Gerry’s News Digest 184: Referendum, British eating & drinking trends, new words (11th March, 2016)

Hi, this is Gerry. And welcome to my News Digest for Friday 11th March 2016. On today’s programme I’m going to start by talking about the big political story here: the once-in-a-lifetime decision that the British electorate is going to make on June 23rd. It’s a very big story and I’ve tried to limit it, but it means that my other stories have to be shorter: two stories about changes in Britain – changes in what we eat and drink, and in how we speak.


So, there’s no putting it off any longer. I’m going to have to raise the subject of [1] the EU and the referendum. If you sense some regret in my voice it’s because I, like a lot of other people here, are [2] feeling frustrated about the whole issue, in the same way that we feel frustrated with European politics in general. But let me first give you the background to this vote. Britain first tried to join the EU in the 1960s but President de Gaulle of France twice vetoed [3] Britain’s application. Economically, France was doing well at that time and was able to play the leading role within the EEC, as it was then. It was only in 1973 that Britain, Ireland and Denmark became part of the first big expansion of the European Economic Community. Norway was also accepted but the Norwegian people rejected the offer in a referendum. Britain also then held a referendum - two years later in 1975. The people voted something like 65% “Yes” to stay in the EEC. The “No” campaign at that time was dominated by the left wing of the then Labour government [4]. In the same way that today the governing Conservatives are split [5] on Europe, at that time the governing Labour party was equally split. The “No” campaign was also supported [6] by the nationalist right wing, the Protestant Unionists [7] from Northern Ireland and other non-establishment groups. Nearly all the newspapers at that time were pro-Europe – it’s different this time.

Mrs Thatcher, the newly elected leader of the Conservatives in 1975, was very active at that time in the “Yes” campaign. Today, the “No” campaign claim [8] that she would be on their side. So what has happened since 1975? Britain’s priorities in Europe, like those of the other countries, are basically to look after its national self-interest. Britain’s success in the world is largely based on free trade [9], and it was always the free market that was the attraction of the EEC: we called it The Common [10] Market, after all. France, Germany and other countries with their history of land wars against each other perhaps saw the EEC more politically, as a vehicle for building lasting peace on the continent. As time has moved on the EEC has become a lot bigger, and has evolved through different treaties into the European Union. The British government has tended, historically, to support enlargement [11] of the EU, but it has opposed closer integration that goes beyond creating the free market.

Nevertheless, when the Euro was first thought of the British government was quite positive. This changed in 1992 under a Conservative government. In 1990, the British pound joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism – this was a system for linking [12] the European currencies in preparation for the creation of the Euro. But it all went terribly wrong for Britain. There was a huge financial crash. The number of Eurosceptics [13] within the Conservative party rose and that ended any hope of Britain joining the Euro. Recent problems within the Eurozone [14] have strengthened British scepticism. Britain’s relative economic success in recent years has also led to a big influx [15] of people from other EU countries looking for work. The largest numbers are from Poland and Ireland, but the biggest current [16] rise is from Bulgaria and Romania. Added to that, we now have the refugee crisis. Britain and Ireland stayed out of the Schengen agreement, but that doesn’t solve the migration problem. The Eurosceptics demand more control over our borders, and more power to the British parliament. Even on the pro-Europe side, it’s difficult to find people today with the same enthusiasm for the EU that they had in 1975. Neither politically nor economically does the EU look very successful at the moment.

Mr Cameron is a politician who seems to like taking risks. Perhaps he’s brave, perhaps he’s opportunistic [17]. In any case, faced with the growing popularity of UKIP, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party and growing numbers of Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party, he decided to promise us a referendum if he won the last election. The referendum would be a simple in/out vote: remain or leave. But it would be on the basis of a reformed EU that Mr Cameron promised to negotiate for us. After months of travelling around Europe, Mr Cameron secured, under threat of the UK leaving the EU, agreement on four points: - an emergency brake [18] on migration that the UK will be able to use for seven years - a reduction in the child benefit [19] that the UK pays to EU nationals whose children are not in the UK, in order to discourage so-called “benefit tourism [20]” - a change to EU treaties to make it clear that the UK will not be forced to be part of any move towards closer political union - and finally, safeguards [21] for London as a financial centre and the prevention of any EU discrimination against non-Eurozone countries.

Mr Cameron who had hitherto [22] appeared to be no fan of the EU came back with his agreement, announced the date of the referendum on June 23rd, and began arguing in favour of the EU. We’ve now got four months of argument between the “Inners” and the “Outers”. So far we’ve had roughly one theme per week in the campaign. First it was Mr Cameron’s deal: was it something or nothing? Then it was how many of Mr Cameron’s ministers would be against him? Then it was “Project Fear”: are the Inners overemphasizing the risks of heading off [23] into the unknown? The Outers talk of a bright new dawn [24]. Then there were arguments about how long it would take to leave: ten years of complicated negotiations or just simple adjustments to treaties and so on?

At the moment, the race seems close. No side has a clear lead [25]. I’ll keep you posted about developments. It’s an important vote. I think it’ll affect everybody, Switzerland included, especially if we choose to leave.


What do the British eat and drink? Most Europeans that I know who have never been to the UK or who were last here when they were kids tend to have very outdated ideas. 20160311 EN baked beansBut my ideas also needed a bit of revision when the latest figures came out last month about how our eating and drinking habits have changed in the last 40 years. I wonder how many of these trends apply to your part of the world, too. A move towards low-fat, skimmed or semi-skimmed milk [26] for example, or a big reduction in the amount of bread we eat? We’re also eating a lot more fresh fruit (and it’s now available all year round). When it comes to meat, we now eat hardly any liver, kidneys or other offal [27], but our consumption of chicken just goes up and up. We’re also huge eaters of pasta and pizza now – probably influenced more by America than by Italy. And the British today are not such great tea drinkers as they were. We have a new coffee culture, but it hasn’t completely taken over. A nice cup of tea still remains the most popular hot drink in the UK. Other old British favourites including biscuits, baked beans and fish and chips are also in decline. We still eat huge amounts of chips but not so much with the traditional fish. The moral of this story? Things change, and we need to make sure our stereotypes keep up to date!


It’s not only our food and drink habits that are changing, our language too never stays still, although some of us probably wish that it would. I was reading a funny article the other weekend about business jargon. It included a quiz with questions like the following: While discussing a future meeting, a colleague says, “Yes, that’s a firm pencil [28].” What does she mean? Or, what’s the meaning of this: “I recommend you action reaching out [29] to other stakeholders.” (You can find the answers on the website.) The article made me think that I could give you a few newish words from the business world that were never in any of the English textbooks that I worked with. There was one in that last question. My daughter never says “I’ll get in touch with you” or “I’ll contact you”; she now says “I’ll reach out to you.” And if it’s just a brief contact, she might say “I’ll touch base with you about that.” Everybody in Britain now says “I met with my boss last week.” We used to say “”I had a meeting with my boss.” There’s now a difference between “You’ll never guess who I met on holiday! Our new boss!” and “I met with my new boss on Monday to talk about my projects.” Another one that I keep hearing these days is the new phrase for “in the future”, which is “going forward”, for example “I think we’ll need a new strategy going forward.” One last example of a word that has expanded its meaning: it’s the word “to grow”. Farmers and gardeners used to grow plants, but now business people grow their companies, and I even heard an American on the radio talking about “growing our children”. All these words and phrases have now come into common usage in Britain, whether we like it or not!


Finally today, when I was in London earlier this year I visited the Museum of London for the first time. It tells the story of the city. And they’ve started doing DNA analysis of the oldest skeletons that they’ve found in London. The first four skeletons that they analysed were 2000 years old, from the Roman city of Londinium. Of the four, two were from North Africa, one from Central Europe and only one was native British. Multicultural London is one thing that we can be sure is not new! Don’t forget the vocabulary trainer on the PodClub app. And remember if you’ve got anything to say about any of my topics, write to me via the website: Or use Twitter: my Twitter address is @Gerrypod. My next News Digest will be on 8th April. Until then, take care!


[1] to raise the subject of: to start talking about, to open discussion about the topic of
[2] Gerry apologises for the grammatical error in this sentence. (Did you notice it?) It should be "I, like a lot of other people here, am feeling frustrated about the whole issue...
[3] to veto: to officially refuse (In the EU some things have to be approved by every country: this means that each country can refuse or block something in this way.)
[4] the then Labour government: the Labour government of that time
[5] to split: to divide
[6] to support: to back, to approve of and help
[7] NB Unionists (especially in Northern Ireland) are people who support the United Kingdom and want to remain in it.
[8] to claim (something): to say (something) is true
[9] free trade: the freedom to buy and sell things without limits, import or export taxes, etc.
[10] common: here: shared by everybody
[11] enlargement: extension (here: increase in the number of member states)
[12] to link: to join together
[13] Eurosceptics: people who do not like the EU or who do not believe in its effectiveness
[14] Eurozone: the area that includes all the countries that use the Euro
[15] influx: a movement or flow of people or things into somewhere
[16] current: happening now
[17] opportunistic: describing a person without strong moral principles who takes every chance to gain an advantage
[18] emergency brake: here: a stop (Trains have these for example in order to stop if there is danger or an accident.)
[19] child benefit: money that the government pays to parents to help them pay for their children
[20] benefit tourism: This term is used to describe how people are attracted to come and live in a country like the UK because they can get money from the government if they are poor, ill, homeless, etc.
[21] safeguard: a law, rule or plan that protects you
[22] hitherto: up till then
[23] to head off: to move away
[24] dawn: the time of day when the sun comes up (here: used metaphorically)
[25] to have a clear lead: to be clearly in first position (ie. winning)
[26] skimmed milk: milk that has had all the fat (cream) removed
[27] offal: the organs of animals that we eat (liver, kidney, heart, etc.)
[28] This means that the colleague can’t confirm the time for the future meeting so she can only pencil it into her diary (ie make a provisional arrangement), but she’s nearly certain so she’s pencilling it in firmly! (taken from a quiz in the Guardian magazine by Tim Dowling)
[29] In the quiz, the answer was “Talk to your colleagues!” “To action” means to do something, to take action or put into action (eg. to action a recommendation). “To reach out to” means to contact. Stakeholders are people who have an interest or a share in something. (also from The Guardian)