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EDITORIAL

Hope – even after Brexit

It is not without reason that Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union following the June 23 referendum is being looked upon as collective suicide. It is all very well for British Prime Minister David Cameron to make an emotiol speech and to offer to resign, but it does not in any way change what Britain has done to itself by deciding to leave the European Union (EU). Considering how things went a week before the referendum, very few people could have predicted that Britain would vote (albeit with a rrow margin of 52 to 48 per cent) to leave the European Union. In the morning of the day Labour MP Jo Cox was killed, the forecast for a ‘remain’ vote was 60 per cent of the population. By the afternoon the prediction had risen to 65 per cent. And yet, just a week later, the result of the referendum was a 52-48 per cent vote to leave the EU. What is remarkable about the unexpected swing is that most of the people who voted for Britain’s exit from the EU were the less educated people. The better educated lot, the Scots, the Londoners and those of Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU. Rather surprisingly, Wales that had received huge dollops of development grants from the EU, voted for Britain’s exit from it! In fact, Wales now stands to lose 24,000 jobs by voting for an exit. Not surprisingly, Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, is determined that Scotland’s vote of 62 per cent in favour of remaining with the EU shall not go in vain. She insists that the fil result of the referendum cannot be allowed to take away Scotland’s right to remain in the EU despite Scotland’s 62 per cent ‘remain’ vote. She has even insisted that she would explore the possibilities of the Scottish Parliament blocking the ‘leave’ verdict of the referendum in order to have a second referendum on the issue. The altertive to this would be Scotland having a second referendum to determine whether Scotland wishes to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The ‘exit’ verdict of the June 23 referendum has other implications for the future of the United Kingdom apart from the largest backward step that Britain has ever taken. It takes the hate war against immigrants to a different level. Supporters of the ‘leave’ option have started insisting that all migrants to Britain, including those who have been British citizens for four or five generations must now leave the country. Attacks on Asians and abuse of British tiols of Asian origin have been stepped up. Totally mindless levels of intolerance seem to have become the order of the day. With the economic fallout of the ‘exit’ decision, this intolerance is bound to get much worse. The unsavoury social outcomes of the June 23 referendum will perhaps be taken care of in course of time both through police action and a realization of the futility of hate wars. But what will take years for Britain to recover from is the impact of the exit decision on the country’s economy. People all over the world are beginning to realize that the outcome of the June 23 referendum has not been confined just to Britain or Europe. The tremors are beginning to be felt all over the world in countries that have trade relations with the European Community. Chinese Premier Li Kequiang said on Monday that the Brexit vote has hit global fincial markets, and the world economy faced new uncertainties at a time when the recovery from the fincial crisis of 2008 still falls short of expectations. The principal worries relate to how the new trade relationship with the EU gets worked out in respect of tariffs. Besides, the subsidies given by the European Union to agriculture would disappear right away. And those who argue that the British government would save about £9.8 billion on its contributions to the EU will probably soon discover that the trade losses might be far greater than what Britain would save. There is something else that the supporters of Brexit might not be too willing to talk about. This is the subject of the EU labour migrants who work in Britain and generally accept lower wages than the British Labour force. If they are driven out or forced to leave because of social tensions, wages in Britain would rise very substantially. Inflatiory pressures could mount to an abnormal level of rising prices coupled with declining output to trigger what is commonly known as stagflation. The value of the pound has already fallen by about 10 per cent. If prices continue to rise and the pound continues to fall, the Bank of England may be left with no choice but to raise interest rates. This would have an adverse effect on credit markets. Property prices have already been predicted to fall. All in all, Britain’s economic scerio, bequeathed by the referendum of June 23, could hardly look any worse. The only way out for Britain at this stage would seem to be to find a way of nullifying the outcome of the June 23 referendum and to remain in the EU. Conducting a second referendum on the same issue so close on the heels of the last one would project a very poor view of the credibility of British public opinion. And yet, what Britain is in desperate need of now is finding some way of course correction. This course correction may be forced on Britain by Scotland demanding another referendum or by David Cameron himself looking for a way out of the present mess. But some EU diplomats have said that Britain may get out of the present mess by simply not triggering the ‘divorce’ process with the EU which is fairly long-drawn. This ‘negative capability’ could be Britain’s least embarrassing mode of face saving and course correction.