The News
Friday 24 of May 2024

They're Out. Now What?

David Cameron,photo: Wikipedia
David Cameron,photo: Wikipedia
Without the constraints of EU restrictions, Britain will now be free to negotiate new trade accords with whoever it wants, including emerging markets such as China, India, Australia and Brazil

After months of heated debate, impassioned campaigning and considerable fear-mongering by both camps, some 33.5 million British citizens went to the polls yesterday and voted resoundingly — if not overwhelmingly (the results were 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent) — to permanently end their nation’s membership in the world’s largest trade bloc.

Much to the chagrin of pro-Europe David Cameron (who has already announced he will step down in October after six years as prime minister because of the referendum results) and Europhiles both inside and outside Britain, the Leave alliance won out over the Stayers, and now both Europe and the United Kingdom are going to have to figure out exactly how to go about this unprecedented political and economic divorce.

Shortly after the results of the referendum were announced, the British pound sterling devalued by as much as 10 percent, global stocks slumped by billions and London’s biggest banks (Lloyds and Barclays) took a hit of more than 30 percent, all while doomsayer Remainers pointed their fingers at their Leaver counterparts proclaiming “we told you so.”

But while these economic indicators may seem discerning, they are basically knee-jerk reactions to the sudden economic uncertainty the prospect of Brexit poses and are likely to be temporary.

Despite what some pessimists may be saying about Britain’s exit from Europe possibly being the beginning of the end for the once-great empire on which the sun never set, Britain today is the world’s fifth-largest economy, and EU membership or not, it is not about to go on economic or political life support.

Britain survived quite well on its own before it joined the European project in 1973, and it will certainly survive after its departure from the EU.

True, the leader of Scotland — where nearly two-thirds of voters wanted to remain in Europe — has said that the Brexit vote will likely lead to a new referendum on independence from the rest of Britain.

But the Scots’ love-hate relationship with the United Kingdom has been going on for centuries, and most Scots recognize that they are much better off economically as part of the U.K. in spite of their historic disgruntlements with London.

As for Cameron’s pending departure, EU membership may have been his chief political banner for the last three years, but it was not the only issue that led him out of political favor with his constituency.

Britain has a strong history of democratic process and the changing of the guard at No. 10 Downing Street does not represent a major threat to the nation’s stability or continuity.

Then there is the question of trade between Europe and Britain.

Britain represented about a sixth of the European Union’s total economic output, and although there are bound to be hard feelings on both sides as a result of London’s breakaway from the bloc, neither side is going to jeopardize their economies to penalize the other.

Currently, about 44 percent of British exports are sold to the EU, and even without EU membership most of that commercial exchange will continue.

Without EU membership, British exports could face an average tariff of about 2.4 percent, but the country’s 2015 net contribution to the EU budget was equivalent to a 7 percent tariff.

Moreover, a devalued pound will make British goods and services even more competitive in the global marketplace.

And without the constraints of EU restrictions, Britain will now be free to negotiate new trade accords with whoever it wants, including emerging markets such as China, India, Australia and Brazil.

Finally, it is important to remember that the main reason that Britons voted to leave the EU had very little to do with trade.

Britain never endorsed the Maastricht Treaty, which essentially transformed the European Union from a commercial bloc to a political one.

In general, the British were leery of relinquishing their sovereignty to Brussels, and have continually opposed the EU’s march toward “an ever-closer union.”

Britons also resented the high membership fees they paid to bankroll a bureaucracy-heavy administration in Brussels that they felt lacked democratic accountability and which arbitrarily imposed regulations on British firms and citizens without consulting them.

The referendum for most Brexiteers simply boiled down to an issue of national sovereignty.

What Brexit will ultimately mean in terms of economic, political and social costs for Britons — and for Europe — still remains to be seen, but the long-term consequences are not likely to be nearly as dire as the initial indicators seem to suggest.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].