DOES the United Kingdom face a bleak future, even perhaps a predictable fracture? This is certainly not an altogether strange question to ask at this time.
Last Wednesday, in an effort to put the island nation on course to leave the European Union by April 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May had her government officially initiate exit talks with the EU. Since last year’s wrenching referendum vote, formalizing the break, the country has had no recession, no grim economic fallout, no discernible financial disaster. “There were predictions about what would happen to the economy if the United Kingdom voted to leave,” she smugly told parliament. “Those predictions have not proved to be correct.”
Those predictions may not have come to pass over the last nine months, since those 19 million Britons (52 percent of the electorate) voted for Brexit, but what of the next nine years? Will Britain face untold woes, and its voters buyer’s remorse, as it were, after they discover that the only reward Brexit delivered to its supporters was the realization of their nativist desire to see less immigration?
They yearn for a “sovereign Britain” re-emerging – free of the shackles, as they see it, of EU constraints – as a dominant player on the world stage, a leader in the global dialogue of cultures. Sadly for them, that Britain will remain in the history books to which it was relegated soon after the end of the Second World War
For, let’s face face, in the coming negotiations, Brussels will not be kind. In an effort to set a harsh example, to discourage future departures from the union, its negotiators will not be in the mood to cut Britain any slack. In effect, the Brits will be told: ‘You play, you pay’. For Britain to finalize its divorce proceedings with the remaining 27 jilted members, it must pay a heavy price indeed.
Endangered trading relations: And do Brexiteers know that by casting their votes for Brexit, they were endangering their country’s trading relationship with Europe, Britain’s largest market for exports – a market, stretching from Athens to Dublin, that is home to 500 million people? And that was a goldmine that the only sacrifice, if sacrifice it was, the Brits had to make in order to access it was that their country accept the free movement of people from member states of the EU. Imagine a country exiting the largest consumer market on earth to gratify its people’s nativist impulses!
Already multinational enterprises – from global banks to auto manufacturers – are lifting anchor and sailing away “People will have to move,” the New York Times last Friday quoted William Wright, founder and managing director of New Financial as saying in a news report. “There is no other option.”
And predicting how many jobs will move, continued the report in the Times, “has become a thriving cottage industry,” concluding that as many as 35,000 British jobs could disappear with as much as $24.8 billion in revenue. All this will go on concurrently as the fate of tens of thousands of British citizens working in EU countries, and the bloc’s citizens working in Britain, is worked out.
Despite that, there appears to be an ardent belief – though vaguely articulated – among Brexit supporters that Britain can wing it alone, maintaining its economy without EU trade by building trade relations with China, the US and other industrialized nations, not to mention Commonwealth countries. But truth be told, these countries do not need Britain as much as Britain seems to need them. Australia, down, way down under, exports a mere 1.4 percent of its total outgoing trade to Britain. Canada, a nation that shares a long border with the US, has always looked south of that border when it came to not just commerce but culture.
India’s larger economy: India, once known proudly by its colonial overlords as the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, with a population of well over one billion, has an economy larger than modern-day Britain. And Africa? Well, consider what British historian David Olusogo wrote on March 18 in the Guardian. “The game is already up,” he averred. “The motorbikes on the freeways of Accra and Lagos are Chinese, assembled by local mechanics… West Africa’s new convenience food is Chinese instant noodles, not fish and chips, and those with money are now just as keen to holiday in Dubai as in London.”
But Brexiteers – to be found mostly in England rather than in Scotland, Wales and Northers Ireland, most of whose peoples have no beef with the EU – soldier on, driven by the nostalgia for the absolutes of the insular, homogeneous Britain of yore, when 37 percent of London’s population was not, as it is today, foreign-born. They yearn for a “sovereign Britain” re-emerging – free of the shackles, as they see it, of EU constraints – as a dominant player on the world stage, a leader in the global dialogue of cultures. Sadly for them, that Britain will remain in the history books to which it was relegated soon after the end of the Second World War.
And, sorry, Brexiteers, the world has changed. You have to move on. You have to go along to get along. And it could be that you may soon have to face woes beyond the socio-economic challenges of Brexit. Remember that the Scottish parliament voted last week to have another go at breaking of breaking up with you. Britain, I say, is in for a bumpy ride.
[Fawaz Turki is a Palestinian-American journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington, DC]