“Doors to automatic” – I’m en-route to Switzerland, emails can’t ping and I have an hour and ten minutes to take stock. The shock has passed and as we move beyond the craziness of campaigning I find among my friends and colleagues, quiet Brexiteers and two groups who leant the other way. Of the latter, there are those who continue to gnash teeth, declaring the referendum result the consequence of ‘northern coffin dodgers’ and one that any government in its right mind would overrule.
The second group of Bremainers is no less frightened by the outcome – and no, these are not just those with an ankle biting stake in our future.
It is those running their own small businesses, those who fear relationships with European neighbours going forward having seemingly walked out on them in search of greener grass and those who fear a reduction in diversity of our population and culture.
Many fear for our security against terrorism and Soviet threats. My previous colleagues prophesy the collapse of the property market, more widely the collapse of the British economy outside the Single Market and I have a friend managing death duties of parents with estates, valued at the date of death, worth less post-referendum. Indeed it is economists who give the greatest causes for concern.
To the gnashing of teeth team who lobby the government to overrule the vote, consider the damage this would bring to a kingdom which must crucially unite. Is this really the way forward? Should the experience-driven opinions of the electorate, young, old, north, south, east or west really be overruled? Democracy cannot give a right answer; it gives the answer of a majority fuelled by experience of the past and hope for the future. We now, as a union, can steer it.
Flight BA712 taxis towards the runway of a suddenly size-limited London airport passing numerous tail flags of international airlines.
Our new government (the speed of this resolution must put a flicker of hope into the darkest hearts) is aware of the fears and I, encouraged by a stalwart friend to see the glass half full in any situation, share here potential upsides as they have a chance to unfold.
To my entrepreneurial friends, David Cameron’s vision for a reformed EU outlined in his Bloomberg speech of 23 January 2013 stated “I want completing the Single Market to be our driving mission and I want to exempt Europe’s smallest entrepreneurial companies from more EU Directives”. By “completing the Single Market” I think Cameron refers to the lack of Services, Digital and Energy markets within the status quo of the ESM. Services are central to the British economy and are yet exempt. As for Digital and Energy – surely these are core markets of the future? This was not appreciated in 2013 – Brexit ministers listen up now.
Even the most fervent Bremainers have encountered crazy ‘EU Directives’ but did you know that EU regulations regard those with diabetes unfit to drive or that, under EU law, it is illegal to eat your pet horse. It is okay to eat a pet horse providing it isn’t legally yours.
Steve Hilton, son of Hungarian asylum seekers, while Director of Strategy for Cameron’s team identified that 70% of wider government personnel was occupied administering EU edicts with no power to make them more time or cost effective. Pet horses may not at this point see the bright side but the chances are that going forward more realistic laws will occupy our Civil Service.
The regret shared with me for “walking out” on our allies was poignant. Expressed as “It was their club (Europe’s), we asked to join it, while in it we argued against it and now we’ve walked out and risk tearing it apart … this is a dangerous place to be in down the line”. Ethically I am saddened by this. On paper I see the wrong and the danger but I gather that over the last decade Britain has lost 71 of 72 actions it opposed. I’ve also learned that following Cameron’s energy-expending crusade which all thought had reduced the proposed increase of EC official salaries from 3 x the rate of inflation to a proposal equal to inflation (at a time when ordinary workers flailed post-financial crisis) was actually quietly implemented at the original proposed rate a few months down the line. Both factors demonstrate the difficulties of true reform from within.
ALLIANCES OF PEOPLE
In terms of allies, the world is moving faster all the time and nations come together in the face of developing circumstances. Looking for the bright side (dare I say moral forgiveness) I remove the personification of states. It is humans who seek allies not landmasses and they do so through the unification of people and people’s needs.
Returning to Cameron’s vision set out in 2013 – “We believe in a flexible union of free member states who share treaties and institutions and pursue together the ideal of co-operation… promote the values of European civilisation to the world… To collectively open markets… in our nations working together to protect the security… energy supplies, climate change, global poverty. To work together against terrorism and organised crime”. This cooperation of people (over politics) is central to the mission of our Brexit team now in charge, as important to our European counterparts and I have faith that negotiations will focus on alliances in the face of shared threat. Treaties supporting a closer union of people and not necessary politics.
“Please remember to put on your lifejacket before helping others with theirs” comes across the cheery safety briefing – a pause for reflection.
On 20 June I asked rhetorically to my friends via Facebook why if ‘Europe’ wants Britain to stay so fervently was it not prepared to – even at the 11th hour when it was accepted as too close to call – stick up a hand and offer just one more concession to tip the scales in favour of Remain? A ‘break’ from migration may well have tipped that balance.
According to migrationwatchuk.org, in 1991 net EU migration to the UK was 53,000 at the end of 2015 it was 300,000 – it doesn’t take a racist, a xenophobe, an economist or a geologist obsessively monitoring the deterioration of our coastline to recognise that the free movement of people within the EU is an unrealistic one-way flow.
No hand was put up in the days before 23 June, and I certainly felt nervous then at the ‘stick your head in the sand and let arrogance prevail’ demonstration from Brussels. Perhaps European leaders kicked themselves harder the next morning than anyone on our belligerent yet highly prized atoll.
Concessions not available to Cameron in February are now being reconsidered, not least the ‘emergency brake’ in return for continued commitment to the single market as it stands. We should take heart that negotiations may now be progressive over punitive as member states work to minimise their own loss.
Regardless of deals done, what might we see for immigration under UK terms? EU migrants become migrants like any other, qualifying for settlement through student (temporary), family or work connections. Currently 66% of EU migrants coming to the UK do so for work reasons but if a VISA is now required, as for non EU migrants, this majority will be need to have a job paying over £24k. The diversity of our culture will not be dramatically altered, perhaps we’ll even see it balanced further with a little more room for the glut of digital and scientific skills from India, the Far East and Australasia – strong historic allies, cousins and dare I suggest a more relaxed approach to life full stop. We have much to learn from the world. There’s no doubt the UK is a highly attractive place to live – imagine it as the most forward thinking and diverse nation as well and in standing firm against free movement we might spare desperate individuals pinning themselves to the bottom of trains or attempting to crawl through the channel tunnel. Not to mention Sangatte – my plane cruises over Calais.
Security I touch on with enormous caution. There is nothing Mrs Brightside can find in the atrocities we see repeatedly played out in France and Germany.
Brexit brings out fear for a withdrawal of shared information processes on criminals. If the past fortnight has demonstrated anything it is the imperative nature of such collaboration. For EU member states to cut MI6, among the greatest intelligence services in the world, out of the security equation would destabilise further internal tensions within frightened communities. Hello nose, meet face.
Former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove gave some insight to the “Brussels-based bodies (excluding Europol) with no operational capacity [and] 28 members of varying levels of professionalism which must accommodate the slowest and leakiest. – Prospect Magazine 23 March 2016.
But it is my focus here to reassure and in that regard I throw in that Norway, Iceland and my destination Switzerland, among others have access to Europol without being part of the EU. I also consider the UK’s recognised superior military. Europeans will surely unite in the face of terrorism and some within our coastline may find a bonus point in the renewed ability to export those inciting fundamentalism without veto from the European Court of Justice.
The lifebelt under my seat I remember I must put on myself before helping others. I think of the laws of evolution, the survival of the fittest, or just the most buoyant.
Beyond the threat from ISIS is of course that from Putin but is the EU as it stands so secure and will the UK standing apart make it any more or less so? NATO has stepped in to help with the migrant crisis, it was America that supported the bombing of Libya when the member states ran out of munitions and it was the US again back in the 90s who had to sort out Yugoslavia. Europe tried and failed prior to unforgiveable ethnic cleansing. The EU is reliant on Russia for 30% of its energy supply which put us on the back foot and in the face of global threats think how more frightened we might feel if it was NATO under scrutiny? The apprehensive here must look across the pond but being Mrs Brightside I shan’t attempt commentary on the Trump card.
The last three points in the ‘fear from friends list’ can be covered under the heading Economy, timely as my plane tips towards Zurich.
Few have room for more than one economist in their life and while the majority find terrible risks in Brexit, I’m lucky Roger Bootle is the one I’ve long respected. Bootle points out that the majority of the world does not belong to the EU and is doing ‘pretty well’ while the southern member states of the EU in particular are in ‘economic and social catastrophe’.
If the economy was the only point of significance then calming the fear struck by the majority of the UKs financial brains would be a harder task but even if that were the case, history (a more reliable guide than the unwritten future) doesn’t always prove economic sentiment right. In 1931 the UK was forced off the Gold Standard triggering consternation in economic circles before industry grew faster than ever. Sixty years on economists saw the worst in leaving the ERM and yet the UK markets flourished and the defeat of economic arguments for joining the Euro at the end of last century still bring on sighs of relief today. The crisis of 2008 was never even a twinkle in the eye of the sharpest economic thinkers.
It is also worth noting that even the doomsayers are not suggesting we’ll fall off the economic cliff, we just may not climb it as fast – the question is whether we’ll be 30 or 40% better off in 15 years’ time. Perhaps during that period we’ll be opening our eyes to other trade heights to scale around the world? Perhaps now we have a chance to demonstrate to the continent of Europe – global trade over protectionism – to build a longer table, instead of a taller fence.
I accept the room for manoeuvre in my use of the word ‘perhaps’ but the facts to hold on to for now are these: The British economy actually sped up in the 3 months running up to the referendum, the Arm Holdings deal earlier this month saw Japanese investment to the tune of £84m in a UK company. GlaxoSmithKline last week invested another £275m into the UK driven by the skilled workforce and competitive tax system available. Wells Fargo has, since 23 June, committed to £300m for a new European HQ in London and on 7 July, Standard Chartered, Bank of America Merill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan all signed a joint statement announcing London as “one of the most stable legal systems in the world, a brilliant workforce and deep, liquid capital markets unmatched anywhere else in Europe, all of which are underpinned by world class regulators.”
I hope my friends in commercial property feel reassured by these recent movements, not to mention our strong manufacturing base, requiring warehousing across the country and the investment opportunities for industrial space. I can hear exclamations of a ‘dead’ market but it’s July. Save your concern at least until mid-Sept and judge then if no material opportunity presents.
The FTSE 100 is four points higher than it was on 23 June, and today even the FTSE 250, more telling for UK business, has risen above pre-referendum levels. In the swings and roundabouts that make up the playground of our economy the gentle slide in the pound doesn’t help my poor friend having to bear the unhappiness of death duties on depreciated assets but might benefit from growth prospects of British goods sold abroad, and the business she is exporting.
Residential property – my own ‘employment bag’ for a decade is apparently suffering. But really who is suffering? I suggest it’s vendors, developers and estate agents, and not so much purchasers, realists, or extension / improvement contractors and anyway, is this down to Brexit? I don’t want to go off on a tangent here but how many times have you heard comments over the past ten years in regard to the London residential market “it can’t keep going up”, “it has got to fall soon”, “I’m sure I’ve bought at the top of the market”?
It couldn’t keep going up. It had to fall soon (George Osborne put his stamp on this), and yes some may have, but the majority who thought they’d bought at the top have still made a killing – and it’s all relative. How do we stimulate it again? The answer lies in Stamp Duty reform and the supply chain but as Mrs Brightside doesn’t ‘rant’ I will not return to this topic here. Suffice to say while continued low interest rates don’t suit everyone they remain a grab rail for ‘resi’.
I’m not blind to the risks post triggering Article 50 but those that voted ‘leave’ had one commonality – they voted for a different future, and the future is unwritten. It is up to us, as one united kingdom, to make it all it can be and to do so with our neighbours interests also in mind. If we can get it right we might all find ourselves a little Brelieved.
To those my quiet Brexiteering friends do not be made to feel ashamed by your expression. You were in the majority, not because you are poorly educated or because you don’t understand, not because you are careless or childless but because you exercised your right to say how you felt and showed your courage. Just maybe too because you believe in democracy – not offered in Brussels.
Either way now it’s time to put fears behind us all, touch down together, unfasten our seatbelts and explore the opportunities beyond the customs hall.