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Welcome to “Brexit” Pandora’s Box

The early hours of 24th June 2016 were memorable for me. It was one of those precious few moments in life. Where were you when?

The Berlin Wall fell. When Margaret Thatcher resigned….When the UK voted to leave the EU.

In these tense moments, I had a flashback of my teenage years. What Freud called the id one s psychological instincts. My flashback was from my late teens when I knocked on a front door. An elderly man opened it and said in French, I know you, you were born in this house. I knew you would visit one day.

Indeed I was born in that house, on 7th November 1970 on a cold Paris morning. My Dad said everyone was happy until two days later when Charles De Gaulle died.

De Gaulle once said I conclude that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians. He also lost a referendum, in April 1969 and resigned. His plan to decentralize the French government had been rejected by 52.4%.

I have always felt a proximity to, and understanding of Europe. It was not alien to me. It is a friendly positive place. It was not just a holiday destination, it was almost a homecoming. Maybe it was overly romanticised in my mind, maybe I overlooked the issues.

But what are those issues? Are they so overwhelmingly negative to have engendered the sort of vitriol that is frequently heard in the UK when the EU issue arises? What are people moaning about?

UK leaders normally act when they were obliged to, by reason of law, morality, necessity or time. These days, leaders also act when they are pressurised to. They succumb to high risk behaviour to prove a point, and their own moral superiority. This appears to me entirely an exercise in vanity and ego. They are unable to say no. They fall into avoidable traps.

I felt strongly that the EU referendum was a big needless gamble with the UK s future. The Conservative Party should have made clear in its 2015 election manifesto its commitment to EU membership. Maybe if they had had that level of commitment.

In the early hours my primary emotion was a mix of shock then sadness. Then it was embarrassment. Regardless of my feelings of bereavement, was the reality of the vote result. The UK had voted to Leave . Pandora s box had opened. I had to deal with it, it was 6:00am and I had to get myself ready for work after a sleepless night!

Since the vote result I have tried to rationalise what quantitative people call a multi factor model . There are so many different related and unrelated issues.

Firstly the UK is a Dickensian Tale of Two Cities , a wide gulf exists and is worsening. Many feel left behind by globalisation , many feel exploited and their views unheard or ignored. The UK is a good example of the global demographic wealth gap with younger people far worse off than their parents were at the same age and often stuck. The EU has been made a convenient scapegoat for these issues. But getting rid of the EU membership, reducing Eastern European migrants won t improve the lot of Brexiters. The UK s manufacturing base has been in decline for 40+ years, workers rights were damaged in the 1980s by the UK government. Successive UK governments devalued pension entitlements.

Secondly what is often overlooked is the paralysis created by the first past the post voting system. A party can have significant popular support but negligible MPs in Westminster. The Green Party has c.9% of UK popular vote but only 2 MPs. A general election usually only delivers one of the two major parties, so the country swerves from left of centre to right of centre and smaller parties have no voice. Not much changes. The referendum has shown Westminster caught in its own myopia. Is it serving vested interests or the UK s interests.

A referendum avoids the vagaries of first past the post . What came across was the result of years of UK politicians denigrating the EU and its achievements. The people had lost faith in the EU, because they had been told to lose faith. The EU had been maligned and misrepresented for many years then, at the last minute the PM had said remaining in the EU was the best option. No wonder this approach lacked credibility.

The result also suggested a demographic split. The youth see the EU as a job opportunity affording employment mobility and an alternative cheaper lifestyle that can be held in reserve if needed. The elderly are intolerant and view the EU as an encumbrance. There is also little, if any, blue collar support for the EU. Parts of the country, particularly in the UK s former manufacturing areas that have lost out due to globalisation see the EU as flooding the country with competitive labour. Vast numbers of voters intensely dislike unfettered freedom of movement, the EU s founding principle.

The EU has plenty of UK citizens living within its borders, working or more likely in retirement not doing very much. When people here moan about EU migrants obtaining benefits they do not count Britain s diaspora in the EU.

The vote appears a threat to EU liberties, in that the UK wants more controls on EU migrants coming to the UK. It wants some EU people but not any old EU people. The UK wants to cherry pick the people from the EU it needs, whilst others return to sender. But this approach is contrary to the EU s freedom of movement principles.

The world is organised these days as trading blocs. The EU is the world largest single trading bloc accounting for 1⁄4 of global GDP. It requires standardised rules. The UK will need to secure access to the EU. It will also need to re-negotiate trade terms with other major partners, who had previously treated the UK as an EU Member State. This will be a tricky task and the UK will lose bloc protections. Previously if say China started a trade war with the UK by lifting trade barriers, they could count on retaliation not just from the UK but from the EU. This major benefit of the EU will now be lost.

The UK will have to trigger Article 50 soon. It will have to grasp the nettle of this vote.

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