Today is a momentous and desperately sad day. Allow me therefore to deviate from my usual subject and write a very personal post (I promise, it won’t happen often).

This post is not about SCAM but about something that is even closer to my heart.


I first moved to the UK in 1979. The reason was simple, I had fallen in love with Danielle, the woman who now is my wife. I only stayed for about 3 years. However, as luck would have it, this short time would become the most formative period of my life, both privately and professionally. After a brief and unhappy stint as a doctor in a psychiatric hospital, I got a job under John Dormandy who opened my eyes to the wonderous world of science.

I nonetheless went back to Germany because I felt I had to complete my clinical training. In 1987, became a professor first in Hannover and then in Vienna. Even though the Vienna post was grand (to say the least), I soon became unhappy with it (no need to go into details here; if you need to know, read this or this). I thus started looking for other opportunities, ideally in the UK.

Why the UK?

It wasn’t because of the weather.

It also was not because of the food.

Nor was it because of the huge salary (the move roughly halved my previous income).

It was because of the beautiful memories. And it was because of my deep appreciation of the people. I had grown to admire their humour, their tolerance, their openness, their way of life, their way of dealing with problems, their politeness, their understatement, their honesty, their fair play.

Much has been written about my time at Exeter. Not everything was smelling of roses. But, on the whole and despite all the problems encountered, I had a really good time – mainly because my initial judgement of the people was being confirmed over and over again. I began to feel British and, in 2000, I became British. All my life, I had felt the burden of the recent German past weighing heavily on my shoulders. I had never managed to be proud of being a German. Now I was proud to be British, and I had a passport to prove it!

When Cameron announced the ‘in/out referendum’, I was baffled by the sheer stupidity of the move. How could anyone want to get out of the EU? It never made sense to me. The EU had given us peace for decades and was a guarantor that we Europeans would never again start killing each other. Why was that not pointed out in the run-up to the referendum? Most families had lost sons in the last two European wars. Why did hardly anyone use such arguments? Why was the remain campaign fought so half-heartedly? The other side was campaigning with (mostly vile and primitive) emotions; why did we not use positive and ethical ones?

I remember being in tears when I heard the results of the vote.

I remember fighting tears when acquaintances asked my wife (she is French and has, like I, a British passport) and me: ‘are you now going to go home?

Since the referendum, I have observed in utter horror and bewilderment how the county that I now call my home has changed.

What happened to the tolerance that I so admired?

What happened to the openness of the people?

What about honesty and fair play?

What happened even to humour?

During our 8 years in Germany, my wife and I had to witness our fair share of xenophobia. I despised my fellow Germans for it. Now I see it in Britain, and I feel nauseous.

What is happening to the county I love?

26 Responses to 31 January 2020, a day to contemplate: WHAT HAPPENED TO BRITAIN?

  • Hear, hear. Such a sad day.

  • Always remember that we are not all as ignorant as the famous “17.4 million”, and we welcome rational and compassionate thinkers wherever they originated.

  • Similar to the shock I felt when we elected Donald Trump. Then came the sadness and anger of having this great country degraded by fools. All the while seeing them cheered on by so many of my ignorant countrymen. There is no certainty that things will not get worse.

    • Same here in India. How people elected Narendra Modi we just cannot understand. Here too things are getting worst with so much hatred being spread.

    • I’m loath to characterize those who voted “leave” as ignorant (in its deprecatory sense), even though they often appear to be seriously underinformed about the realities of the EU. Like all huge political organizations, the EU has a lot of aspects that deserve criticism and would be improved if changed. But surely it’s better to remain within that organization, where you’re in a position to influence its future, than to go off in a huff and lose all possibility of effecting change from the inside.

      The problem with the Brexit referendum was that no-one expected “leave” to win (by a margin too small to be acceptable for a major change of rules even in the constitution of most amateur hobby clubs). Nobody had therefore thought to examine scenarios in which “remain” lost the referendum. The subsequent dragging of feet has merely encouraged those who feel strongly on either side of the debate to reinforce their entrenched positions. We seem to have no politicians sufficiently able to resolve the situation. It’s going to drag on for years like a deeply ingrained piece of dirt on one’s best outer clothing.

      • But surely it’s better to remain within that organization, where you’re in a position to influence its future, than to go off in a huff and lose all possibility of effecting change from the inside

        I see parallels with those who totally denounce science-based medicine for its failings, real and perceived, and choose something far worse for their health’care’.

        And what’s worse: even when these people eventually find that their decision has far worse consequences than they anticipated, they more often than not refuse to change their mind about it – but instead spend even more effort, money and suffering into attempts ‘to make it work’. I see two reasons for this: the human trait that changing one’s mind is often perceived as a weakness (especially in politics), and of course the sunk cost fallacy.

    • @ Mr. Tyler:
      Your distinction between country and citizens according to the motto “great country, but degraded by fools” seems very odd to me, since (in a democracy like the US or the UK) the people living in a country constitute it.

      If I may ask: What makes you think that the US is a “great country” anyway? I never understood the phrase that “soandso” is a “great country”. I am not aware of any country that does not have horrific events in its past – the US explicitly included. I think the world would be far better off if people would stop being proud of how “great” the place is at which they were (accidentally) born, and start becoming proud of their own achievements, e.g. in terms of promoting human well-being.

  • Sadly, the leader of the opposition has been anti-EU and anti-NATO his entire adult life. He was hoping to stumble into power with Britain out of the EU but never having to admit or explain his fanatical pro-Brexit politics. Hence, he went on holiday immediately before the referendum, immediately forced his Party to vote in favour of Article 50, refused various other chances to at least keep Britain in customs union or delay the process long enough for a reasonable WA to be formulated, and agreed to an election with a disapproval rating -60. Brexit would never have happened without his tacit and active support, and deliberate sabotage of the Remain campaign. (And he is of course also responsible for the spread of leftist racism that is as disgusting as it is ignorant.)

    As for the political right, English culture seems to have a weird domination/submission fetish. Just being a normal equal member of a group just isn’t exciting enough for some people. (Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole ties it to Empire and loss of Empire.)

  • Yes, I, too wonder what has happened. I am native English, lived above Runnymede no less. I have been watching this from Spain, where I now live with my Spanish family.
    I am appalled, as Sir Humphrey, Bernard Woolley & Hacker said… Appalled

  • @Edzard,
    It is a sad day indeed, and I too have always had a soft spot for the British – and I can fully understand your sentiments, probably more than most Dutch people: my English sister-in-law, who has been living here for the past 20 years, still had the British nationality, but decided to bail out and become Dutch when it became clear that the Brexit plans were pressed on against all common sense. She still can’t believe how stupid British politics have become (her own words).

  • We can expect no more than this, we will reap what we sow.

  • The REMAINERS will continue for decades to say how foolish the UK was to vote for being once again a Sovereign Nation. This means for those who just don’t get it, the UK & Northern Ireland has taken back control of its Laws (quite important don’t you think?), our immigration policies (we are a very small group of islands) plus the UK now has the freedom to negotiate trade agreements with partners across the globe – including the United States of Europe! Those from overseas who wish to settle here and bring their skills will be welcome – does anyone have a problem with that?

  • I couldnt see the reason for joining the EU as it is constituted, with its lack of democracy. If it could be changed from within to create real democracy that would be one thing. But no moves in that direction have been made. Taxation with meaningless representation.

    • Roger
      Please provide an example of an EU law which was imposed on the UK without debate by our elected reps.

      Good grief I get fed up with asking this.

    • No true Scotsman fallacy. Democracy is not uniquely defined.

      “Real” democracy is a chimera.

      • I was under the mistaken impression that EU parliamentary members were elected/chosen by the parliaments in each county, like the Electoral College in the USA which gave us Trump, rather than directly elected by the citizens of each country. So I am glad to see that there is more democracy than I assumed.

        Another consideration is that EU member countries give up their sovereign currency so that they cant run deficits which can have its advantages in certain economic climates. So Greece was severely impacted with unemployment and couldnt spend its way out of it. Britain kept the Pound so they ddidnt have that excuse to leave.

    • @EE

      Professor, I read the link. I have a question for you.

      The article stated that education was marked a significant demographic in the Brexit vote. I don’t dispute that, in fact in agree. However, I ask you if you have an opinion as to why education might be such a factor in a vote of this type. The article have no specifics on that.

      Why is it that more educated voters would side with the status quo rather than vote to exit the Union ?

  • “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” – John Donne.

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