Saturday, 2 July 2016

Brexit - A Messy Divorce

I'm sure many of you are aware, unless of course you are either living under a rock, or completely disconnected from the world media, that the people of the United Kingdom have recently voted 52/48 to leave the European Union. What that means in the long run is yet to be seen, however as a result of this surprise result (which, once again, the polls got completely wrong - they predicted a remain victory - and it seems to demonstrate how unreliable opinion polls are, especially in Britain, where a large Tory victory in the general election wasn't predicted either), the English Pound has taken a battering, and the stock markets have experienced a spate of volatility (though it seems to have stabilised, at least for the time being - we are still only a week out from the vote itself).

One of the reasons that I am writing this post is because the title image that I am using was on my friend's Facebook page, which was actually put up in response to Jo Cox's murder (and his profile pic had been around for quite a while), and on Friday afternoon, Australian time, when the results of the referendum had been announced, he posted in a status update - my profile picture, and my cover photo, seem to be appropriate at this time. Not only that, but a section of English society have now seen fit to run around demanding that immigrants pack up and go home - almost as if the referendum had nothing to do with the EU, and that a vote for leave was a vote to force immigrants to leave the United Kingdom. More so, when we consider that 48% of the population that voted (which considering that there was a 72% turn out which means that 35% of the population voted to remain in the EU and 38% voted to leave), to me the result was actually pretty close - if 65% or more voted to leave then that, to me, would give the leave party to lot more clout.

Anyway, here is another picture, that was taken at the Channel Tunnel, moments after the result was announced:

The surprise result of the Brexit vote have led people to suggest that we should unplug 2016, let it settle for a couple of minutes, and then reboot it, hopefully setting things back on track. Mind you, I was going to say that it hasn't got that bad yet, namely because we still haven't hit the US elections, but the with prospect of a Trump victory (and a lot of commentators, despite not particularly liking the guy, see him as being the most likely victor because, well - Hillary) I guess people want to have a hard reboot before that happens, and hopefully set things back on course.

A Stupid Gamble

It has been suggested that the whole Brexit vote was a massive gamble by David Cameron to put paid to  Brexiters (such as Boris Johnson) in his own party, and extremists such as Nigel Farange (who nobody seems to particularly like), and with the debate over pulling the UK out of the EU laid to rest he can continue with the job of governing the country (in the ways that the Tories know best - cutting back on pretty much anything and everything). However it is a gamble that back-fired monumentally, even if it it was by such a small margin. What it means is that he has been forced to resign as Prime Minister, pretty much leaving England, and the United Kingdom as a whole, in a political void.

Mind you, the whole idea of deciding something on a 50/50 vote, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. The fact that the Brexiters won on 52% isn't actually an overwhelming majority, and the fact that quite a number of them now regret voting to leave, goes to show how stupid this gamble was. In Australia, to get a referenda passed is an incredibly complex process, and not only requires the bill to be approved by at least one house of parliament (usually the lower house as the referenda needs to be put to the Governor General by the Prime Minister), but must also not only be approved by a majority of the nation, but also a majority of the states. This makes changing the constitution something that only happens in the most extreme circumstances (and one of the successful referenda was the acknowledgement that the Australian Aboriginals were people and should have the right to vote). As such, with such an important decision, leaving it to only 50% of the people was actually quite dangerous - particularly since this is the crowd that voted overwhelmingly to name as scientific research vessel Boaty McBoatface.

Personally, what they should have done is raised the cut off higher, considering the stakes that were involved, either by setting the margin at 60%, or doing something similar to Australia, where a referendum succeeds where the entire country votes in favour (over 50%) and a majority of the states each vote in favour (over 50%). When we consider that Scotland, London, and Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining, while most of regional England voted to leave, it does go to demonstrate that there is a huge disparity between the regions. Further, the young (those who turned out to vote that is - young people are notorious for not caring about elections, and where voting is optional, prefer to stay home and play World of Warcraft) voted in favour of remaining, which suggested there is a huge disparity between the older generation, who are yearning for the 'good old days', and the younger generation, who see greater opportunity in remaining with Europe.

What has the EU ever Done for Us

Since I am Australian and not European (though I am of European descent) I can't speak from my own experience. However, the Guardian (a newspaper that supported the remain camp) did produce a rather interesting sketch (starring Patrick Stewart) to help us understand:

If that sketch seemed a little familiar, maybe it was. Here is a similar sketch, this time as a mash-up with the Monty Python original:

Immigration Question

In the end the referendum seemed to boil down to two questions: an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels dictating how England should behave, and immigration. Now, a Brussels bureaucracy probably won't affect the lives of ordinary working people, but the perception is that immigration does. The biggest problem with immigration, as some people perceive, and as the right wing media seems to push, is that when immigrants come here they take jobs and bludge off welfare, which has lead to memes such as this one:

Mind you, this is actually twisting the statement a bit because I doubt anybody who makes the claim is suggesting that they do it both at the same time. Mind you Peter Dutton, a conservative politician in Australia, made such a comment, and was immediately met with howls of ridicule across the internet. Fortunately for him, elections aren't won or lost over the internet, however this is likely to change a lot in the future.

However, ignoring the 'bludging off welfare' for a minute (though we need to remember, at least in Australia, when refugees are allowed into the country they become entitled to welfare) and consider the jobs aspect. The thing with the EU is that it allows free flow of people, or at least a free flow of anybody who holds EU citizenship. This means than whenever a new country is admitted to the EU then a flood of cheap labour also becomes available. The other thing about holding EU citizenship is that you are entitled to work in any EU country. 

So, let us consider this: when a country has a tight immigration policy, and a small pool of people which can be employed, this pushes up wages for even the most menial jobs. However, once the doors are open, and the immigrants enter, even if they are illiterate, and innumerate, they can still work at jobs (such as cleaning, or in manufacturing, or even driving a truck) where numeracy and literacy is not required. As such, when the labour pool expands this pushes down wages. Mind you, immigrants, especially from poor countries, tend to be happy to take a job, any job, for less money, particularly when it turns out to be more money that they would have been able to earn back home. This means that the 'native' population loses out, particularly when they are used to getting paid higher wages.

However, in response to these accusations against immigrants, there is always this meme (pardon the language):

The truth is that we are job snobs - we don't simply take whatever jobs are available, at whatever wages are available - we want good jobs with high wages - an immigrant from a poor background is going to be happy with what ever opportunities are available.

Mind you, this doesn't take into account global free trade treaties. With the reduction of tariffs, that the fact that it is cheaper to make things overseas (as well as the rise of the internet), low skilled jobs, even jobs which require one to be at least semi-literate, can be moved overseas. This means that it doesn't matter whether immigration is allowed or not, if it is cheaper to build cars overseas than at home, then the company is going to build cars overseas. The same goes with call centres - despite the fact that to work in a call centre one need to be proficient in the English language, the fact that places like the Philippines and India speak English, and offer low wages, means that call centres can be sent over there. Which basically leaves us with with jobs that involve either cleaning, or customer service (or fixing roads) - both of which don't pay all that well.

Descent into Chaos

I'm glad I left this for a week before commenting on it because it does allow some of the smoke to clear, however it is clear that while it has caused chaos in Britain, though not to the extent that civilisation has collapsed (though in some cases it appears that it has). For instance, the hard-right anti-immigrants are running around believing that now that they had won the vote they can basically get rid of all the immigrants. In fact there has even been an incident of a halal butcher being firebombed. I guess this photo that has been doing the rounds on the internet sums up the attitude of this particular group:

While the stockmarket has rebounded from it's initial losses, the pound still sits at record lows, and there is talk of companies, such as JP Morgan, moving their offices out of England. Not only that, numerous treaties will need to be renegotiated, and there is likely to be another general election.

Which brings me to another point - the major parties are in a state of disarray. David Cameron announced his retirement due to losing the vote, and it was assumed that Boris Johnson would be his successor (which was the plan all along). However, he has since made the announcement that he is not throwing his hat into the proverbial ring (which sounds like a little boy who makes a big mess, and then walks away letting everybody else clean it up - then again he probably doesn't want to go down as the Prime Minister who destroyed England, but then again David Cameron is going to be a hard act to follow).

All is not well in the Labour Party either, but then there is a struggle between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), which are comprised of a group known as the Blairites, and the membership, who support the current leader Jeremy Corbyn (the Corbynites). The problem Labour has is that the media hates Jeremy Corbyn and looks for any way of undermining him - however the members love him due to him taking the party in a different direction. Mind you, he has already lost a vote of no-confidence, however it is believed that if a leadership challenge were to come about then he would win comfortably, as it is not the PLP that decides the who the leader is, but the members.

We are also seeing the Scots preparing for another independence referendum as they wish to remain a part of the EU, and there is also a dark cloud hanging over Northern Ireland, particularly since they also voted to remain (but don't have the luxury of being able to run a referendum in the way Scotland can, so there is a general fear that there will be a return to the time of troubles).

Will Britian Exit

This is yet to be seen, however since Cameron seems to be dragging his feet with both stepping down, and invoking article 50, there is a suggestion that he doesn't particularly want to do so, especially since the remain camp are still campaigning to remain in the EU (and a number who voted leave now regret actually voting that way). Personally, I'm not going to make any hard and fast predictions, though the EU seems to want the UK to get this done with sooner rather than later. However, if there is going to be another general election (and this is a possibility), then it is likely that the winner will end up determining the way forward. However the one thing I doubt will happen is a second referendum - unfortunately democracy doesn't work like that.

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Brexit - A Messy Divorce by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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