The Brexit Show reaches its fifth birthday
Why the Spanish are so pro-EU
My Spanish friends and acquaintances, all Anglophiles, have watched bemused and befuddled as the UK has shot itself in the foot in what many have called ‘an act of national suicide’. Hardly surprising that the Spanish are so puzzled by Brexit, Spain herself having been veritably transformed by EU membership. Under Franco’s dictatorship the country was a closed market to protect its somewhat under-developed industries; the Spanish consumer often had to be content with shoddy goods like the primitive electric fire and the desk lamp I bought when a student there in 1969-70.
Joining the European Economic Community on 1 January 1986 meant enduring great pain for some of Spain’s industrial sector. Agriculture and fishing in particular suffered as they adapted to the free-market conditions. However, Spain sprinted to catch up with the rest of western Europe: membership brought greater prosperity and economic security in a less than a decade. A further bonus was the new-found confidence seen when in 1992 Spain hosted the Barcelona Olympic Games, Expo ’92 in Seville, and Madrid was designated the European Capital of Culture.
Brexit evaluated: just a show?
Carlos Fresneda, the London correspondent of the Spanish daily, El Mundo, produced an evaluation of Brexit on 23 June, the fifth anniversary of that fateful referendum under the headline: “El ‘show’ del Brexit cumple cinco años”, (“The Brexit ‘show’ reaches its fifth birthday”). The article is prefixed by reference to unresolved conflicts, others appearing on the horizon, and serious structural problems generated by the ‘hard’ divorce. As an example of how trade has been affected, the article states that food and drink producers are lamenting the drop of almost 50 per cent in exports to the EU.
Describing the referendum result as a total surprise to the world, and to the British themselves, Fresneda finds it somewhat suspiciously convenient that David Cameron resigned the following day. He credits Boris Johnson as having boosted the chances of the Leave Campaign, and Dominic Cummings with ‘pulling out of his hat’ the slogan “Take back control”… Fresneda finds it ironic that the government’s management of the coronavirus pandemic has exhibited such a lack of control.
As regards Cummings’s attacks on Johnson since his own removal, the El Mundo article goes on to say how Cummings, on the fifth anniversary of the referendum, described Johnson as nothing more than a “comentarista que tropezó con la política” – “a commentator who stumbled upon politics”. Furthermore, he states that Johnson is only interested in putting on a ‘show’, with scarcely any interest in real problems. He is driven by a desire to turn 10 Downing Street into “una sucursal de la industria del entretenimiento” (“branch of the entertainment industry”), in which his third marriage, to Carrie Symonds, is just another ‘spectacle’.
Brexit itself is a perpetual ‘show’, with the ‘guerra de las salchichas’ (‘sausage war’) opening its fifth round. Now we have the threat of a ‘guerra cultural’ (‘culture war’) by the EU to promote greater cultural diversity in the old continent, to balance the popularity of British TV series. Fresneda describes how the tabloids ridicule manifestations of the desire of some Britons to return to the EU. The Brexit result, he says, was the victory of audacity against boredom, of disruption against the status quo, of falsehood against mediocrity. The fact that in March 2019 a million people demonstrated in the streets of London demanding a second vote has virtually been forgotten by the tabloids.
Fresneda also describes the internal conflicts which led to the failure of the People’s Vote campaign and have divided the Labour Party (also citing Corbyn as the third great contributor to Brexit). He says that Johnson has turned Ursula von der Leyen into the villain over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which itself is the result of all Johnson’s contradictions.
The El Mundo correspondent goes into more detail on the problems afflicting trade with the EU… which Johnson dismisses as teething problems. Fresneda gives a more accurate appraisal of the situation: this is the hard Brexit which Johnson chose: out of the single market and out of the customs union…
[A further consequence mentioned by Fresneda is the matter of European citizenship, which doesn’t just affect British citizens. Being an EU citizen in the UK while the UK was an EU member] “made us feel at home. Not anymore. Now we are in the midst of this hostile environment instigated by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel – herself daughter of immigrants – determined at all costs to make us feel that we are here on borrowed time.” Poignant words to describe the situation of a Spanish journalist based in London… and so many others of our friends, neighbours and colleagues who happen to be EU citizens.
Hancock’s Half Hour
Who knows how long that infamous video-clip actually lasted… Whatever. The Spanish like a good scandal, so Carlos Fresneda produced articles for El Mundo on each of the days that the Hancock Saga lasted. Hence, the article in El Mundo on 27 June “El ex ministro de Sanidad Matt Hancock planea instalarse junto a su amante”, (“The former Health Secretary Matt Hancock plans to set up home with his lover”). The following day a short piece entitled “Una nueva vida para Hancock”, (“A new life for Hancock”), repeats the fact that the erstwhile Health Sexretary and his lover plan to live together. It says he had told his wife and three children of his decision a few days after the story broke, and Gina Coladangelo had been seen loading suitcases into her car.
Fresneda just happens to mention that the British Government plans an internal investigation on how that video-clip came to be passed to the press. Pity they won’t investigate Hancock’s record of controversial Covid contracts and his ‘enchufe’ (string-pulling) to give his mistress the position of non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The end of Johnson’s honeymoon?
On 28 June, El Mundo featured another Fresneda report entitled: “Fin de la luna de miel de Johnson”, (“The end of Johnson’s honeymoon”), dealing with the crisis in government caused by Hancock’s departure, and the increasing numbers infected by Covid. He suggests that the Hancock resignation/sacking has come at a bad time, coinciding with a rapid increase in Delta variant infections; together they threaten to undermine the ground gained by the vaccination campaign.
Fresneda sees Johnson’s hesitation in not actually sacking Hancock as having attracted ‘duras críticas internas’, (hard internal criticism), and his absenting himself at Chequers instead of facing the music as yet more evidence of his tendency to run away from crises. The El Mundo correspondent suggests that this could well affect the outcome of the Batley and Spen by-election, following the recent Tory rout at Chesham and Amersham. He mentions that 65 per cent of Brits supported Hancock’s removal, in spite of Johnson’s initial obstinate defence of him, similar to that obstinacy in relation to earlier scandals involving Priti Patel and Gavin Williamson.
The expression ‘threatening storm clouds’ seems relevant to Fresneda to describe Downing Street’s situation, considering how unconvincing the appointment of Sajid Javid has been in Johnson’s desire to project a ‘vuelta a la normalidad’ (return to normality). The further, and telling, point is that in the eyes of the Spanish press Johnson has undermined his own credibility and authority by not facing the media music when the infamous video clip was publicised. This has been underlined by his prevaricating when it came to making the obvious decision. Cynically, of course, Johnson told Hancock “debe estar muy orgulloso de lo conseguido”, (“you must be very proud of what you have achieved”), not admitting any thought of his mismanagement and cronyism vis-à-vis the pandemic, awarding so many dodgy contracts.
In the end, of course, it was pressure from Johnson’s own MPs, fearing a slide in public opinion, which forced him to accept Hancock’s resignation rather than dismissing him on his own initiative. This in spite of the temporary rehabilitation of Hancock’s reputation as a result of the success of the vaccination campaign.
UK on the international stage
The report concludes with an evaluation of the G7 summit in Cornwall: “fue un pinchazo que sacó a relucir las graves fricciones con la UE”, (“it was a puncture which highlighted the serious friction with the EU”). The dysfunctional nature of the UK in international relations is compounded, according to Carlos Fresneda, by Britons travelling abroad having to quarantine, and the 30 June deadline for EU citizens in the UK to acquire settled status.
Now that, as of 1 July, so many EU citizens will become ‘illegals’, one wonders how soon El Mundo will be reporting on Spanish citizens and others being deported from ‘hostile environment’ UK…