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Obama, Schäuble and the bullying of Brits

There is a referendum due in ten days on Britain's continued membership of the European Union. Shall we stay or shall we go? Many notable folk have expressed an opinion on this and those who don't live in Britain have mostly encouraged us to stay. Some European actors and actresses have told us how much they like us and this has produced a nice warm feeling, different from the usual scorn reserved for the political opinions of performers. Some economists have warned of dire consequences if we go while others have told of unimaginable prosperity when we do. All have had a polite hearing, even those who are plainly pleading their own special interest. Politicians of the main two parties are divided, as are families but the debate has been mostly been carried on civilly at a surprisingly high level. So far so good.

But there have been other interventions, from those who couch their advice more like a threat. The US President warns that Britain would be at the back of the queue when trying to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with his country. The German Finance minister has said more or less the same thing about the prospects for a post-Brexit trade deal between the remaining EU and a newly-departed Britain. Leaving aside the question as to whether either one of them can influence matters in two years time, this has had the opposite effect from the one intended. Brits are famously difficult members of the EU and this has led to us often being in a minority of one in European arguments over years. This is mostly because we don't like being told what to do by those who hold themselves out as experts and probably reflects our disastrous experience with a over-mighty government in the post-war period. We tried that and it didn't work.

It also reflects the national character. We Brits are usually persuadable by argument but it is counter-productive to threaten us, no matter how real that threat may be. We even have a phrase for it - to be 'bloody-minded' means to be fiercely independent even to the point of self-damage. The response to both these gentlemen's words has been a hardened of opinion against remaining in the EU.

Those who want us to stay, should say so using whatever argument they like. Those who want us to go,  should threaten us with the consequences of leaving.


Richard Edwards (already voted by post).