If it is ever done at all to begin with, it will at least still take some time until Britain has finally concluded its bidding farewell to the EU. January 2020 as a final date for the Brits to leave, which we have on the table right now, is far from certain, especially given the upcoming snap elections on 12 December, to which the kingdom’s parliamentary opposition has finally agreed only about a week or so ago. They triggered cynical remarks like “Nobody wants Jeremy Corbyn as PM, not even Jeremy Corbyn wants Jeremy Corbyn”. The Labours initial fierce resistance to come out of the “Brexit” deadlock by calling for new elections was short only of a Samuel Beckett play.
What has quite apparently thus far so considerably delayed the implementation of the 23 June 2016 referendum’s results, are of course its economic implications over which no consensus seems to be reachable. Some openly proclaim the outbreak of the British economy’s doomsday the moment the world’s most significant island leaves the continental block. Others do actually believe that it will do much better and flourish without too close of a cooperation with its European partners, even if that should mean a transitional period of suffering for the ordinary citizen as well as for smaller companies. The big guys already have safely deposited their funds offshore or are at least prepared to shift their investments to somewhere else. Let aside for the moment the general sense of cultural and national isolationism it would bring about. Someone here must have learned a lot from what the White House is doing recently.
Contrary to most economists, I personally tend to believe that every single additional day of delaying “Brexit” will eventually have a devastating effect on Britain and its economy. This is not necessarily because of such economy’s sovereign nature or for it being unusually strong on its own (actually it is neither), but because undermining the credibility and dignity of Britain’s longstanding democratic tradition will not at all promote investments or help redefining its role on the global economic stage.
Coming to think about it, it’s quite simple really: Almost a year and a half ago, the British people have given a vote through a democratic instrument asking their government to leave the EU. Full stop. That vote has to be respected and Britain just will have to go, with or without a deal. Nothing on earth can be naiver than arguing now that in the meanwhile the British voter has changed his mind or that at the time of the referendum, he wasn’t fully aware of his decision’s further reaching implications. First of all, because we don’t really know that – even better: We don’t know it at all – and secondly because by saying so, one automatically insinuates that at least half of the British population is not emancipated enough to take an educated decision. Nothing much encouraging also for companies and individuals who are looking for sensible ways to use their funds in the right place. That might not shy away investments in dictatorships where citizens are not involved in the decision. But in a democracy where the people decide, saying that they lack proper awareness is not the smartest thing to do if you want to attract fresh capital or retain as much as possible from the one you have.
Of course, scratching the “Brexit” plans now can also only be the result of a possible new referendum, hence a democratic process as well as some might claim. Now that sort of statement is not simply naive anymore, but rather “plain stupid”. Why? Because in a healthy democracy you cannot simply go on voting again and again over one and the same issue until you get the result your political and societal intelligentsia deems as suitable. That sort of elitist thinking does not at all work in the favour of democracy, nor in the best interest of the economy. Britons need to seriously ask themselves what kind of message they are conveying to the world here. Is it not that they are posing serious questions regarding the stability of their own legislature? A decision taken by the people has to be implemented no matter what or the international business community will think twice and thrice before booking a ticket to Heathrow or Gatwick. How secure, many will ask, is my investment or business in a country where even the most serious kind of democratically taken decision can be revoked with relative ease because it is not to the liking of “X”, “Y” or “Z”? Real stability sounds different, doesn’t it? Yes, I know, democracy can be a real pain in the neck, but well, that’s just how it is.
Realising such a simple truth shouldn’t have needed a guy who uses the same hairdresser like Donald Trump and currently lives in 10 Downing Street without actually having been elected. That in itself is harmful enough. Topping it now by instigating an essentially entirely undemocratic process – that at the end of day will only play into the hands of other top European politicians like Merkel and Macron – is suicidal.
Mohamed Shirin El Hawary is a Political Economist