IWTYAL 114: Brexit and what it means for language learners

Last week, the UK voted to leave the European Union. In this episode, I’ve decided to give you my thoughts on this decision, and what it means for us as language learners.

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  • Very largely found myself agreeing, and I appreciate your views and how you’ve made them public in this podcast. Thank you Olly.

    Would agree on racism – no, but xenophobia – potentially yes, in the sense of phobia being “fear”. And that we’re all one.

    As a Northerner (or am I now?) who’s seeing different levels of impact of the people that live in neglected areas of Britain, I worry that it’s a little too easy to overlook the threat of a 2nd recession in 10 years. That’s the only point on which I disagree with you quite significantly. Has London has had it easy compared to the local areas here? (not saying it has, just hearing a slightly cavalier attitude to poverty in the UK?)

    Also: No longer 5th richest country since Brexit…

    • Regarding recession… yes, that’s bound to scare people in more impoverished areas. But two things… a) avoiding recession in the short-term at all costs isn’t a sensible way to form long-term economic policy, b) seems likely that there’ll be a technical recession, but not much worse than that. The markets have had a shock, but the underlying economy hasn’t changed since before the vote.

      As for 5th vs 6th… that’s a distinction without a difference. We’re already seeing a rebound in the markets which could reverse that at any point.

      I think it’s important to focus on the metrics that really matter in order to inform our decisions.

      • I agree on 5th vs 6th – it’s quite irrelevant! My economics aren’t up to a real in-depth discussion about this, but from the people I’ve been following (Geraint Johnes and Tim Hartford) I can’t help but worry.

        But then you know how passionately I campaigned for the Remain side (on philosophical grounds), so I admit I’m not immune to Confirmation Bias.

  • Bjoern Hillebrand

    Hey Olly,

    Here in Germany the situation is nearly the same. The AfD ( our UKIP ) is on the rise and many people blame the EU. I don’t want to go into detail here (it’s more or less the same without the request of a referendum ).

    What really shocks me is that Nigel Farrage and Boris Johnson (and so on..) don’t come up with a plan now. Was this all about blaming someone and supreme power ? Wasn’t it clear that Scotland try to get of the UK now? Weird situation. But maybe I am missing some points.

    The Citizens of UK put some hope in this vote and now nothing happens. We all have to respect the referendum, because it was a democratic vote, but the leave party should do something now.

    Too much politics. Learning Languages is a good way to talk to intelligent and open minded people and that’s why I am doing it.

    At the moment there is no official request that the UK is leaving. Tough times for UK and Europe. Let’s better talk about languages..

    • Exactly… languages will save the world! But I also think that German will become more and more important!

  • Hey Olly,

    I enjoyed your podcast and broadly agree with your points on xenophobia and how it’s the antithesis of what we as passionate language learners strive for. I was also partly driven in my quest to explore other countries and cultures by my repudiation of the parochialism of where I grew up.

    I feel, however, that you are a bit complacent about the likely effects of Brexit on the next generation of Brits (i.e. ‘our children’).

    The two keys issues in the referendum that lead to the ‘out’ result were: freedom of movement of workers (unrestricted legal migration within the EU) and contributions to the EU budget (the £350m/week falsely claimed by the out campaign – they excluded the £5billion/year rebate on the contribution).

    The only way to reach a deal with the EU when leaving that will allow the UK to restrict legal immigration from the EU and not contribute to the EU budget is to the leave the European Single Market. Both Switzerland and Norway remain in the single market because they allow freedom of movement of workers and contribute to the EU budget (Norway contributes at the same rate per capita as the UK currently does).

    The alternative is a trade deal like Canada has just negotiated with the EU called CETA (this is what Nigel Farage of UKIP advocates). It’s a far reaching trade deal removing most trade tariffs that does not require the freedom of movement of EU workers in Canada nor does Canada have to contribute the EU budget. However, this is reciprocal: Canadian citizens will not be able to travel, live and work freely in the EU.

    Therein lies the problem for our children. A biometric UK passport will most likely be fine for visa-free travel for a short period in Schengen (90 days every 180) but will require a visa for work and study or a longer stay to travel. That makes it as useful as a Moldovan passport (to put it in context – and most Moldovans can get a Romanian passport through ancestry which gives them full rights as EU citizens to work, travel and reside freely). It’s simply not a question of having a couple of extra stamps on their passport; the next generation will not be able to head to France to work on a whim like both you and me did in our youth. That’s very significant!

    The corollary to this is the economy. The negotiation of the trade deal will likely take more than the 2 years allowed once Article 50 of the EU is invoked (that sets the formal process of leaving in motion). The Canada deal took 7 years to conclude. In the meantime, WTO trade rules will apply. This will mean significant barriers to trade. The UK will be out of the single market and the most importantly for London excluded from the ‘passporting’ regime for financial services.

    This means that companies with significant trade with the EU (especially in financial services) will have to relocate from the UK to the EU. That coupled with the new restrictions on EU immigrants will cost the UK economy massively in the short to medium term.

    I actually think that it’s unlikely that the new British PM in September is going to invoke Article 50 and pull the UK out of the EU for these reasons plus the inevitable constitutional crisis that that would cause as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all voted to stay in the EU.

    PS I think you’ve inspired me to make a podcast or a YouTube video on this topic. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment man, and for your thoughts. I suppose one of my assumptions in all this is that the government will end up negotiating something positive from all of this. That seems to be the only logical outcome. Despite the outcome of the vote, it seems to be openly acknowledged now that the premise of the referendum was totally flawed. Voting out (out of everything) will screw the country in the short term, as you point out, and so any responsible government will need to ignore the electorate for the benefit of the country as a whole. All very weird.

      Looking forward to your videos!

  • Arvid Falk

    Olly, you are one of the few people I met (or in this case rather listened to), who actually understood the Leave arguments and still voted to remain. Most people I spoke to, who wanted to remain, misrepresented or simply didn’t know or understand the arguments. So your case is very interesting to me. As a German, who’s free speech is limited more and more every day by my condescending chancellor and the unelected EU bureaucrats, I was filled with joy while listening to David Dimbelby reading out the results. I travelled to London especially for this great event and was very relieved to say the least when the results came in. Britain, or more precisely England, has carried the torch of freedom for centuries. During the dark days of the 30s and 40s the anglophone countires were the only ones who were not living under some sort or tyranny. You might not fully appreciate what you have there. This unique system of freedom under the law from Magna Carta and the beginnigs of Common Law through the Glorous Revolution and the Bill of Rights, jury trials, a free press to Independance Day this year is the model all other countries can only hope for or more realistically dream of.

    I don’t blame you, since you actually thought hard about it and voted according to your conscience, but remember, as Daniel Hannan so eloquently put it “To stay in is not the same as to stay put.” The EU wants to march towards ever closer union no matter what, and that means in the end being ruled by unelected officials, who you can’t remove by any ordinary peaceful means, and living together with roughly 30 other nations in one new country which they dare to call by the good name of “Europe”. As Mr Ress-Mogg said: You have to choose, is your country the United Kingdom with all the freedoms I listed above, or is it this new construct called “Europe” without all these freedoms. I am so glad you once again did the right thing and voted for freedom.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. As I said, I was very much persuaded by some of the Leave arguments, but ultimately decided it wasn’t for the best. Reflecting on it now, some time after the event, it’s patently clear that very few citizens were equipped to make an informed choice in the referendum, thereby reducing it to something of a farce. Now that the decision’s been made, I think there’s a big, bright future out there, and it’s up to us to come together and forge it.

      • Arvid Falk

        Indeed. Very well said. Have you read Peter Hitchens? He to me is the prime example of an independant journalist, and I found his argument rather persuasive, when he said that these sort of referendums are dangerous constituionally. This was just the second one after all and Britain has a great tradition of parliamentary and not direct democracy. So it would have been far better to be able to elect a government that comands a majority in the House of Commons, which then would take Britain out. Let’s hope referedums don’t become the norm.

        Anyway, this is another example of how valuable language learning is. If I weren’t able to understand English quite well, I wouldn’t know the things I mentioned and this, I believe, is fundamentally why most of my countrymen don’t understand the issue at all. If you just watch ARD or ZDF you would think Britain is some failed state like Somalia. The ignorance and contempt of these allegedly unbiased reporters was mind-boggling.

        If you come to Germany (or Italy, where I will be for the rest of the year), let us all now. I would certainly love to meet you in person…

        • It’d be a pleasure. Send me an email via the contact form on the site, and we’ll be in touch.