I see markets rebounded from their funk at the temerity of the British people to vote for Brexit. There is no deep explanation required. The people and institutions involved in swinging markets on a daily basis are complete know-nothings, like the rest of us. They had overbought on an expectation of a market bounce once the UK had voted to stay in the EU. They then had to square their positions by selling once reality hit. And, as is the way with markets, selling begets selling. Overshooting on both the up and downsides is commonplace. It can be explained by human psychology or by the setting of computer trading programs. Take your pick; both are right.
What I find interesting is the way reactions to irrelevant market perturbations or the pronouncement of self-interested corporate leaders are taken to be instructive commentaries on world affairs. The decision taken by the British people is about the character of the life of a nation as it evolves. What happens in the next five minutes or the next few years is largely by the way.
Netanyahu put it well when speaking at the UN about the nuclear deal with Iran, in which most restrictions on Iran are lifted after ten years. “A decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation.” It would be unfortunate if the worst happened and the UK experienced a recession because of Brexit, but exactly what effect would that have on life in the UK in 2030? None is the answer.
I like to think that those who voted to leave the EU had in their mind what kind of country they wanted to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in. Certainly, as someone who was English-born, my support for Brexit was about the very long run. I do not hold any lower expectations for the mindsets of the vast majority of those who voted to leave. I don’t think it was about a migrant taking their particular job or taking their particular place in a hospital queue. I think it was borne of patriotism. Patriotism is essentially about the long run; not what is good for the next five minutes.
This brings me to the young and old. The young predominantly voted to stay, the old to leave. I have noticed something about the young now that I am in the older category. They tend to put greater emphasis on the present than on the past or future. I suppose this is because the present is the key to their future. As you get older and have less and less personal future to worry about you develop, I think, a broader perspective on time both backwards and forwards.
Some young people who voted to stay have accused older people of being selfish in voting to leave. This seems to me to be the kind of naïve reaction that the old expect the young to come up with. They didn’t disappoint. In fact, the only evident selfishness on display was on the part of those people who were prepared to put their country’s interests behind their own personal aspirations, which they felt would be adversely affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. I am not delegitimizing this rationale for voting to stay, but nor should it be lauded. At the same time, laudable or not, perceived self-interest should never be underestimated.
As I warned in my previous piece on Brexit, the fight to leave the EU has just begun. The elite business and political empire is striking back. Politicians of various hues are extolling the supremacy of parliament over the opinion of the unwashed. Petitions and demonstrations are afoot. It will go on.
I expect the Labour Party under a new leader to oppose Brexit, despite the popular vote. The surviving rump of the Liberal Democrats plus the Scottish Nationalists will vote against Brexit. At question is whether the new leader of the Conservative Party will manage to unite Conservative MPs (many of whom opposed Brexit) into ratifying the popular vote.
Now that Boris Johnson is out of the race; perversely, perhaps, the two candidates who opposed Brexit, Theresa May and Stephen Crabb, might have more chance of persuading their colleagues to stay the course than the three — Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom — who supported it. And I don’t want to be sexist, but Theresa May might have an eye to Margaret Thatcher and be the toughest of the two candidates for fear of looking weak by comparison. But, whoever becomes PM, will the UK be out of the EU in two and bit years’ time? My guess, and it is just a guess, is no.
It might be a close run thing, but I tend to think both the UK and Europe will give ground over the next few months. Too many people of power and influence have a vested self-interest in the status quo or something close enough to it. A compromise might well be struck to give the UK more control over border movements, maybe final authority in legal action related to national security, and other bits and pieces. This would provide a rationale for parliament to overturn Brexit. Nixon’s gloss on the defeat in Vietnam — “Peace with Honor” — might be apropos in, say, six to nine months’ time. Could be wrong of course; pessimism is characteristic of aging, which older people call realism.