As Brexit makes some Brits think about fleeing the country, Jane Bradley suggests they think again.
My Twitter feed is awash with people insistent that they are moving next year.
Britain is crap: the country has gone to hell in a handcart and the only option is relocating abroad – often to some country where the complainer has enjoyed a relaxing holiday.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as appalled by what is going on here as anyone else. Westminster has messed things up right and proper. We’re looking at contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit and troops are getting ready to line the streets in preparation for civil unrest. It is not a good time. Plenty of my colleagues have spent the past few months in these pages discussing the terrifying impact which a no-deal Brexit, or indeed, a some-kind-of-deal Brexit could have on our lives. However, watching all these desperate emigration plans, I am feeling a strong sense of out of the frying pan into the fire for those who believe that living somewhere – anywhere – else would be some kind of marvellous utopia. Everywhere, no matter how marvellous it may seem on the surface, has its faults as well as its upsides.
Obviously, Brexit would make it less likely that most of us would actually have the option of this kind of freedom of movement, so the idea is possibly academic – though a lot of people I know are clutching at straws of an Italian great-grandmother to obtain a passport that would allow them to live the life of Riley in Rome, or totting up points on Australia’s skills’ matrix in hope that they might make the grade.
Yet without actually living somewhere else longterm, we are painfully oblivious to other countries’ issues. It reminds me of how everyone else’s families appear perfect on social media – and it is only when you live in close proximity and get to know them warts and all that you discover that everyone has a mad uncle, is struggling to meet their mortgage payments and that their children are worse behaved than Horrid Henry.
In Italy, a popular country with British holidaymakers, recent national elections saw right-wing Matteo Salvini’s Lega party take most votes – with policies such as a pledge to deport 500,000 “illegal immigrants”. Italy might not be leaving the EU, but many locals’ social attitudes are arguably more extreme than even the worst of the Brexiteers.
Economically speaking, things are also fairly dire there, with corruption costing the country a reported €60 billion a year: four per cent of its GDP. Of course, sitting sipping prosecco outside of your Tuscan villa in July, you don’t have to think about any of that. If, however, you start paying tax there, earn money from an Italian company and try to fathom what day your bins are collected, things may suddenly become quite different.
In an Expat Insider survey conducted last year, Italy was ranked just 60th out of 65 countries based on factors including quality of life, work, and ease of settling in. According to the survey, the typical foreigner living “la dolce vita” struggles with limited career prospects and an ailing national economy.
France, another popular tourist haunt, is suffering from its own problems, with major civil unrest taking place across the country.
Personally, I love Romania. I’m a one-woman Romanian tourist board after living there for a wonderful year in my 20s. I visit on a pretty much annual basis and am at my absolute happiest sitting in an outdoor cafe in the picturesque city of Cluj, watching the world go by. However, I am aware that living there permanently would not be the idyll that I would like to think it would be. Many Romanian friends would think I was crazy for even considering it. Some of them are looking to relocate – a few of them, if possible, to the UK.
Of course, like most places, it has a lot of plus points: fun people, a fascinating culture, scorching summer weather and a pint of beer for less than a pound. On the other hand, the country has been struggling with corruption for as long as anyone can remember. It was less than two years ago when tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets as the government pushed through legislation which decriminalised official misconduct in public office. The average wage is still just €510 a month, making travelling abroad extremely expensive. Healthcare is, in many parts of the country, extremely patchy. Worried about a drugs shortage during Brexit? Try a rural eastern European hospital with grubby beds, 20 to a ward and little in the way of medical equipment.
The thing is, especially when it comes to Europe, people have a definite sense of rose-tinted glasses. The language barrier means that however much time you spend in a country as a foreigner, you are not likely to be as acutely attuned to its politics as you are back home. Your utopian country’s skeletons in the closet are firmly hidden behind an incomprehensible background noise of local news, while back home, our own problems are visible 24-7.
Further afield, Australia has what most of the UK would probably describe as a fairly antiquated attitude to race relations with derogatory words which would rarely be heard in polite UK society commonplace down under. Australians also get fewer holidays than the average British worker, so barbies on the beach would perhaps not be quite as frequent as in your Aussie dreams.
Little needs to be said about the US as a viable alternative to Brexit hell, while even Canada, that bastion of perfection with its oh-so-good-looking, wonderfully liberal prime minister, is not quite as perfect as you might think it is. Our NHS is creaking, its true. Yet in Scotland, we still have access to dental work and optical healthcare for free. Not so in Canada.
These are all things about other countries which are not obvious or important until we have moved there – finally revealing both bad and good. We may think the grass is always greener, but in reality, it’s about the same shade, no matter where we are.