The result of the UK’s EU referendum came as a massive shock to the markets and was no fun for a large number of people.
Unlike those in the Remain camp, who pointed to the market turmoil yelling “I told you so”, it gives me no sense of schadenfreude thinking of people seeing their pension savings dropping like rocks, and I pity the bankers, who keep an important part of London running, being slapped around with 10-15 per cent drops in the space of minutes.
Now we’ve had a weekend of resignations, coups and plotting, let’s take a few minutes to reflect on some of the main points of this whole sorry saga:
First, it is so much easier to tear things apart than it is to build something, whether that be a relationship, a garden shed, a house of cards, or the EU. When I buy my Ikea flat-pack bookshelf, I curse, spend days building it, and then I enjoy it. If it wobbles in the years to come, I stabilise it. But I love having my books on bookshelves.
Second, the EU managed to get through the worst financial crisis ever, but it couldn’t withstand pictures of desperate people escaping war. The immigration crisis was one of the most muddled – and poisonous – parts of the Brexit debate. Here’s something to think about: hundreds of thousands of people, like you and I, don’t want to leave their homes and flee by foot, to a place where they aren’t wanted, where they have no friends, no job, and live in tiny rooms because they think the UK benefit system is so amazing. If bombs destroyed everything you have here, would you want to move, by foot, to Finland? The fact remains that the UK has taken in a small amount of refugees compared to other countries. In a post-Brexit UK, businesses will have to outsource more jobs to, for example, Turkey than the amount of jobs taken by immigrants moving to the UK from Turkey.
Third, I’ll give you a (devalued) pound if you guess who said the following: “People want to see borders, they don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country where they don’t know who they are and where they come from.” No, it wasn’t the Leave campaign, it was Donald Trump arriving in Scotland last Friday for the reopening of his refurbished golf resort. (As one tweet read, “Bloody immigrants. Coming over here, building golf courses”.)
Fourth, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see a Brexit before a Grexit. The difference being that this “crisis” is entirely self-inflicted. Did people forget all the volatility and uncertainty felt over the last 10 years? This vote will come back to hit people for years to come: in the size of your pension, where you can retire to, your access to public services, funding for university research, even those ridiculously high roaming charges when travelling.
Fifth, those of you who know me know I am a big fan of putting myself in other people’s shoes. I am also a big fan of simple questions. Here’s one. If I am in China, who is the most appealing to trade with: the EU (with half a billion people) or the UK (60m people)?
Sixth, I have trawled through hundreds of small-type, often quite boring, reports over the last year on all kinds of things related to the vote. And I have learned a tonne of stuff, from both sides. Would I have spoken to hundreds of people about their expert opinions on the economic impact of a Brexit had I not been in this job? No. Have the majority of people who voted genuinely understood what it was they were voting for? The issue becomes how you get your information. That includes the tone of what you’re reading as well as the detail.
Finally, just to put things in perspective: in Friday’s reaction trade, UK markets lost $350bn over eight hours. This, according to EU politician Guy Verhofstadt, is more than what the UK contributed to the EU budget over the last 15 years – and that includes the rebate.