Old Clock

Letter From The UK: Right Place, Wrong Time

Letter from the UK

Two things have moved me to write this. One is that we have reached the time of year when I go to bed in the dark and get up in the dark. The other is that we are being told that Europeans are deciding not to buy British made cars because of Brexit.

Time, as you know, is a man-made construct and mostly we don’t have enough of it. Across an area as vast as the continental United States there are different time zones. Here on our Greenwich Mean Time islands, caught in a weather trap between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, we don’t have that problem.

We do, however, have the problem of different nations.

United Kingdom

This is another name for Great Britain because we are an amalgamation of four different countries and cultures. In general, we rub along okay but there are some strong differences of opinion. Because we have the same time nationally, it was decided that like America, twice a year, our clocks would ‘spring’ forward and ‘fall’ back. This is very irritating and I blame Benjamin Franklin who first suggested the notion.

In the UK this was begun in the early 20th Century because it benefited people who lived in northern Scotland. No matter that it was just a nuisance to the rest of us. Twice a year I rediscover just how many time-sensitive devices exist around the house, all quietly ticking away until I have to fiddle about with them. Do politicians not realize how hard it is to rush around a property striving to make sure all the clocks and watches and televisions and radios and kitchen appliances and telephones read the same?

What’s worse is that Scotland wants independence from the British Union but they also want to stay in the European Union. Fine. Let them have their own time, see if we care. That way the rest of us can move to Central European Time (CET) and stop all this clock business once and for all. In fact, the British parliament decided against this about four years ago because they were worried about losing votes in Scotland, seemingly oblivious to the rise of Scottish nationalism.

Palace of Westminster as seen from this aerial photo dated August 2007. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Relationship With Europe

The result is that we have a time difference with our trading partners in Europe. This is inconvenient in a free trade area but at least we were still able to attract huge inward investment from foreign car makers. In the UK we have some 800,000 people employed in the auto industry one way or another. Great Britain is now a major center for motor manufacturing.

In many ways Britain has done well-being part of Europe. There is also much we don’t like. We don’t like being told what to do by boring, bossy Belgians in gray suits, and there is and always has been, a great gulf caused by our physical separation from the Euro-mainland thanks to the English Channel. Our cultures differ.

For example, although we like the idea of a café society, we remain totally entrenched within our pub society, largely due to our often inclement weather. It is these social differences, plus the inbuilt dislike of being told what to do by foreigners, that has resulted in Brexit. There’s an argument that says we didn’t really think it through because we didn’t consider commerce in the equation. What happens if trade barriers go up?

A Nissan Juke makes its way through the assembly process at the automaker’s Sunderland Plant. The facility produces 476,589 vehicles annually and employs 6,700 people. Photo & Source: Nissan of Europe.

British Automobile Industry

Although our industry is generally bullish about trading with the world outside of Europe (China, Canada, and Australia have expressed interest) it has been reported that European car buyers are starting to boycott British cars. The boss of Jaguar Land Rover in Britain, Dr. Ralf Speth, (a German incidentally), has highlighted this alleged trend in recent statements.

These sort of alarmist statements don’t really help. Just because a few people have allegedly rejected British products doesn’t mean the world will end. If someone wants to own a Jaguar or a Range Rover then I doubt politics really comes into the equation.

Although, Nissan has one of the industry’s most successful car factories right here in Sunderland, but there has also been a warning from CEO Carlos Goshn. Similar concerns were expressed by our car bosses in Paris recently for the motor show. This also flies in the face of an earlier statement by Jaguar Land Rover’s strategy director that Brexit would cause no loss of jobs or production.

Jaguar display at the 2016 Paris Motor Show.
Jaguar display at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. Photo: Jaguar Land Rover.

Nothing But Time

In short, the car industry is worried. The European car industry should also be worried because Brexit and the possibility of trade barriers will affect them as much as it affects everyone else. Euro car makers sell huge amounts of vehicles here too. The prestige German car industry is one of the mainstays of the German economy. If this country triggers Article 50 between January and March as our Prime Minister has intimated to officially commence our exit from the EU, then we are in for some hard talking.

Time is running out on both sides.

Time affects how we live. We run around adjusting the clocks, we adjust time to suit our purposes, but in the end, it makes no difference. If British politicians hadn’t had their heads buried in the sand when we had the CET discussion, would we now be more in tune with our neighbors? If British voters had taken the time to look at the hard economic facts instead of being swayed by jingoistic rhetoric, would they have chosen to go pro-Europe?

We’ll never know now, but one thing is certain: In the next couple of years, if things go well, we won’t have time for a nostalgic look back but, conversely, there will also be time enough to ponder on where exactly, like my clocks, it all went wrong.

*Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: @DriveWrite