Too bad Britain thinks its right

Brexit Au revoir auf wiedersehen arrivederci and adiosjeffdjevdet via Flickr
Voices Friday, June 24, 2016 - 14:22

Seriously, there can be only one surmise – the British love recession and isolation. Xenophobia, unemployment and the dismantling of London as the world’s financial capital is something they hold dear come hell or high water. Make no mistake – the 52-48 result in favour of leaving the European Union (EU) is nothing short of a political and economic tsunami the results of which are too soon to feel much less comprehend. Hours after news of the British goodbye hit world, S&P confirmed to the Financial Times that United Kingdom (UK) will lose its final AAA credit rating. On the other side of the English Channel continental Europe woke up to mixed sentiments ranging from good riddance to worries of other countries seeking an exit.

This is the first time a EU major has left the erstwhile 28-country bloc constructed after World war 11. Up until the last minute people held out hope that Brexit would not pass. No, they can’t be that stupid. Sanity will prevail. Jo Cox did not die for nothing. Human beings are sensible – surely they see what leaving the EU would mean. Well, people have spoken and they want to go home. They no longer feel heard in the European capital city of Brussels run by faceless un-elected Eurocrats. They want to ‘save’ their culture, their world, their religion, their jobs and their future - exactly the same things that those voting to stay want.  The irony is complete. London, by far one of the world’s most tolerant cities has decided to shut itself from the rest of the world. Thursday’s vote is only the beginning of a bad, long and messy divorce after 43 years of marriage.

Anyone who says s/he has a road map must be smoking something potent. Look for lots of soothsaying statements over the next few days from central bankers, finance minister and heads of state as they try to steady markets and go into damage control mode. European airwaves and television screens are full of predictions and prognosis which make no sense. What the British have done, in effect, is to royally splinter the world’s largest political union and trading bloc – an $18 trillion economy. Talk about who gets the furniture and who gets to keep the house are renting the air with monies looking for other tax havens. Switzerland is open for business as the financial hub as London reels. There’s opportunity in fear – money will go where it feels secure.

Many fear other European countries will now hold their own referendums. Right wing groups in the Netherlands, Italy and France are sharpening their knives. France’s ultra nationalist party the National Front announced on Friday morning that it will push for a vote to quit the EU even as French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel plan a meeting shortly.

The Brexit vote could also break UK apart – Ireland and Scotland want to stay in the EU. It will undoubtedly throw transatlantic political unity into a tailspin and heighten tensions with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin must be smiling, as must be China’s Xi Jingping – trouble in Western democracies is music to their ears. In the short and medium term ties with the United States (US) will also suffer. The next US President will have to deal with a weak ally on the other side of the pond as well as cope with a transiting-out economy.

What next? Some say negotiations to quit could begin as early as next Tuesday in Brussels. Even if that does not happen, talk of it will cast a long shadow over almost everything in Brussels. Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that Britain would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty which sets a two-year timetable to agree to the terms of a departure. Under the terms of this rule, the terms of Britain’s departure will have to be agreed upon by the other 27 EU countries without a British vote. Brexiteers would prefer to negotiate informally without invoking the Lisbon Treaty which is loaded against them.  The EU will not agree to this – welcome to mess and more mess. Beides, this conversation makes sense only if Cameron continues as Prime Minister. Separately, will George Osborne the Chancellor of the Exchequer issue an emergency “Brexit budget” as he promised before the poll?

Brexit has also profiled another side of European politics.  Continental Europeans and the British have always had a relationship of mutual suspicion. Europeans say London is Washington by another name while the British profess to exasperation in dealing with Italians, Germans, Spanish and their bête noir the French. This time around however, the stakes are higher. Commentators are asking if the Brexit vote was a referendum on elites and immigration, the same themes that are providing grist to Donald Trump as his rhetoric turns shriller by the day. Trump who has spoken favourably of Brexit is likely to pounce on the results as vindication of his xenophobia, especially his dislike for Muslims and Mexicans. Brexiteers in other European countries listen to Trump with perked ears.

The optimists are holding hands arguing that this slap from British voters should enable Europe to reinvent itself and get its act together. There is a wave of xenophobia sweeping across Western democracies. Career politicians must take the results very seriously – there is a tide in the affairs of people. They generally come home when they are scared. These are uncertain times and sentiments are beyond numbers and glib talk. The Brexit campaign saw the worst kind of fear mongering. Controlling their tongues and calming nerves is almost as important as steadying the markets.