Dutch Parliamentary Brexit-watchers roundly condemn flippancy towards British people

As everybody reading the excellent study of history since Caesar’s times of the North Sea trade by Oxford historian and former BBC journalist Michael Pye, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us what we are” can attest, the trade relations between the British/English and the Dutch (Frisians) Celtic tribes was the beginning of 20 centuries of close economic and ethnic ties. The DNA of inhabitants of areas from Kent to York is indistinguishable from that of people living in Friesland and Holland in the Netherlands; and Frisian is halfway the English and Dutch language. Migration and trade in wool, cloth, grain, herring, etc., been going on, even when Napoleon didn’t want it to (1803-1813); John Locke wrote important (Liberal) books seeking shelter here.

Ever since the 4th Anglo-Dutch war (1780-’84), the Dutch have recognised the British as their senior and vital partner in those economic and cultural relations; and the Dutch pressed general De Gaulle to admit England in the EEC for those same reasons.

But one aspect of how the Dutch see the British people and British politics has been fundamentally changed by the way the UK has been handling the Brexit problem, from the Referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the present day. That can be concluded by what 3 of the 4 official “Brexit Watching delegates” of the Dutch parliament said on Dutch public radio on Wednesday, 14th of January 2019; coincidentally those 3 were from parties of the present Dutch government coalition, so important advisors of both parliament and government.

The reason the Dutch insisted strongly on London joining the EEC and Maastricht’s EU was the pragmatic, sober, professional way British politicians and Cabinet ministers handled British national and regional interests in their European dealings; a very similar attitude and behaviour to the way we Dutch attend to those (Dutch) matters. That similarity has sadly almost disappeared, the three parliamentary Brexit Watchers concluded today.

Kees Verhoeven, the D66 MP famous for his “Love Actually” video addressed to Theresa May I wrote about here last December and July, Christan Democrat Pieter Omtzigt (also member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe) and VVD (=NatLib; car-loving Liberals) MP Anne Mulder (a Srebrenica military veteran) were unanimous in their damning verdict of especially pro-Brexit British MPs and ministers (Johnson, Davies).

All three Dutch MP’s were astounded and quite disturbed by the flippant, “Don’t believe those experts they’re just ignorant Cassandra’s” attitude they encountered in frequent visits and discussions in political London since early 2016; their unanimous verdict is that British Brexiteer politicians were playing personal career politics and ignoring vital interests of British (and regional) enterprises and (British and European)  individuals living and working in Britain.

The fact that in the BBC evening news and Newsnight, on the evening of the thunderous rejection of May’s Brexit deal, both Tory and Labour frontbenchers stuck to their dogmatic scripts about how to handle Brexit, with no realistic idea or plan what to do next, seriously undermined the trust Dutch politics and government put in those big parties and eventual governments centered around those parties.

The same goes for VNO-NCW (our CBI), and health, science, academic and other experts working with British counterparts and British enterprises, by the way. You keep hearing the phrase “Let them eat cake” (describing British policymakers’ and authorities’ attitudes)  in comments from all those Dutch circles. This is no way democratic governments and politicians should handle the interests, feelings and needs of their citizens and voters. Foreign inhabitants feel a distinct “hostile environment”.

Talking to Mr. Verhoeven, he agreed with me that only the LibDem politicians have properly put the British (and their constituents’) interests first, and have been putting forward realistic ad acceptable propositions and policies about “remaining”, in order to reform the EU so that all EU citizens, especially in neglected regions of all our countries, feel part of a civilised, attentive and caring political and economic (national and EU) community.

But hey, D66 and the LibDems are close sister parties, so he and myself could be biased in that respect.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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5 Comments

  • bernard Aris 17th Jan '19 - 10:31am

    After sending in this article, I came across the press release by (European) ALDE parliamentary party President Guy Verhofstadt, also the European Parliaments (EP’s)front man and opinionmaker on Brexit, about the foolhardyness and flippancy of all Brexiteers (Corbyn included).
    He is just as scathing as the 3 Dutch Brexit watchers, which points to a Benelux consensus condemning Brexiteers. And as EP rapporteur on Brexit he is for starters fully supported by the two Dutch ALDE parties (D66 and VVD); and the Dutch Christian Democrats have old and excellent links with their Belgian and German counterparts. So an important part of the European EPP parliamentary party is also on board.
    See that press release : https://www.aldeparty.eu/news/uk-running-out-time-solve-brexit-puzzle .
    The LIBE Committee Verhofstadt talks about is the EP’s Civil Rights committee looking after the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British ones on the continent ; Verhofstadt and LIBE will be up in arms if a No Deal Brexit leaves those millions of expats in the lurch. LIBE will surely notify all national parliaments of the EU, resulting in awkward questions to Downing Stret from EU governments.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '19 - 12:20pm

    @ Bernard Aris,

    “…….in order to reform the EU so that all EU citizens, especially in neglected regions of all our countries, feel part of a civilised, attentive and caring political and economic (national and EU) community.”

    So what reforms do you have in mind?

    The most glaringly obvious one that is needed is to allow a mechanism to exist so that countries can balance their trade. Germany receives criticism because it runs a trade surplus of 8% of GDP. But the Dutch are even worse with a surplus of 11% of GDP.

    This means that euros enter the Netherlands and don’t re-emerge except in the form of loans which is extra debt! The EU has strict rules about debt levels as you know. But these are inevitable with the single currency, and no allowable tariffs. There is simply no mechanism to enable the peripheral countries balance their trade short of depressing their economies so severely that their ability to buy imports is sufficiently diminished. This is obviously not in anyone’s interest.

    Do you have any suggestions on how this can be rectified?

  • Hello Peter,

    interestingly, around three years ago, Spain passed from a persistent current account déficit to a modest current account surplus. (In the midst of recovering from a severe recession.)

    As you suggest, the mechanism was an increase in productivity, achieved mostly – I believe – through a reduction in the cost of labour: ie shedding Jobs /increasing capital stock and downward pressure on wages.

    The Spanish government continue to “run” a modest budget déficit.

    (Run = preside over.)

    Prior to Euro membership, the peseta would have depreciated significantly.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jan '19 - 1:47pm

    @ Chris Moore,

    Yes this is possible. It’s been a similar story in Ireland. Countries can do quite well in the eurozone if they can manage to run a current account surplus. But, eurocent for eurocent, every surplus has to be someone else’s deficit. So these kinds of ‘success stories’ are really nothing more than beggar-thy-neighbour solutions.

    Not that Spain is much of a success story in recent times. Unemployment in many parts of Spain has been and is still unacceptably high. A floating exchange rate would have been a better alternative than widespread austerity we’ve seen. Interestingly, Spain was one of the few EU countries to keep to all the rules pre 2008. It didn’t do any good though. The level of private debt was way too high and the EU didn’t, and still doesn’t, have any rules about that.

  • It it I am afraid the western side and northern making beggers of the South and East of the European Union. Which is why the EU issues are not Brexit which some can argue are the symptoms of the problem but the East where nationalism is rising

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