Brexit – Is The Genie Coming Out Of The Bottle? – By David Jessop

Brexit – Is The Genie Coming Out Of The Bottle?

By David Jessop – Caribbean News Service (CNS) Contributor

David Jessop

David Jessop

LONDON, Jun 04 2016 – If the opinion polls are to be believed, the British electorate may vote by a small majority to leave the European Union (EU) in the country’s June 23 referendum.

The latest UK polls suggest that 45 per cent of those voting will chose to go, while 42 per cent will say they want to remain. At present 13 per cent say they don’t know. The concern is that if young people, who are predisposed to vote to remain, cannot be mobilised, and the leadership of the Labour Party do not do more to encourage its members to vote in the same way, the United Kingdom will be plunged into a period of economic and political turmoil with unpredictable consequences beyond it shores.   

While the pollsters may be wrong, and there is still the possibility of change in voter sentiment, the markets believe that the vote may be to leave and have begun to price-in the cost of uncertainty and the possible instability that will follow.

Although logic and common sense is largely on the remain and economic side of the argument, the increasingly emotional case against staying appears to have gained traction in the last weeks. This seems to have occurred because the leave campaign has sought to appeal to the significant numbers in the UK who are deeply concerned about uncontrolled EU migration, and its impact on public services, education and housing.

With the support of the populist print media, and blind to the ways in which the world and Britain has changed since it became an EU member in 1973, many older and less educated voters outside London, have rejected the strong economic argument for remaining. Instead they intend using the referendum to express their concern about migration, ignoring the fact that any post-Brexit free trade relationship with the EU will require the continuing acceptance of the free movement of EU citizens.

To further confuse matters, an element of the leave campaign has morphed into an attempt to seize control the leadership of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party by some who are seeking a rapid path to power; their reasoning being that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, could not continue for long in his post if the pro-EU campaign were to be defeated.

Earlier this year I wrote two columns about the implications for the region of a leave vote, and the need for the independent Caribbean and Britain’s Overseas Territories to carefully think though how and in what way they should respond if the UK decides to withdraw from the EU.

At that time, I noted a number of potentially serious associated issues: the possible negative impact on Caribbean exports and the development flows it receives; a diminution in the region’s ability to influence thinking on its policy concerns in Europe; a specific range of problems that will face the UK’s overseas territories in the region; and a long period of uncertainty as Britain’s foreign, trade and development policy is reoriented.

What has since become apparent, is that in addition to the issues mentioned, any vote to leave would have wider unpredictable consequences that may change the way we all come to see the world.

Firstly, it could result in the restructuring or the disintegration of the EU itself.

Within Europe there are already serious tensions as a result of the failure to agree how best to address the flood of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, the sluggish economic performance of the Eurozone, differences over the economic management of the nations of the south, and the issue of ever closer union.

In response a number of federalist European leaders have seen any UK vote to leave as the moment to strengthen the EU integration process.

However, speaking just days ago in Luxembourg, the European Council President, Donald Tusk, said that EU elites had provoked the revolt now erupting in many EU states. “We failed to notice that ordinary people, the citizens of Europe, do not share our Euro-enthusiasm. “The spectre of a break-up is haunting Europe.”

He also bluntly warned European leaders that their “utopian” illusions were tearing Europe apart, and that any attempt to seize on Brexit to force through yet more integration would be a grave mistake.

The more probable focus, therefore, when all 28 EU leaders meet on June 28-29 will be on managing the expected financial and political turmoil if the UK votes to leave, and launching a formal process of reflection. Despite this, they are well aware that how they react to any decision by the British people to leave could exacerbate national concerns about the EU; for example, in France where, in an electoral year, the populist Fronte National sees an anti-EU stance and exit as vote winning.

Secondly, all of this is now causing alarm in Washington with statements coming from the White House, the military and the Federal Reserve stressing the importance of a strong and unified EU as a global partner in maintaining a stable economic, political and security environment.

Thirdly, in contrast, Russia would be delighted to see a weakening of EU unity. Over simplified, President Putin believes in competing spheres of influence, and is committed to restoring Russian power and greatness to the Russian people. He more than anyone would find helpful the exit of the UK and a less stable Europe, especially if it weakens the position of EU nations adjacent to his country’s borders.

And finally, a no vote could trigger the ending of the UK as a unitary entity. Scotland, which is solidly for remaining in the EU, has made clear that if the country as a whole were to vote to leave, it would consider seeking another referendum on independence as it would wish to remain within the EU. The consequence being that that the global economic and power and influence of what then is left of the UK would be severely diminished.

All of which could coincide with Donald Trump becoming the US President. Even if you believe a fraction of what he says, it is clear that if he becomes President he would tear up the world order of the last seventy years in favour of a transactional, protectionist approach and would take steps that challenge almost every US relationship.

How the Caribbean might respond to letting all these genies out of the bottle at once is far from clear.

It is a subject I will return to.

(David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council)

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  • Clyde Duncan  On June 7, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    BREXIT – Leave does NOT Guarantee Leave

    Referendum shows limits of British democracy

    by Brian Reading in London

    Tue 7 Jun 2016

    If the Brexiteers win the 23 June referendum, we still won’t know the next day whether the UK will leave the EU. The 2015 Referendum Act does not bind the government to the outcome. Parliament is sovereign, not the administration.

    Even if the government accepts the result, it still has to get the necessary legislation through both houses of parliament. As the then Labour government advised of the 1975 referendum on whether to stay in the Common Market, ‘The British parliament in Westminster retains the final right to repeal the Act which took us into the Market on January 1 1973.’

    If the result in three weeks is a landslide on a high turnout, the government could perhaps push exit through parliament. But such an outcome is unlikely. Following a marginal victory on a low turnout, Prime Minister David Cameron could not get a Leave Act through, and probably wouldn’t try.

    The referendum issue has driven a wedge between MPs and voters – revealing Britain’s own democratic deficit.

    Opinion polls have Remain and Leave running neck-and-neck, at a little more than 40% each of the popular vote. Don’t knows are 15% to 20%. But most MPs do not reflect this grass roots opinion. The 650 members are split 70% Remain, 20% Leave and 10% unknown.

    This shows some democratic shortcomings behind the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system. At the 2015 general election the Scottish National party with 4.7% of the vote won 56 seats. The Liberal Democrats got 7.9% of the vote and eight seats. The UK Independence party collected 12.4% of the vote and one seat.

    The referendum is a single constituency first-past-the post system. In 2015 SNP and Lib Dems’ combined votes were 3.9m, while UKIP got 3.6m votes. If all SNP and Lib Dem supporters vote Remain, and all UKIP supporters vote Leave, Remain gets only 300,000 more votes than Leave. But the corresponding MPs from these three parties are 64 to one against ‘Brexit’.

    Tory MPs are split 50% Remain, 40% Leave and 10% unknown. Party members seem to be split 40% Remain and 60% Leave. The disparity between the MPs and the party membership is greater higher up the party hierarchy. The Cabinet is split between 23 who wish to remain against seven Leavers. Career prospects, patronage and bets on a Remain victory all accentuate the cleavage with the grass roots.

    The Labour wedge between party and people is in some ways still greater. Remain is supported by 215 MPs and Leave by seven, with 10 unknown. Yet Labour voters seem split 70% Remain to 30% for Brexit.

    A simple calculation supports the poll findings of a close race. If each party’s 2015 votes are allocated according to their Remain/Leave shares, the result will be 49.5% for Remain against 50.5% for Leave. Compiling MPs’ known preferences reveals a quite different result: 453 for Remain and 147 for Leave, with 50 unknown.

    In the event of a pro-Brexit vote on 23 June, Cameron’s game plan must be, on the plausible assumption that his prime ministership survives, to pay lip-service to the result and start negotiating divorce terms without seeking parliamentary approval for a UK departure.

    To do otherwise would split the Tories and lose the parliamentary vote. Negotiations could take two years or more. They would probably be onerous. The 2016 referendum result would be deemed invalid because the public did not and could not know the consequences.

    Another referendum would be called. Elite casualties, as at Agincourt 600 years ago, would litter the bloody field. Leave would win the referendum battle but not the fifty years European war.

    The public were told by both sides their decision was the most important in our times. They would be furious to discover it solved nothing. Not much of a victory for democracy. But then it takes a referendum to show the system we have is pretty threadbare.

    Brian Reading was an Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Edward Heath and is a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. This is No.83 in the series – the 100th article will appear on 23 June.

    OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 10, 2016 at 11:08 pm

    Which Would You Rather, President Trump or Brexit? It’s no contest

    Jonathan Freedland – The Guardian UK

    What if the devil came to visit you in the dead of night? What if, dressed in a fine suit, his tail and pitchfork artfully concealed, Lucifer himself offered you a deal?

    Knowing the anxiety that was keeping you – a good, progressive type – up at night, he promised that he would grant you one, but only one, of your two deepest current wishes: you could either be sure that Donald Trump would lose the US presidential election or you could be guaranteed that Britain would vote to stay in the European Union. You could have one or the other, but not both. Which would you choose?

    The prospect of a President Trump fills the liberal heart with such horror that the temptation to use your Faustian wish to deny a racist, misogynist, bullying fraud the keys to the White House would be intense. Just think how damaging it would be for the world, and not just the United States, if the most powerful office on the planet were held by such a man. Every two-bit xenophobe, workplace sexist and race-baiting populist would have a role model at the pinnacle of global power.

    And that’s before you reckon on the ban on Muslims entering the USA, the planned deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants and the willingness to use nuclear weapons in both the Middle East and Europe. Surely, the liberal-minded Faust of today would beg the devil to ensure Trump is crushed in November.

    And yet, if it were me, I’d hesitate before shaking hands on that with Beelzebub. Sure, a Trump presidency would be a national and international calamity, but there would be a chance to end it in four years. And the American republic has strong, long-established restraints in place – the Senate, the Supreme Court – that should hold back the reality TV star. It would be a nightmare, no doubt about it. But the end would be in sight.

    Brexit is of a different order. If the past is any guide, our next chance to revisit the decision would not be in four years’ time, but in 40. What will be determined on 23 June is not the matter of a single election cycle, but a once-in-two-generations question.

    And right now, the country seems ready to answer it with the word “leave”. It is the Outers who have the momentum, the poll lead, the energy and the clearer message. Distilled into two words, parroted as easily by Boris Johnson as by Dennis Skinner, it is: “take control”. Now that immigration, not the economy, is the dominant issue on voters’ minds, and with “remain” tongue-tied on that subject, the contest only has to retain its current shape for leave to stay ahead – and for Britain to vote to exit the European Union in less than two weeks.

    Less discussed, though highlighted by this week’s joint visit of John Major and Tony Blair, is the impact on Northern Ireland. The rest of the UK is far too blithe about peace in that part of the world, bizarrely amnesiac about the 30-year war that claimed thousands of lives, and ended less than two decades ago. The arrangements there are fragile and delicate. But Brexit would stomp all over them, suddenly transforming the boundary between Ireland’s north and south into a hard border between the EU and the UK. The cavalier assumption that this will have no impact on the precious, hard-won stability of that island is reckless – and all the more shocking coming from people who like to boast that they are patriots and unionists.

    But the future viability of the UK is not the reason I’d be tempted to use up my one devilish wish to prevent Brexit. Nor is it the near-certain economic gloom that will befall this country, an outcome so obvious when you take a step back and consider any country voluntarily giving up its right to trade on advantageous terms with a market of 500 million customers.

    No, the spectre that would haunt me as Satan drummed his fingers, waiting for my decision, would be much more elemental. It is the fear that the European Union, already battered by the Eurozone crisis, simply could not withstand the departure of one of its “big three” members. We would not be tugging at a mere thread but yanking out a guy rope: the EU would collapse – maybe not straightaway, but eventually.

    Of course, the EU would do its best to prevent others following us out the door. It would obviously deny a post-Brexit Britain a trade deal on anything but the most awful terms, to prove that only those in the club can enjoy the club’s privileges. (If we want access to the single market, for example, we will have to agree to free movement – which would give us all the immigration we have now, but with even less control.) I suspect such efforts will be in vain. Perhaps the EU could survive an Estonian, a Maltese or even a Greek secession. But my fear is that just as the EU without France or Germany would unravel, so it will without the UK.

    Why should that bother us? We’d be well out of it by then. But remember the history of this continent. The story of Europe is the story of near-constant war and bloodshed. The 100 years war, the 30 years war, the Spanish wars, the Franco-Prussian wars, the two world wars of the last century: this is what the nations of Europe do to one another – unless they are held together in an arrangement that obliges them to settle their differences around a Brussels conference table, where the most mortal danger is tedium and late-night halitosis.

    This is what the European project is about. Not just goods and services and trade and jobs, important as all those things are, and crazy as we would be to jeopardise them. But about life and limb. And make no mistake: if the EU’s 27 member states become Europe’s 27 warring nations, we will not be safely detached, serenely distant across the Channel. We will be drawn in, as we always have been.

    It takes an extraordinary confidence to look at the last millennium of European history and gamble that the 70 years of peace that have held since 1945 – an exceptional, aberrational interlude – have had nothing to do with the existence of the European project.

    Do we really think it’s a coincidence that no two EU member states have ever fought each other? Do we want to roll the dice to find out? Do we feel that lucky?

    So this is the answer I’d give the devil. Let Britain remain, to prevent the 21st century being as drenched in blood and sorrow as all the European centuries that preceded it. And as for Trump: Let’s make another deal in November 2016.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 11, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Unless you have been living under a rock, you would not have missed Donald Trump saying [or reported in writing that he said or seen and heard on television somewhere him saying] that he is not taking any of his cards off the table when it comes to nuclear war. He also thinks the UK should leave the EU – this seems like a good set-up for war and the use of nuclear weapons.

    As Freedland stated above:
    “The story of Europe is the story of near-constant war and bloodshed. ….” – And Donald Trump is in favour of BREXIT – the beginning of the end of the EU.

    “It takes an extraordinary confidence [or ignorance] to look at the last millennium of European history and gamble that the 70 years of peace that have held since 1945 – an exceptional, aberrational interlude – have had nothing to do with the existence of the European project.”

    This essay by Jonathan Freedland gives me the chills – the Devil is NOT multi-tasking here – it is one or the other. No 4-year election cycle for BREXIT?? – Constant Chaos and Donald Trump [Heaven forbid].

    Do you feel LUCKY??

  • walter  On June 11, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    It seems every time there is a major shake up in the world the Precarious Existence of Guyana and the Caribbean is highlighted. Always having no skin in the game, maybe it is finally the right time to start working together for the future of the regions. I am sure the economic destruction of Caribbean and Guyana never made the agenda.

  • Clyde Duncan  On June 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

    There are Liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove

    Nick Cohen – The Guardian UK

    The BREXIT figureheads had no plan besides exploiting populist fears and dismissing experts who rubbished their thinking

    Where was the champagne at the Vote Leave headquarters? The happy tears and whoops of joy? If you believed Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the BREXIT vote was a moment of national liberation, a day that Nigel Farage said our grateful children would celebrate with an annual bank holiday.

    Johnson and Gove had every reason to celebrate. The referendum campaign showed the only arguments that matter now in England are on the right. With the Labour leadership absent without leave and the Liberal Democrats and Greens struggling to be heard, the debate was between David Cameron and George Osborne, defending the status quo, and the radical right, demanding its destruction. Johnson and Gove won a dizzying victory with the potential to change every aspect of national life, from workers’ rights to environmental protection.

    Yet they gazed at the press with coffin-lid faces and wept over the prime minister they had destroyed. David Cameron was “brave and principled”, intoned Johnson. “A great prime minister”, muttered Gove. Like Goneril and Regan competing to offer false compliments to Lear, they covered the leader they had doomed with hypocritical praise. No one whoops at a funeral, especially not mourners who are glad to see the back of the deceased. But I saw something beyond hypocrisy in those frozen faces: THE FEAR OF JOURNALISTS who had been found out.

    The media do not damn themselves, so I am speaking out of turn when I say that if you think rule by professional politicians is bad wait until journalist politicians take over. Johnson and Gove are the worst journalist politicians you can imagine – pundits who have prospered by treating public life as a game.

    Here is how they play it: They grab media attention by blaring out a big, dramatic thought. An institution is failing? Close it. A public figure blunders? Sack him. They move from journalism to politics, but carry on as before. When presented with a bureaucratic EU that sends us too many immigrants, they say the answer is simple, as media answers must be. LEAVE. Now. Then all will be well.

    Johnson and Gove carried with them a second feature of unscrupulous journalism: the contempt for practical questions. Never has a revolution in Britain’s position in the world been advocated with such carelessness.

    The LEAVE campaign has no plan. And that is not just because there was a shamefully under-explored division between the bulk of BREXIT voters who wanted the strong welfare state and solid communities of their youth and the leaders of the campaign who wanted Britain to become an offshore tax haven. Vote LEAVE did not know how to resolve difficulties with Scotland, Ireland, the refugee camp at Calais, and a thousand other problems, and did not want to know either.

    It responded to all who predicted the chaos now engulfing us like an unscrupulous pundit who knows that his living depends on shutting up the experts who gainsay him. For why put the pundit on air, why pay him a penny, if experts can show that everything he says is windy nonsense? The worst journalists, editors and broadcasters know their audiences want entertainment, not expertise. If you doubt me, ask when you last saw panellists on Question Time who knew what they were talking about.

    Naturally, Michael Gove, former Times columnist, responded to the thousands of economists who warned he was taking an extraordinary risk with the sneer that will follow him to his grave: “People in this country have had enough of experts.” He’s been saying the same thing for years.

    If sneers won’t work, the worst journalists lie. The Times fired Johnson for lying to its readers. Michael Howard fired Johnson for lying to him. When he’s cornered, Johnson accuses others of his own vices, as unscrupulous journalists always do. Those who question him are the true liars, he blusters, whose testimony cannot be trusted because, as he falsely said of the impeccably honest chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, they are “stooges”.

    The Vote Leave campaign followed the tactics of the sleazy columnist to the letter. First, it came out with the big, bold solution: LEAVE. Then it dismissed all who raised well-founded worries with “the country is sick of experts”. Then, like Johnson the journalist, it lied.

    I am not going to be over-dainty about mendacity. Politicians, including Remain politicians lie, as do the rest of us. But not since Suez has the nation’s fate been decided by politicians who knowingly made a straight, shameless, incontrovertible lie the first plank of their campaign.

    Vote Leave assured the electorate it would reclaim a supposed £350m Brussels takes from us each week. They knew it was a lie. Between them, they promised to spend £111bn on the NHS, cuts to VAT and council tax, higher pensions, a better transport system and replacements for the EU subsidies to the arts, science, farmers and deprived regions. When boring experts said that, far from being rich, we would face a £40bn hole in our public finances, Vote Leave knew how to fight back. In Johnsonian fashion, it said that the truth tellers were corrupt liars in Brussels’ pocket.

    Now they have won and what Kipling said of the demagogues of his age applies to Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
    [and across the pond – Donald Trump.-clyde]

    I could not dig; I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

    The real division in Britain is not between London and the north, Scotland and Wales or the old and young, but between Johnson, Gove and Farage and the voters they defrauded.

    What tale will serve them now? On Thursday, they won by promising cuts in immigration. On Friday, Johnson and the Eurosceptic ideologue Dan Hannan said that in all probability the number of foreigners coming here won’t fall. On Thursday, they promised the economy would boom. By Friday, the pound was at a 30-year low and Daily Mail readers holidaying abroad were learning not to believe what they read in the papers. On Thursday, they promised £350m extra a week for the NHS. On Friday, it turns out there are “no guarantees”.

    If we could only find a halfway competent opposition, the very populist forces they have exploited and misled so grievously would turn on them. The fear in their eyes shows that they know it.

    The English and Welsh vote to leave the EU, and its opposite in Scotland and Northern Ireland, spells the end of the UK. We should accept this with grace and goodwill. Since Scotland’s independence is now inevitable, it would be better for Britain immediately to negotiate an amicable departure. Not only might this allow Scotland to retain its current EU membership, it would also encourage Scotland to reach a favourable agreement on the retention of British armed forces in Scotland, including nuclear arms, as part of the NATO alliance. The inevitable corollary of Scotland’s departure is the unification of Ireland. This would provide continued EU membership for a people who voted in favour of it. Those wishing to retain British citizenship would be welcome in England and Wales. To act now during Britain’s secession from the EU would spare us all unnecessary pain later on.
    David Hughes
    Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

    • So a surprise for most people, including a lot who voted leave. But thanks to the journalists at the Guardian who wrote eloquently about being undecided in the referendum, and intelligent arguments for leaving, as well as for remaining. A very complex, multilayered vote for many people. A prediction: a referendum in Scotland in 2017 with a vote in favour of independence and remaining in Europe, precipitating another referendum in England on the EU, with a remain vote. The conclusion of three years of democratic revolution: an independent Scotland.
    John Barrett

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