This is your Brexit wake-up call
MICHAEL FISH and the 1987 “hurricane”. Decca’s Dick Rowe turning down the Beatles. Alan Hansen’s “you can’t win anything with kids”.
As far as socalled experts getting it wrong goes, my prediction last year that a Brexit vote would be of little significance to the Jewish community was not the most embarrassing of all time, but it is, I feel, now time to come clean.
Ten months on, and after the Prime Minister finally triggered Article 50, it is obvious there was an underestimation before the vote. The impact of the referendum result is being felt just as keenly in the Jewish community as it is around the rest of the country.
The prospect of Britain leaving the EU has already affected the price of kosher food, led to a flood of enquiries for passport applications in EU countries, and threatened the future employment of staff at Jewish charities.
Since last summer the JC has also reported on the prospect of a boom in post-Brexit trade between Britain and Israel, and pondered the possibility of Westminster taking back full control over shechita and brit milah which have been overseen by Brussels.
The question remains, then, of whether Brexit will be good or bad for British Jews. Last May, I wrote that it was no surprise the majority of the community was leaning towards voting Remain. Not believing that the leavers had any chance of winning, I claimed Brexit would have no great impact on Jewish issues even if it did happen. My conclusion: there was “no stand-out Jewish answer to the referendum question”.
That false assessment came after a JC poll showed almost half the country’s Jews believed Britain should remain in the EU, with 49 per cent saying they planned to vote Remain and only 34 per cent backing Brexit. That was six weeks before polling day, and even the most fervent leavers would at that point have probably expected a Remain victory.
The more sceptical among us may have sneered at the claim made last week by Rabbi Jeremy Conway, head of the London Beth Din’s kashrut division, that Brexit was to blame for this year’s rise in Pesach food prices.
But the pound’s ongoing weakness has inevitable consequences. When so much kosher food is imported — whether from the United States, Europe or Israel — it is going to hit us all in the pocket, and is already doing so.
I have yet to hear any MP with a sizeable Jewish constituency outline how they will work to defend our ways of life. Nor has any communal leader, to my knowledge, given an assessment of the potential impact of Brexit on Anglo-Jewry.
Amid all the concern there has been a surprising degree of levity. Perhaps people are still in the denial stage. They need to snap out of it, fast.
The social media reactions this week weaved from the mildly humorous to the simply ridiculous. Some lit candles “to show our sadness and sense of loss”. Others posted memes wishing each other “Yom Brexit Sameach” or joking about the straightness of bananas. And who could not have felt tremendous reassurance upon learning that Reform Judaism’s Rabbi Laura JannerKlausner was “releasing a prayer on the triggering of Article 50” alongside other faith leaders?
Many of us got it wrong in the runup to last June. But as the focus moves to Brussels negotiations, we as a community need to take Britain’s exit from the EU more seriously.
Yes, there will be two years — at least — of further uncertainty. It is impossible to know what exactly the final exit deal will look like. What is no longer up for debate is that after March 2019, British Jews’ way of life will be markedly different, and we must be prepared to deal with that eventuality.
We as a community need to take Brexit more seriously’