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Brexit

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

By John Broven

Part two of three

I’ve been waiting patiently to write this second part of my personal Brexit overview (see part 1, “Brexit: To leave or not to leave, that is the big question,” TBR News Media’s papers and websites, March 14). There has been an interested response from TBR readers, although as expected not everybody agreed with my Europhile stance or interpretation of events. An apt New York Times description was “fractured Britain.”

Even now, there is no resolution to the terms for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to leave the European Union as determined by a national referendum June 23, 2016, almost three years ago — the vote was 51.89 to 48.11 percent. The March 29 deadline went by, so did one on April 12. Now the departure date has been extended begrudgingly by the EU until Oct. 31. That’s Halloween, as many wags have pointed out. Still the drama continues.

Prime Minister Theresa May resigns

On May 24, Prime Minister Theresa May (Conservative, known as Tories) announced her forthcoming departure in tears for failing to deliver Brexit. Never a team player, she was rapidly losing support among her Brexit-leaning party. The withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU was criticized from all sides even as May tried to soften her parliamentary bill by including environmental measures, workers rights and even the prospect of a second referendum — anathema to Brexiteers in her own party. With no majority in sight for her deal, she will formally resign on June 7, immediately after the state visit by President Donald Trump (R).

She is now the second prime minister to be felled by Brexit in the footsteps of David Cameron (Conservative), who was responsible for calling the 2016 referendum. Indeed, the Tory Party’s neurosis with Europe had previously ensnared former prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Tory leadership battle

Now, the Brexit process has been put on hold while the ruling Conservative Party elects a new leader, expected by the end of July. That leaves four short months to finalize leave arrangements. Understandably, the EU is running out of patience and has indicated it will not renegotiate the deal on the table, including the controversial Irish backstop.

The number of Tory prime minister candidates currently stands at 11, still well short of the tally of U.S. Democratic presidential candidates. At the time of writing the bookies favorite is the self-serving former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the New York City-born member of parliament of British parents who dealt a fatal blow to Cameron’s 2016 Vote Remain campaign by treacherously joining the Vote Leave team. The covertly ambitious Michael Gove and hardliner Dominic Raab are also in the running. Just as the U.S. Democratic candidates are in a quandary over presidential impeachment proceedings, so the U.K. Tory leadership candidates are scrambling for Brexit answers.

Our president has caused local controversy by favoring Johnson. If the former mayor is elected as prime minister by the Conservative Party and his pronouncements are carried out, he could lead the country into the worst of all possibilities on Oct. 31 — a hard no deal. It is chilling to think that such a chaotic scenario could happen to the fifth largest economy in the world, with an impact far beyond the borders of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As Will Hutton described it in London’s The Guardian, the Brexiteers view is of a blissful but flawed image of “sunlit uplands of immigrant-free, global free trade.” Sir Elton John, also in The Guardian, was more blunt: “I’m ashamed of my country for what it has done. It’s torn people apart … I am sick to death of politicians, especially British politicians. I am sick to death of Brexit. I am a European. I am not a stupid, colonial, imperialist English idiot.”

EU elections shock

The British government had hoped to avoid taking part in the recent EU elections, but as the country was still formally one of the 28 member states the people went to the polls on May 23. In keeping with the unpredictable Brexit mess, what a shocking result it turned out to be. Former UKIP leader and an elected member of the European Parliament since 1999, Nigel Farage, who has been described by his Euro colleagues as a “one-man wrecking ball,” had formed the new Brexit Party only six weeks previously and topped the polls with a 30.8 percent share of the vote. The two leading parties in British politics for almost 100 years, Labour (third place) and Conservatives (fifth), managed a meager 23 percent of the vote between them, beaten by second-place Liberal Democrats with their remain message and fourth-place Green Party with an urgent climate-change agenda.

Tellingly, the Tories suffered their worst election result since formation in 1834 and registered only 8.8 percent of the vote, with no seats won in London. May’s party had also taken a shellacking in the earlier county council elections. That’s the current governing party, don’t forget. As The Washington Post noted, coalition governments and a genuine multiparty system may be the future of British politics.

In effect, British voters were giving a severe kicking to the government and lead opposition party under arch-socialist Jeremy Corbyn for their inept handling of Brexit. Intriguingly, Scotland and Northern Ireland still balloted majority votes to remain candidates. The MEPs term will end if and when Brexit occurs. Taking all the parties into account, the respective total leave and remain votes were very close, which is where we came in — a divided nation with a divided parliament and parties internally divided.

The cross-Europe vote showed a fragmentation of parties, with the establishment center-left and center-right bloc losing power. The populist parties in Britain, France and Italy showed gains but surprisingly little elsewhere, notably in Holland. There was a general message that the EU needs to address growth, security, immigration (again) and climate change (the U.S. please note). Still, with a turnout in excess of 50 percent, there are indications the Europeans still see their union as the future. In the wake of the Brexit debacle, it seems the other Euro populist movements are determined to fight for their cause from inside the EU, not on the outside with little influence.

Incidentally, I was impressed by the BBC World News TV election coverage Sunday, May 26, and its first-class presenter Ros Atkins. I learned a lot about the EU, its procedures, the debating arguments and how countries from Germany to Latvia voted. If only Brexit voters had been educated likewise.

Where the UK stands

Embarrassingly, Britain’s pragmatic standing in the world seems to be falling by the day. I’ve lost count of the number of barbed Monty Python jokes I’ve seen in print. As my good friend John Ridley, of Hildenborough, Kent, told me, “I can’t recall any other democratic country committing an act of such extreme self-harm ever before.”

The Brexit fiasco shows on a macro level that elections do matter and do have consequences — in this instance, for an entire nation and its future. And the dangers of putting such a critical issue to an ill-informed public by way of a loosely worded referendum have been fully exposed.

If there is a lesson for us all, it is a message that TBR News Media carries at every election: Your vote counts, please vote — and do understand what you’re voting for. That applies from presidential elections to the local fire departments, libraries and schools (the turnout for the recent Three Village Central School District budget vote was abysmal).

With Brexit still unresolved, I am readying myself for a part 3 Your Turn article but further patience may be required on the part of myself and TBR readers. Will there be a second referendum, general election, another EU extension or a hard no deal?

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books. An updated edition of his second book, “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous,” has just
been published.

From the view of a Brit, drawing parallels to elections in the U.S.

Stock photo

By John Broven

Part 1 of 2

After 46 years, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is due to leave the European Union March 29 in an exercise that has been labeled Brexit. You may have heard the term on BBC World News, C-SPAN2’s “Prime Minister’s Questions” and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” (HBO), or read about the ongoing saga in The New York Times or The Washington Post. Still, in general the United States media coverage has been relatively muted in what has been a complex, often hard-to-understand process. Yet there are enough parallel circumstances across the pond to warrant making it a big news event over here in the U.S.

John Broven. Photo by Diane Wattecamps

It certainly matters a lot if, like me, you were born in England and are not happy with the Brexit decision. Before I proceed with my personal observations, let me give a brief backdrop to the Brexit scenario.

Brexit is a crude abbreviation of “British exit” from the European political and economic union of 28 countries that allows seamless movement of goods and citizens between each member state. Britain’s withdrawal was determined by a referendum held June 23, 2016, in which the “leave” voters outpointed the “remain” side by 17.4 to 16.1 million. In percentage terms it was 51.89 to 48.11. The turnout was some 33.5 million voters out of a possible 46.5 million, 72.1 percent of the registered electorate. As I’ve been living over here for more than 15 years, I was not allowed to vote along with an estimated 700,000 expats and some 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. Gerrymandering, anyone?

The UK referendum

I well remember the day when Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) announced there would be a referendum for Britain to leave the EU after he was re-elected in the general election of May 7, 2015. He had been the country’s leader since 2010 in a coalition government with the pro-European Liberal Democrats, but against all expectation the Conservatives won the election outright. At the time I asked myself, “Why call a referendum?” What I didn’t know was that Cameron wanted to quell once and for all the rebellious EU leavers in his own party and thwart the rise of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.

To my mind, Cameron compounded his disastrous decision of placing party politics on a national stage by agreeing to put the referendum to the people in the simplest of terms:

• Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. Yes or No.

The openness of the referendum wording gave voters, fed up with years of austerity, a chance to kick the government without understanding the full consequences of their actions. The many dire economic warnings of a precipitous EU exit, ranging from the Bank of England governor to President Barack Obama (D), were riposted as fearmongering.

England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland and Northern Ireland did not. London voted overwhelmingly to remain, but the industrial North — the equivalent of our rust belt — predictably went to the leavers. Not surprisingly, the majority of the 50-and-overs, with their rose-tinted memories, voted to leave. On the other hand, the younger generation was largely in favor of remaining, feeling more European and with less attachment to the days of the British Empire. Interestingly, the peak share of any sector came from women between the ages of 18 and 24, with 80 percent voting to remain. Yet too many millennials, as over here in the last presidential election, did not bother to go to the voting booths.

As we have seen from the HBO film, “Brexit: The Uncivil War,” the Vote Leave campaign — led by notorious Cameron-backstabber Boris Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump (R)-acolyte Farage, prominent Tory politicians such as the overbearing Jacob Rees-Mogg and double-dealer Michael Gove — were always a step ahead of Vote Remain, led by Cameron himself, future prime minister Theresa May and reticent Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. The leave effort was brilliantly masterminded by Dominic Cummings who outflanked his traditionally minded opponents by using computer algorithms devised by Cambridge Analytica, partly owned — whisper it low — by Robert Mercer from our own Head of the Harbor village on Long Island.

With new data available, Cummings understood there was a raft of disaffected voters that had been ignored by politicians of all parties for years. He proceeded to woo them with an appealing slogan, “Let’s take back control,” aided by a red bus carrying the false message that leaving the EU would save the British people £350 million a week (about $450 million), adding, “Let’s fund our NHS [National Health Service] instead — Vote Leave.” Without justification, it was said the country would be overrun by Islamic immigrants should Turkey be admitted to the EU. (It hasn’t.) It was a campaign of distorted facts, appealing to those who remembered the good old days when Britannia ruled the waves and the world map was colored mostly British Empire pink.

Earlier, I mentioned “parallel circumstances” in relation to the U.S. How about disaffected and ignored voters, a fear campaign based on immigration and Islamophobia, protest votes, absent millennials, discarded trade agreements, gerrymandering, a populist insurrection — and, I hate to say it, fake news. Does that sound familiar?

Events of June 2016

I was in England the week before the referendum and was astonished at how the youthful, vibrant atmosphere I felt on my last visit had evaporated into a sour mood. As a confirmed Europhile, I was even more amazed to see how finely balanced the polls were. The omens were not good, especially when state broadcaster, British Broadcasting Corporation, adopted a neutral stance giving equal time to both campaigns. Why did the leave campaign, with no governmental responsibility or track record, deserve the same coverage as the in-power remainers?

I was still in England when staunch remain campaigner and promising Labour member of parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered June 16, 2016, in her native West Yorkshire at age 41 by a right-wing extremist. Had politics become so divisive that a life had to be taken? Surely, I thought, the British people, with their long-held sense of justice and fair play, would rebel against such a dastardly act and vote for the “good guys” out of respect to Cox. The referendum campaign was halted temporarily, but a news blackout contrived to neutralize any widespread outrage at her death.

Referendum night June 23 was covered in full over here by BBC World News. Ironically, with the five-hour time difference, U.S. viewers were more up to date than the sleeping British public. I knew the writing was on the wall when early voting in Sunderland and Swindon went to the leavers. And yet Sunderland, in the relatively impoverished North East, was home to a major Nissan factory (jobs, jobs, jobs), with Swindon in the affluent South West housing a big Honda factory. Both Japanese car companies used their English bases for easy access to the European markets. What were the voters in those towns thinking by voting leave?

The leave campaign was victorious. A distraught Cameron resigned July 11, 2016, to be succeeded by May. It was up to her to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with the EU, with a leaving date eventually set for March 29, 2019 — the end of this month. The protracted negotiations have been rocky, to say the least, and the outcome has still not been resolved at this late hour thanks mainly to a problem that should have been foreseen at the time of the referendum but wasn’t: the Irish backstop. Stay tuned.

Part 2 will bring matters up to date, with crucial parliamentary votes due to be held this week. John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, and has written three award-winning (American) music history books.

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baroness and former leader of the British House of Lords, Margaret Jay, came to Stony Brook University to speak to us about “The new populism in America and Britain: What has happened to our politics?” The talk, which was open to the public and well attended, drew parallels between Trumpism and the Brexit movement in Britain and served as one way to understand our preelection frenzy.

Populism, as a political ideology, views virtuous citizens as mistreated by small circles of elites to be overthrown. In Britain, where jobs are drying up and wages have been stagnant for those 31-59 years of age for decades, migrants have been pouring into the country — some 330,000 in the last year, looking for jobs and a good life. Citizens are angry. The landscape has changed and a common cry is, “I don’t recognize the town I grew up in,” as a result of the changes. As a member of the European Union, Britain had open borders for laborers throughout the 28-member countries even as British workers could in turn move anywhere within the EU from Britain.

Baroness Jay of Paddington, daughter of former Prime Minister James Callaghan, told us that there are four times as many Brits collecting unemployment insurance in Germany as there are Germans collecting unemployment in Britain. Nonetheless, the “elites” and the politicians are seen by the British middle class as being unresponsive and only self-serving, and there is a deep sense of insecurity in the country. In such an environment, the message, “Support Brexit to take back control,” resonates and sounds not dissimilar to “Make America great again.” These slogans would seem to pit the common people against the top 1 percent.

Leaders of populist movements have certain characteristics in common, as the baroness pointed out. They tend to be blunt to the point of crude. The media loves them for their irresistible sound bites and the attention they draw from the public, and offers them a platform. Interestingly in this comparison of Britain and the United States, those who would speak “for the people” are not actually “of the people.” They feel none of the economic insecurities but seek to identify with the millions of citizens. That is certainly the case with “billionaire” Trump and also the leaders of the Brexit campaign, who are from the upper classes.

Populism is spreading in Europe. Will it spread here? That is the question Margaret Jay poses for us.

For the United Kingdom, there are other serious issues. Will the four parts of the country stay together? Scotland and Northern Ireland resoundingly voted to stay in the EU, while Wales and England voted to leave. Also there is what the baroness described as an “unpleasant divide” between foreign workers, who are increasingly viewed as taking away jobs, benefits and even lifestyle, and the citizens. The Brexit vote seems to have given legitimacy to the antagonisms. Then there are the matters of making separate trade agreements with 27 other countries, and the pound sterling exchange rate.

Meanwhile what has Brexit done to the rest of the EU? Other countries, with similar movements, are stirring. There is even the thought that the Brexit vote may have caused matters to improve elsewhere, as politicians heed the message sent by the voters.

The solution, proposed by Baroness Jay, lies in rebuilding the center. We must not become fortresses of isolation, she warns, either in trade or of xenophobia. Pluralism and diversity are the way of the future, and in the U.S. these ideas are baked into our democracy. To rebuild the center involves a role for education. Tellingly some 75 percent of the more educated in Britain voted to stay in the EU, while about the same number, 75 percent of the less educated, voted to leave. The latter are those for whom the present system is not working. And while this picture of current politics, is specific to Britain at the moment, the dark and unpleasant nature of this past Sunday’s presidential debate here would urge us to pay further attention to the people whose needs are not being met.

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The news is in my blood. If you don’t believe me, check the name of the person who writes the column on the same page and who started this business 40 years ago — go Mom!

And yet there’s far too much blood in the news these days. It’s not enough that storms and natural disasters kill: People are murdering each other in stomach-churning numbers.

It’s heart-wrenching to read about the losses in our country and around the world. Far too often, headlines about senseless violence fill the news.

News organizations shouldn’t ignore these horrific acts, because we want to know what’s going on in the world, what we need to do to stay safe and what other people are doing and thinking.

It seems to me that there are things we can do. We can give blood. Why? We might save someone’s life, we might give someone a vital supply of something we can’t grow in a field, pull from a river or manufacture in a laboratory.

Recently, I met a woman who had been donating blood to her father for two years. He was sick and he needed blood on a regular basis. After he died, she continued to give blood. She said her father received blood from other people besides her during his illness, and she wanted to give back to a system that improved and extended his life.

Do we read about her? No, generally, we don’t, because it’s a small act of kindness and social awareness that doesn’t get politicians angry and doesn’t cause people to write messages to each other over the Internet. It’s not an opportunity to resort to name calling: It’s just a chance to save lives.

We can also volunteer to make our communities better places. We can be a big brother or big sister, or we can find a charitable organization that provides caring and support for families that have children with special needs. My Aunt Maxine had Down syndrome and gave so much more than she ever took.

Sure, she dominated the airwaves with her husky voice and, yes, she sometimes said and did things that made us roll our eyes, but, more often than not, she displayed the kind of unreserved love and affection that jaded and vulnerable adults find difficult to display. When Maxine laughed or did something extraordinarily funny, like sharing a malapropism, she laughed so hard that she cried. Nowadays, after she died, we find ourselves sharing tears of joy when we think of how much she contributed to our lives and to the room.

When the big things seem to be going in the wrong direction, we the people can commit random acts of kindness. Yes, we can and should pray for each other. It certainly can’t hurt, regardless of whether we’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religion.

We can also take the kind of actions that define who we are and that show our character. We are living in a world after the Brexit vote and after the failed coup attempt in Turkey. We may not know what to make of all that, but we can decide who we want to be.

We can’t stand on a platform, the way all the former Miss America contestants of bygone days used to, and wish for “world peace,” because that seems naive. And, yet, we can hope that small acts, committed in the name of counterbalancing all the negative news, echoed and amplified across the nation, can turn the tone.

We are fortunate enough to live in a place where we can shape the world in a way we’d like it to be, one community and one random act of kindness at a time.

England’s vote to leave the European Union last month will impact the world. Stock photo

By Wenhao Ma

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union three weeks ago has caused mortgage rates to decline in United States, and North Shore financial advisors and real estate agents see Brexit’s impending global changes as good and bad.

A North Shore real estate agent said following Brexit, U.S. mortgage rates have greatly decreased

The value of British pound dropped rapidly after England’s vote on Thursday, June 23, and was significantly lower than the U.S. dollar next Monday. With the change of value in currencies, offshore money has started to flood into the United States, which leads to a drop in mortgage interest rates, according to James Retz, associate real estate broker for Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Cold Spring Harbor.

“It’s only been a few days since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union,” he said. “[But] several lenders here have posted lower interest rates for long-term fixed rate mortgages.”

Up until Thursday, June 30, the average 30-year fixed rate had fallen under 3.6 percent and the 15-year fixed rate was more than 2.7 percent.

Retz ruled out the possibility of domestic factors causing low rates.

“I am not aware of anything that has happened in the USA to make the rates drop,” he said. “Until Britain’s vote to leave the European Union a few days ago, mortgage rates were static.”

Besides mortgage rates, Brexit hasn’t yet had much impact on Long Island’s economy. But experts do a predict small influence on local tourism.

“There will be a small negative effect on students and tourists visiting Long Island as the dollar has strengthened against the pound,” Panos Mourdoukoutas, professor of economics from Long Island University, said. “But it will benefit Long Islanders visiting the U.K.”

Mark Snyder, owner of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services Inc., shared that opinion.

“Locally, Brexit will likely mean less foreign tourists coming here since it’s forcing a rise in the dollar’s value, but might make for good international travel deals,” he said. Snyder is not certain of Brexit’s long-term impact on international or local economies.

Mourdoukoutas didn’t sound optimistic on the future of Brexit. “In the long term, Brexit could lead to the break up of EU,” he said. “That’s bad news for the global economy, including China.”

Michael Sceiford, financial advisor at Edward Jones’ Port Jefferson office, thinks otherwise.

“The U.K. is about 4 percent of the world economy and it doesn’t leave the EU immediately,” he said. “So we believe the economic impact is likely to be much less than the market reaction suggests.”

Sceiford believes that it may take three or more years before Britain actually departs. According to an article he submitted, this extended time can give financial markets a chance to absorb the new reality and give investors time to ponder their long-term strategy.

“The Brexit may not be a positive development for the global economy, but we’ve gotten past bigger events in the past, including wars and other political crises,” the financial advisor said. “As the British themselves famously posted on their walls during World War II, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’”