Dear Partners in thought,
I recommend you reading the very good FT pieces last friday from Martin Wolf (“A long extension offers a chance to think again on Brexit”) and Philip Stephens (“Farewell EU and the United Kingdom”).
As we are going through a deluge of statements regarding Brexit, I did not want to add the usual Interlude to the saga we know. Instead I wanted to share with you something I wrote today “from the heart and from the mind” to one of my dearest friends and great thinker and professional who chose to vote Leave nearly three years ago, driven by a need to restore British sovereignty. I think that it captures the whole reasons why I would have chosen to remain (a term by the way that did not help the cause as action is much preferred than inaction especially if people have a grudge or suffer from something…).
Were I British (and as a “European”) I would first look at the costs of Brexit which are real and may last, to an extent which would depend on the type of Brexit. I think it is economic self harm that was not needed (the USD equivalent 800m loss a week, including about half for public services and the 2.5 percentage point decline in GDP since June 2016 are coming from Goldman Sachs and other institutions that would rather state better news). There is a lot of truth in the slogan “we did not vote to be poorer”. It means jobs and investments which the UK got aplenty before as it was also to many a port of entry into the EU market which spoke the Latin of the day. I especially worry today about the services industry which is by far way bigger than the trade in goods for the UK.
I secondly look at the value of blocs in today’s world. I feel we are stronger “together” especially at a time when China is rising, America is erratic and Russia may be bellicose to sort out its own problems. And I wonder if a UK out of the EU is strategically and commercially viable compared with being part of the EU however the feeling of pride associated with sovereignty and independence (and indeed the Victorian times for some; on that I rather remember “the sick man of Europe” of the 70s). On sovereignty I never felt France was in chains or that Britain was as part of the EU even if the calibration of eggs may have been a thorn to some. I sadly feel like your last Ambassador to the EU in that what Britain will get by being out of the EU, its biggest market by far, is “notional sovereignty” while it will have to deal with all sorts of trade laws and regulations that it will no longer shape as part of the EU in what was always a great British skill (personally I like the UK in the EU as it brings a needed free market influence that often won the day). It is also overwhelming the number of trade treaties the UK would have to renegotiate, not to mention developing a relation at all levels with the EU where we saw the reality of asymmetric power.
Finally I think the most terrible thing about this whole debate is that people tend to forget what they take for granted, that is the good things that the EU brought not only in terms of a peaceful Europe and the Erasmus programme but simply in terms of real economic benefits to member states and indeed particularly the large ones like the UK. I agree that the bureaucrats in Brussels are not always great and that everything can be reformed at so many levels but that is the beauty of the EU experiment – It is a work in progress that keeps adjusting to the vagaries of the world. I also think that the EU brought us many nice things at the personal level we forget at times, something only possible thanks to the EU set up. We of all people live happily in Prague through these benefits.
As an aside, one should recognise the impressively cohesive behaviour of the EU as a bloc in the negotiations (something that was never a given) and its genuine drive to find ways that would work for both parties (exemplified by Barnier) even if there were times when the bloc needed to be firm, for existential reasons (one can’t pick and choose club rules) but also especially as Britain was not fully understanding (its MPs but also May and the Cabinet) that the subject at hand was not only a British one.
I have felt like going through a divorce of sorts and really would like that a second referendum takes place, hoping that the UK finally stays but more so that it gives some solace to all as the people would have finally and conclusively decided.