Letter from a Relaxed England

GLOUCESTERSHIRE, England: 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.

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In an obviously different context, I find a similar mentality 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 October 31st.’  This readiness to move on, I think, is why Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliamentary debate until mid-October has largely been greeted with a yawn.  There’s been enough talking.

Of course, many important issues cry out for resolution. Foremost is the Irish border.  But what about the nearly 2 ½ million EU born, non-British people living in the UK? 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 UK is at a 44-year low of 3.9% and in this vibrant economy there aren’t enough Brits to fill the jobs that exist. And that’s where the east Europeans come in. Their labor contributes to the UK boom.

There are about 250,000 east Europeans working in Britain. And without exception the several I talked intend to stay. At a hotel/restaurant near Cheltenham here in the Cotswolds, I discovered that 30 of the inn’s 40 staff are east 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 east Europeans to leave.  In 2018 76,000 departed but that outflow has diminished this year.

Some American commentators dismiss disheveled Boris Johnson as a brash frat boy who has morphed into a shoot from the hip populist.  I suspect this is incorrect.  Rather, it seems to me, Johnson is a decisive figure who will win concessions from the EU in advance of October 31st.  Nobody—including EU negotiators– wants a chaotic no deal Brexit that disrupts trade and travel.

A deal is there if wise heads turns their minds to it. That’s why Johnson’s prorogation of parliament may be a master stroke.  We won’t have Jeremy Corbyn and obstinate Tories yammering on about further options. The time for resolution has arrived.

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

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