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Letter: Why Is Britain Failing Compared to the EU?

Published on: 28 Apr, 2024
Updated on: 28 Apr, 2024

Image: Wikimedia

From: David Roberts

“To be born British,” goes the old saying, “is to win first prize in the lottery of life.” How far can this now be said except as a joke?

I’ve just got back from a three-week drive around Portugal and western Spain. Neither country is among the richest states in Europe and, to judge from the local news bulletins, both face serious economic and social challenges – all the more reason why, compared with Britain, three things require some explanation:

1. Food: The food everywhere is cheap, fresh, healthy, abundant and overwhelmingly local. There are some impressive supermarket chains – Portugal’s Pingo Doce is a wonder to behold – but many more independent shops and thriving markets everywhere. The contrast with our allegedly competitive food sector and increasingly narrow, processed diet is highly disturbing.

2. Infrastructure: I drove on thousands of miles of empty motorways, almost all toll-free, through tunnels and over dozens of immense, breathtaking bridges and viaducts. Even on remote country roads I scarcely found a pothole or any roadworks. All this infrastructure is new: when I worked in Madrid in the 1980s, there was still not a single motorway link to the outside world.

3. Local government: Every town oozes civic pride. I saw several half-derelict urban areas and many signs of abandoned rural ways of life, but not a single town centre that isn’t being visibly improved, with new paving, gleaming town halls, neatly trimmed trees and verges, manicured parks, clean public loos and galleries and cultural centres galore. Publicly owned monuments are uncommercialised and cheap or free to enter. Councils everywhere seem to be well-resourced and implementing ambitious public works without resorting to new high-rise development or identikit housing estates.

A lot of things abroad are hidden to the tourist, including taxes, poverty, corruption and the state of health, education and social services. Britain is still relatively well-off and gets many things right, including a keen tolerance of diversity.

So why, as a country, are we failing so spectacularly on these specific items? Are these countries simply playing catch-up with Britain’s grim modernity? Or is our national stasis so bad that we have gone blind to being overtaken, to other models of progress?

Perhaps Dragon readers can help me out?

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Responses to Letter: Why Is Britain Failing Compared to the EU?

  1. John Perkins Reply

    April 28, 2024 at 6:44 pm

    Some thoughts on the items listed.

    1. It’s a little misleading to write of the “food everywhere” in those terms. Not all the qualities listed can be applied to Belgium, Germany, Austria or Finland or, I’m told, anywhere in Scandinavia. On the other hand, food in Serbia has them all. Good food is not the sole preserve of EU countries and bad or expensive food is not limited to Britain. Ireland probably matches the UK.

    2. What is the point of an empty motorway?

    3. I concur, government at all levels in this country seems to have lost its way.

    I can only guess at why some things are so bad here, but am certain that non-membership of the EU is not the cause.

  2. David Smith Reply

    April 29, 2024 at 8:44 am

    Perhaps Mr Roberts should venture further than western Spain. I’m in southern Italy right now and the roads are full of potholes, there are no jobs and there are lots of beggars. People are finding it hard here. The year before I was in Sicily which had some similar themes and I wasn’t surprised to see Amanda Holden and Alan Carr promoting homes for €1 on their TV show to entice people back into these areas where economic growth is struggling.

    I won’t even start on my trip to Poland.

  3. Stuart Barnes Reply

    April 29, 2024 at 10:31 am

    Mr Roberts not only has got the quote wrong, the correct quote is: “That to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life”, but appears to be starting the expected advertising campaign to rejoin the corrupt and hated EU.

    I don’t think that even Starmer or Cameron would dare do that.

    • John Perkins Reply

      April 30, 2024 at 9:23 am

      The campaign has indeed begun.

      Social media is awash with pro-EU posts, frequently repeating the old canard “Brexit has been a catastrophe”.

      Then there is the offer from the EU of free movement, which they once rejected out of hand as “cherry-picking”.

  4. Olly Azad Reply

    April 29, 2024 at 11:18 pm

    There is no mention here by David Roberts to indicate that the English or the British should rejoin the EU again, and rightly so, but I do think that Stuart Barnes may have let paranoia get the better of him.

    Whenever you visit another country it’s natural to see the good, the bad and the ugly and it’s evident to see that Portugal and Spain has had a thumbs up.

    But it still hasn’t stopped the migrants trying to cross the channel “en masse” hoping to reach the White Cliffs of Dover.

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