You poor fools (Brexit frustration post)


I don’t do political posts, but the cataclysmic results of yesterday’s poll make today an exception, since the business impact will be huge.

The British people have spoken and a plurality of them have told the rest of Europe to get lost. Like many Americans, they’re mad as hell and they ain’t going to take it any more. And, just as the angry ‘Leave’ voters wanted, the world is trembling and the leader of their government has fallen on his sword. This is no doubt immensely satisfying to those who feel that prosperity has passed them by and they have been losing control of their lives to remote and unelected bureaucrats.

This wasn’t just about the European Union, which was always a project of the elites, and easily scapegoated for its ‘democratic deficit’ and mocked for its tendency to excessive regulation. Nor was it only about immigration, although the UK Independence Party tapped into a nasty racist and xenophobic streak in a section of the electorate, just as America’s equivalent populist has succeeded in doing – to the shame of both countries. The referendum result reflects a deep discontent with the way many people saw the country going, and a ‘plague on both your houses’ attitude to the leading parties: the poorer, traditional Labour areas defying the half-hearted efforts of Labour’s ineffectual leader to get them to vote to ‘Remain’; and many Conservative voters believing that the UK can turn the clock of globalization back, and ‘go it alone’.

The poor fools. They felt themselves betrayed by politicians and big business – the people who caused the financial crisis, forced austerity on them, and allowed hundreds of thousands of foreigners into the country. They lashed out, but the betrayal was not the one they thought. The betrayal was the weakness of David Cameron in giving the promise of a referendum to his Eurosceptic Right in 2013; the self-serving opportunism of Boris Johnson and others in cynically backing the Leave campaign to further their careers; the feebleness of Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn support for the Remain campaign; the utter vacuity of Nigel Farage’s UKIP’s appeals to some mythical ‘Little Englander’ fantasy of an ‘independent’ Britain; and the failure of the entire Remain camp to articulate what the Leave vote will really mean. (Message to Farage: if you think American, Asian, and Commonwealth governments will give a damn about Britain when it is no longer a gateway to, and influencer of Europe, you’re delusional.)

For the result will be that Britons will now be much worse off – a recession is likely, the currency is devalued, billions have been wiped off the stock market, Britain’s debt will be downgraded, interest rates and unemployment will rise, and there will be a period of huge economic and political instability. And for what? Some ill-defined notion of ‘sovereignty’ that is an emotional appeal without substance. Trading with the EU will require Britain to abide by EU rules governing everything from freedom of movement (so no reduction in immigration) to environmental health and product safety. The country will remain bound by UN conventions on human rights, and NATO treaty obligations. Meanwhile, international companies may move their UK operations to other EU countries, costing jobs and foreign exchange. And the other 27 EU members will be tough in negotiating Britain’s future trade relationships, to discourage others from leaving.

Furthermore, last night’s result is likely to lead to the break up of the United Kingdom, narrowly avoided 2 years ago, with the Scots overwhelmingly voting to Remain in the EU.

Britons have just taken a step off a fog-bound cliff, with no idea what kind of landing to expect. Worse still, they have weakened an institution that, for all its faults, has mostly kept a blood-soaked continent peaceful for a couple of generations. The fools.