As most of you know, I am an American living in London. So many of my US friends and family asked what I thought about Brexit, the email below was edited to the point of publishing. At least publishing here.
I feel sad about the Brexit vote. It has been weeks and I just can’t shake it.
Migration is one, if not the, key issue here. This mentality is at its best protectionist and at its worst xenophobic. Both feel like a step back for British society. The UK has always seemed to me a more tolerant place than the US, but the Brexit vote brings that into question. I do not, by any stretch, think that most people who voted to leave are racists or any of the other horrible words thrown around the Internet. The problem is with rhetoric and thinking like that used by Nigel Farage vindicated by the leave vote, this condones the behavior of racists and bigots. It also condones a mentality, which allows people to speak out because they are afraid of people who are not like them. We have already seen the impact of this.
I understand there is a case to be made for protectionism. There are costs related to free movement of labor that are not included in GDP numbers. There are costs to workers, to communities, to families. These may be the people who feel angry right now. There are a huge number of people in the UK who feel disenfranchised by globalization. They feel hard-done-by in the context of recent history. (There are parallels to what is happening the US, but not worth getting into here). By voting to leave the EU, their voice has been heard. It makes me sad that I don’t know of an alternative solution from remain policy makers that addresses their needs.
But, the leave campaign sold them a story that was disingenuous and an oversimplification of complex issues. They were not explained why a strong sterling is important to the UK economy. The UK is a much greater importer than exporter, the prices people pay for everyday goods reflect the strength of the sterling. If GBP falls, prices across the UK may rise. Inflation is scary. The property market is the cornerstone of household wealth in the UK (no pun intended). This is propped-up by foreign investment and the view that the UK is a stable, low risk place to invest. The Brexit vote has brought that into question. Foreign investment has already started to slow. This will hurt house prices and the UK economy more broadly. Did the people who voted leave ever think the value of their house would fall? Or that this would result in jobs leaving the UK? Probably not. Understanding the impact of trade, foreign exchange, movement of labor and FDI on the economy and on the middle class’s lifestyle is complex. I expect leave voters truly had no idea of the risks they were taking. We have already seen the leaders of the leave campaign shirk under the weight of their responsibility to steer the UK economy through the next few years. They did not have a plan. That’s terrifying.
Finally, if the UK is able to meaningfully change immigration policy (which will be hard to impossible without destroying its trade deals with the EU), this will slowly but surely make Britain a less competitive economy. In a number of years, it will no longer have a seat at the table with the world’s powers. Regardless of how Britain views itself, the strength of its economy and its attractiveness to investors will be judged on the world’s stage and it looked much stronger in the EU than out.
So yeah, I feel sad. I feel sad because Farage won. In the words of Gary Lineker, he’s a dick. I feel sad because middle class people were miss-sold a broken dream. I feel sad that politicians who have not resorted to demagoguery do not have a satisfying answer to address leave voters concerns. I feel sad that a country I love is going to face years of an uphill battle, it did not have to fight. I feel sad that London, which has thrived culturally and economically as a European hub, risks losing its non-British population.