Boris Johnson, Brexit, Brussels, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, domino effect, Douglas Renwick, EU, Europe, eurozone, Fitch Ratings, football, Glasgow, greece, HM Queen, Ireland, Jo Cox, Labour, Leave, maastricht, Michael O'Leary, Nigel Farage, Poland, policy, politics, poll, referendum, Remain, Ryanair, Scotland, The Netherlands, UK, UKIP, vote, Wales, Westminster
With Britain’s EU “#Breferendum” just days away, I felt it would be good to peep one more (and last!) time this week at various loose ends of the debate and to highlight them before you do the right thing – VOTE!
As I have passed through my upper middle class London neighbourhood over the past month I have been inspired by the amount of street corner debate which the In-Out referendum has stirred. In my lifetime, I cannot remember another period that there has been this much chatter, debate and name-dropping “Boris, Cameron, Farage, Brexit” as I walk innocently by. If Premier David Cameron’s only goal was to boost the usually passive voters of this nation into taking politics seriously, I would say there hasn’t been this much interest in politics since the watershed 1945 General Election, which was also a game-changer.
It is so evident that Brexit or Remain hangs on everyone’s tongue like a droplet of moisture in a stereotypical London smog scene. And in many ways, the “debate” we have read in the newspapers or on television has been one big smokescreen, hasn’t it?
While there is street corner debate, I have spoken to so many people who feel there is a lack of maturity and facts on the issue. That is not to say facts don’t exist. Bloomberg runs an analytical hub, and analysts and ratings agencies speak often, as I shall highlight in a moment. But they are obscured by so much elbowing from quarters who only want to peddle self-interest and propaganda. The facts have been drowned out!
As I have said before in the channel of this blog, the debate really isn’t about People Power, where you decide and the politicians carry out your wishes. Rather, it is about self-interest, and that means someone else telling you to do what THEY want you to do.
Everyone and his wife has jumped onto the bandwagon almost as though through Brexit they have discovered a commercially-savvy and search engine-optimised hashtag, to state their case, whether it is Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary urging us in a £19.99 flights booked by June 23 newsletter to vote Remain, or the top 20 Premiership football clubs yelling Remain.
But in all cases this is self-interest, their interests. At least O’Leary has the decency to say so in his email newsletter today: “Michael O’Leary and the team at Ryanair urge you to vote “Remain”. The EU and its single market has enabled Ryanair to revolutionise air travel and lower the cost of holidays between the UK and Europe.”
Similarly, the top football teams want Remain because it has satisfied their hunger for top players from other European nations on a scale that would be a tad harder (possibly) if we Brexit, meaning leave the European Union.
But no one asks what the next layer of football teams, not exposed to the opportunity buy flash European players and so secure that the newbies never get a chance at the top game, actually think about Brexit. We might find a lot of them aren’t nearly so adamant about Remain.
Even Ryanair needs to look again. Yes, batting for Brussels as the budget airline is doing certainly will mean it is better placed to win future battles with eurocrats when it wants to open a new airport hub or gain financial support. But it doesn’t strictly mean that budget airline travel will die off.
A new trade arrangement will follow any Brexit, but the manner of it depends on many things. There is no reason to suppose that budget air travel (even with its disastrous carbon footprint) will actually evaporate into thin air.
Far too much open-ended under-researched scaremongering has gone on in this debate, and both sides are to blame for doing it and therefore perpetuating it. If one side had stuck faithfully to the facts and only criticised the other for cheap thrills a more mature and meaningful debate might just have followed. Instead, we have to rely on street corner chatter to be informed. Not a good sign!
Locating some facts
That is not to say that independent bodies are not trying to fill the void of information. Ratings agency Fitch, although tarnished like Moodys and Standard & Poor’s eight years ago in the credit crunch, judges that a Brexit would deliver short- and long-term imbalance to the UK.
It said back in February in a note: “Lengthy negotiations and uncertainty over UK firms’ future access to EU markets following a vote to leave in the upcoming referendum on EU membership (Brexit) would weigh on confidence and delay investment decisions. This would have a short-term economic cost, although the precise impact would be highly uncertain.”
Fitch continued: “We believe that in the event of a Leave vote, the authorities on both sides would try to avoid disrupting the deep economic and financial integration between the UK and EU by establishing a clear new relationship, including a trade agreement that preserves UK attractiveness for investment. Some tightening of the freedom of EU citizens’ to work in the UK would be likely. Avoiding large-scale, permanent disruption to trade relations, including services, could limit the long-term economic cost to the UK, with Brexit only moderately negative for the UK.”
The respected senior director at Fitch, Douglas Renwick, then rather ominously added: “But there would be significant risks, especially if the remaining EU members attempted to impose punitive conditions on the UK to deter other countries from leaving, or the UK sought very tough restrictions on EU citizens coming to work in the UK.”
Part of the reason why I have been anxious about the behaviour of what latterly became a self-interest EU and Eurozone was the way it behaves to individual member states. Even if the statistics show that in most cases Britain has won the key votes in Europe, there is no understating the fact that often the EU has blocked opportunity and protection of citizens. Bear witness the 2010 spat of Ireland versus Germany and France over introducing a depositor protection scheme.
Rather than guaranteeing success and opportunity, the EU has also stunted it and tried to protect sick nations like Greece for the greater good of the euro and stability. In that sense, it has brought misery to individual nations – Greece endures harsh austerity and Ireland was threatened because it wanted to protect its own citizens. To that extent, it is evident that the EU’s greater good is more important than the needs of individual nations.
All of this has become a menace for how Europe is perceived. Maybe it is better-the-devil-you-know but we can’t see yet what a Leave vote would actually mean after the poll on June 23. Could it be so very different a year after a Brexit vote? And does it really matter? More on that in a moment.
But do we even want to be a part of a no-longer-rich club that behaves like an East End gang? If retribution for deserters was really on the cards, towards either Britain or any other country mulling to quit the EU, is that a body we really want to be a part?
There is also the issue of the “price of success” and lack of real reform. In April, Fitch said there was now evidence that after a long winter of many years the Eurozone was again recovering – but that it was reinforcing old divergences again.
“The cyclical position of the eurozone economy has improved substantially since the height of the eurozone sovereign crisis in 2012…Nevertheless, the recovery among member states is far from homogeneous and a new divergence has started to develop. The recovery accelerated significantly in 2015 in Ireland and Spain, outperforming Portugal and Italy where the recovery remained sluggish,” said Gergely Kiss, a Fitch director.
Masstricht was a treaty which endorsed a single market but never considered the “what if” questions related to nations like Greece fibbing about the state of their economies until they begged for bailout. And the EU still has not enough incentive to reform until and unless someone bravely quits.
If we do Leave, then Poland – never a fan of belonging to overbearing economic blocs, bear witness to EU rival Comecon until 1989 – and The Netherlands could well be the next to ask their people to vote.
Too soon to say a domino effect, but the EU does now have a public relations crisis on and it will become a disaster if the UK quits. Or a chance to really reform and make it attractive for Britain to re-join.
So, what happens next?
If we Remain, the status quo is maintained, and the back bench Tories who demanded the referendum to fight off defections of their MPs to the UK Independence Party, will be silenced, for now at least.
Will Europe really reform? No more so than can we trust Westminster to deliver on all of its promises made to Scotland in the weeks before the 2014 Scottish referendum.
Europe would resist defying self-interests so it is hardly likely to change much if Britain falls in line and pro-Europe Grandees pat Cameron on the back to tell him what a jolly good fellow he is.
Not sure he will get a purring phone call from HM Queen the way he reportedly did after Scots decided to vote to remain in the union of the United Kingdom. The Queen has reportedly been said to favour Brexit in a leak earlier this year.
That’s the Remain open and shut case.
But what if we Leave?
Well, my argument would be that we might not progress an awful lot further!
The bitter irony of the EU referendum is that neither a vote to Remain or Leave will actually be as important as the street corner chatter might suggest.
A slightly pompous and over-confident Cameron told us two years ago he would carry out the British will, but since it has become ever more possible that Leave will win (at least until this week when Remain staged a comeback in the polls) the question is does Cameron feel the same way he did in 2014?
Britain is governed by parliamentary democracy. So ultimately a referendum is nothing more than a grand opinion poll, backed by £150m of taxpayers’ money. Parliament would seek guidance from the poll, but doesn’t actually have to carry it through. There is no constitutional (a word rarely heard in the Brexit debate) mandate for a referendum.
It is a snapshot of people’s opinion and it is only a barometer that says whether the nation is broadly for or against remaining in the EU.
It is then for Westminster, as well as the EU itself, to interpret what it all means.
Hence, if Cameron wants to delay implementation he can. There is nothing on the ballot paper that names the alternatives in a Leave vote nor states the timeframe for quitting the EU. It is not a contract, after all.
The most we can hope for is that if the people’s choice by more than a thin 51% is in favour of Leave politicians will debate what kind of Brexit it would mean – Iceland, Norway and Switzerland all have different models of cooperation outside EU membership, as do Lichtenstein, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, to name but a few outsiders.
But if Cameron decided to delay, on the grounds that data shows that Brexit in 2018 or 2020 would not be in the national interest, he has every democratic right to overrule the referendum.
What a Leave vote is more likely to succeed in doing is open civil war within the Conservative Party. One thing Cameron may have done is increase people’s political awareness, but as we saw with the bestial slaying of a dignified Remain campaigner last week, the Yorkshire Labour MP Jo Cox, no other subject has more divided Britain and the Conservative Party.
In 2020 we will be facing a General Election and a split Tory party or possibly swelling ranks in UKIP. These factors would almost certainly usher in a majority Labour Government. Labour is opposed to Brexit and while many of its supporters in the party and its natural voters support Brexit, Labour would almost certainly defer indefinitely the talks paving the way to a Brexit.
So, you see, Resistance Is Futile!
At very least the referendum would be another protest vote like the anti-EU vote of the European Elections in May 2014. UKIP had a landslide victory outside of London.
And certainly we might yet see a repeat of that after the June 23 referendum. Cosmopolitan London is likely to vote to Remain. But other parts of Britain, especially English shire counties and northern England, are more likely to vote Leave.
This isn’t an aggregate vote, like a US presidential popular poll. Rather there will be 382 counting areas across the country. These will then offload the ballots to 12 regions. It is these that will then determine the result.
We could well see a result a bit like in the Scottish referendum, where Britain’s third-most populous city – Glasgow – voted to Yes to independence but all the other areas backed No.
London, Wales and Scotland are likely to support Remain in EU. But the rest of the regions are more questionable.
We will know the result before London stock markets open at 0800 BST on Friday. At least it will be a swift verdict!
But what manner it takes it is still too close to predict.
For an amusing take on what could happen and then what the newspaper actually thinks will happen, click onto The Daily Telegraph’s link. If you think my blog is long this time, spare a thought for the Telegraph, so scroll way down the page to see the scenario the newspaper predicts. Click here.
If Remain wins, bankers will sigh relief as many fear industry job losses to Europe – although I doubt their pessimism. If it is a Leave vote, don’t expect Nigel Farage to become the next Prime Minister!
In a nutshell, relax and vote with your convictions, not the self-interests of others. Even a Brexit-Leave result does not guarantee we leave the EU in our lifetimes.
And similarly, don’t buy into the hype that this is a once-ever vote on the issue. You don’t believe the carpet sale commercials, so why do you believe it here? The issue will return either on Brexit or the manner of a Brexit, in another generation at most. People’s disillusionment with the EU isn’t likely to go away unless the EU reforms.
And if you opt to vote Leave, no it doesn’t make you a racist nor anti-European. Just not happy with the current EU.
One thing to mull over on the way to the polling station is, if things were really good in the EU, would we even be having this referendum?