Opinion

Vote Brexit in haste and repent at leisure?

As the dust settles on the UK's decision to leave the EU, broken election promises, lack of an exit plan and political incoherence have left us with more questions than answers, says James Buchan 
Vote regret

Its only a matter of days since the historic vote that signals the UK could exit the European Union (EU), but as yet there is no clarity about what this will mean. Indeed, there is a worrying lack of answers at three important levels of analysis.

Firstly, some of the Leave campaign objectives have already been disavowed. Within hours of the result, one Leave leader, Iain Duncan Smith, had backed away from their campaign slogan that stated that leaving the EU would free up 350 million a week to invest in the NHS.

Another leader, soon after, played down suggestions that their key campaign target of controlling and reducing migration would become a reality in the brave new Brexit UK. Cynics will say, so what? Election promises are made to be broken.

Absence of exit plan

The second, bigger issue is the absence of an exit plan.

...

It’s only a matter of days since the historic vote that signals the UK could exit the European Union (EU), but as yet there is no clarity about what this will mean. Indeed, there is a worrying lack of answers at three important levels of analysis.

Firstly, some of the Leave campaign objectives have already been disavowed. Within hours of the result, one ‘Leave’ leader, Iain Duncan Smith, had backed away from their campaign slogan that stated that leaving the EU would free up £350 million a week to invest in the NHS. 

Another leader, soon after, played down suggestions that their key campaign target of controlling and reducing migration would become a reality in the brave new Brexit UK. Cynics will say, so what? Election promises are made to be broken. 

Absence of exit plan

The second, bigger issue is the absence of an exit plan. Who will lead negotiations with the EU on our withdrawal? What will be the key objectives and time lines? What will be the model of future co-operation with the EU? These are fundamental questions, basic elements of an exit strategy, but not yet answerable.

Finally, the third level of political incoherence. We have a lame duck prime minister who has announced his resignation; internecine strife in the Conservative party about who will replace him; internecine strife and a possible leadership battle in the Labour party; a possible general election; and a Scottish Government seeking ways to keep its majority ‘Remain’ voting population in the EU. 

There is talk of parliament ignoring the result, or even having a second referendum. We have an EU hierarchy which wants to accelerate exit and settle the markets, but no sense of urgency, let alone strategic ownership, by those who led the Leave campaign.

Sterling significantly down

It is too early to assess what Brexit UK will look like, or even if it will be a united kingdom. What can be stated with confidence is that financial markets abhor political uncertainty and that they react rapidly and dispassionately, with a certainty not being shown by our political leaders.  

The pound sterling is down significantly in value:

Brexit pound-dollar graph
Graph of US$ to £ before and immediately after Brexit vote

This means imports will costs more, which in turn will mean that supermarkets will soon be putting up the price of imported foodstuffs. This in turn will likely mean that inflation increases. And to top it all, it also looks likely that the UK will go back into recession. This was all predicted before Brexit, by the ‘experts’ that the Leave campaign were so happy to ridicule.

For working nurses, this looks like an increased financial challenge. Cost of living will go up with no likelihood of a significant pay rise given continued tight fiscal control in the public sector. And what next? Setting aside the bigger political questions, much will depend on the model of engagement that is agreed between the UK and EU. 

Norway model 

The so called ‘Norway model’ was cited by several leaders of the Leave campaign. Essentially, this means membership of the European Economic Area [EEA] which allows good terms of trade with the EU, combined with reduced influence over policy for a discounted membership ‘fee’. But it also requires a commitment to free movement – currently nurses from the EEA countries of Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are treated in the same way as those from EU countries when they apply to be registered in the UK. 

The simplicity of a ‘yes/no’ – ‘in/out’ referendum question belies the complex impact of its result. It has done nothing to settle internal strife in the Conservative party, which was its objective. It has already created a financial shock, and has exposed the lack of foresight of our political leaders. 

Still, it’s not all negative, and there are already some winners. The headline in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Brexit referendum: Australians to enjoy cheaper British holidays’. 

 

James Buchan
Picture: Mike Wilkinson

James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh 

 

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