being handled. I believe that a lot of the people who were let in as refugees weren’t actually refugees in the proper sense of the word. Instead, they were running away from economic or political hardship. Enough of them were also criminals. You can see that from what’s happening in Germany today, with a lot of criminal behaviour being carried out by refugees.
“Even if they weren’t criminals, I was concerned that a lot of refugees would come into the UK and that we had no plan for them, so they would end up living on the fringes of society and turn to crime.
“In retrospect, I think Brexit was probably a bad idea, not because the idea was bad, but because of the way it’s been handled by the government.”
Bentley is mostly worried that another election will bring Labour to power “which would be the worst thing ever, with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. I disagree with having another referendum because I don’t think you should keep having referendums until you get the answer you want. People have voted, and that should be respected.”