On Thursday 23rd June 2016, the United Kingdom went to referendum on our membership within the European Union (EU). The campaign for both sides, remain and leave, was fraught with scare tactics, playing on uncertainty and appealing to the base fears of the public with either the economy or immigration. Leading up to the referendum the result was seemingly very close, but many polls gave favour to the remain campaign by a slim margin.
The poll card issued on the 23rd June
The result, as we all know now, was very different. At the start of the night, the leave campaign were conceding defeat, with Nigel Farage contemplating a loss. Many went to sleep thinking that the country’s future was safe. Yet they woke up to a pound in freefall and the markets shaken by news that Brexit, with a slim 52% majority, had won.
Surely this is must be a victory for democracy, and for the British population. Yet this turmoil has sown doubts that this outcome might not have been the wisest decision for the future of the UK. Let’s have a look at some of the signs why this could be the case.
Firstly, the pound. Since the result the Great British Pound has lost significant ground against other currencies. Prior to Thursday, the pound was holding strong against the dollar at $1.48 but while the results were being reported it dropped down to $1.32 before stabilising at $1.37 following the final result. But it hasn't bounced back to pre-vote levels. In the days that have followed, the pound has continued to flounder in the currency market, dropping today back to $1.32. Some people have commented however that the pound has held its ground against the euro since the referendum. Why? Because the strength of the euro is tied to the strength of the Union it serves, regardless of whether all 28 member states are using it. The threat of the Union dismantling will spark fears in the stability of the euro and so the euro would also fall with the pound. Especially given that a Brexit result has sparked discussions in other Union states of the possibility for further referendums on the mainland.
A leave vote won the referendum, leading to the beginnings of an official Brexit
Secondly, the markets. After the result, the FTSE100 and FTSE250 entered a similar level of freefall to that of the pound, losing a total of 8% immediately at the start of Friday's trading. Similar to the euro issue above, this will have been sparked by fear in investors into the country's future. Lack of confidence was compounded by the resignation of our prime minister without an immediate successor. Stepping down at the Conservative party conference, David Cameron's resignation leaves the country leaderless going forward with a Brexit vote.
These two factors are economical and were used by the remain campaign as reasons to continue our EU membership. Many leave supporters used these figures to show that a Brexit vote had not been as damaging as the remain campaign suggested. Why? Because the FTSE closed a reported 2.4% higher than it did on the previous Friday. The pound gained ground on what it had lost earlier in the day. This, they claim, is proof that a Brexit vote is not as serious as it was made out to be. But this would be expected given the continued news of the day. Despite the vote, the USA confirmed the special relationship between the UK and the USA would stand, and the Bank of England confirmed it could shore up the pound and the markets if required.
So the USA's support, along with reassurances from the Bank of England saved the markets right? Well yes, and no. The markets respond to changes in the stability of the surrounding infrastructure and if there are few changes, the market will remain stable. So how many changes were there on Thursday, that the market could respond to that might impact the market? Well, the answer is none. At least, in the context of this post, that answer is none. All that happened, is the UK public voted that they wished to leave the EU. But the vote alone is not legally binding enough to pull the UK out of the EU and so, the UK has not currently changed its EU membership status. So is it really safe to use a rebounded market as proof that Brexit is as safe a move as remaining? I'll leave you to decide that.
Since the result on Friday morning, the people of the UK have been fairly evenly split between those that wished to remain in the EU and those that wished to leave. The problem is, the ballot was anonymous. Unless people choose to reveal which way they voted, we have no way of knowing for sure which they supported. This has been a catalyst for further dividing people when they cannot know for sure which way their neighbour voted. Suddenly, teams which worked well together have become uncertain of the mind-set of their fellows virtually overnight. This division of the populace is dangerous and the easy ability to argue on social media has done little more than widen these divides, often among friends that suddenly have very differing views.
It is this division of the populace which needs addressing most. In the days following a successful Brexit vote, many leave voters have expressed dismay at the result they themselves aimed to bring about. Some have expressed the belief that they didn't feel their vote would impact the grand scheme of things. So why did people vote to leave the EU?
As mentioned at the start, the campaigns for both remaining and leaving the EU were fraught with scaremongering by both sides. The result is that people (on both sides) may not have fully understood the issue on which they were being asked to decide on. For some, the issue of immigration played a heavy part in their decision to leave the EU. In some communities there is a feeling that everything that once made the community great has gone with an influx of migration from EU countries as a result of the open-border policy. The other issue with the EU is the governance and ruling that comes from Brussels. Many object to having British laws made by officials in the EU that have no relation to the UK (i.e. MEPs from other member states). However, that is not to say that all laws from Brussels are bad things. Many have provided us benefits in protected rights for the workforce and regulations that protect consumers.
Finally, for some a leave vote was done in protest against a government they have little to no faith in. A protest against a government that does not listen to them, that does not represent their views. And so, in act of defiance against them, they voted to leave in hope of rattling a few cages. Well, they've certainly done that.
As we move forward, it is these protest votes that are among the most concerning. No doubt those that used their vote as protest did not necessarily believe their vote would overly impact the result (given the feeling in the run-up that remain would win). In the end, 52% of UK voters, some in protest, gave their voice towards our exit from the EU. And some of those have, as previously mentioned, begun to regret that decision.
So what caused the silent majority to rise up on Thursday and opt to take us out of the EU? In simple terms, it is because no one listened to them. They are silent not necessarily out of choice, but out of desire to not be labelled as a xenophobe or otherwise be made to defend their choice. And blame for this falls on the remain campaign and remain voters. When confronted with someone who wished to vote to leave the EU (for whatever reason), they branded them as racist, or xenophobic. They were branded as being backwards thinkers, of harking to the days of an empire that no longer exist. They were accused of not looking forward. The result? No one spoke up. No one admitted what was really on their mind. The result? A silent majority that feels the only way to be heard was the force the issue to the forefront of the agenda.
Now that this has been done, the issues moving forward need to be addressed. We need to reconnect with each other, we need to talk with each other without fear of being branded for it. We need to think forward in order to move forward but to achieve that we must connect with each other. We need to talk to each other, to understand each other and be able to collaborate with each other.
To achieve this unity, the young need to understand that the older generations feel as if they are not being listened to. The older generations need to understand that the young feel they have been robbed of opportunities. The fighting between old and young is widening the division of the people and it isn't doing anything to help bring our country together to make it stronger, as members of the EU or not.
We also need to stop anchoring ourselves to the past. Which is a far easier thing to say than do. A lot of people suggest we fought in World War 2 for Britain's independence from Europe. This was fundamentally not the case. We fought to protect the freedoms of Europe, ourselves included, from tyranny and oppression. And in doing so, they paved the way for the integrated Europe we know today. Since the war, technology has enabled us as a species to become more connected. No longer do we need to wait days to find out what is happening in the East for we can keep up to date on social media. These are fundamentally good things. They allow us as a species to connect and move forward collectively as we move forward in the 21st century.
Campaigners to remain in the EU after the result
For some, the vote to leave the EU is seen as the chance to take back the country, to take back control of this little piece of land on our tiny planet. To keep out those we don't desire to mix with. And while it is true, that there are some out there that would wish us harm, there are plenty out there who don't.
The EU brought about an open-border policy that allowed free movement across the EU member states. This allowed free movement into the UK but also allowed for free movement out of it. It allowed for visa-free travel to other pockets of land on the planet we all must share. Now however, we have begun to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We have begun to lock ourselves down on our little island in the middle of the ocean. We have done poorly as citizens of Earth.
To move forward then we must re-engage with each other. Those that voted remain do not have to support the decision that has been made but as grown-ups, and as citizens of Earth we must respect the decision. And in doing so, we may hope to gain understanding for why the decision was made by the other 52%. Similarly, the 52% must try to understand why the 48% feel the way they do.
We must open the channels of communication, we must bridge the generations, we must join together to move our country forward. We must do these things for a secure future with the UK at the forefront, moving us forward as a species where we may one day have unity on our planet. We are, after all, the only species that currently requires a piece of folded paper to visit other members of our own species in other bits of land on our planet. If we are to move away from this, as the EU has begun to with its open-border policy, we need to work together. And we can only work together if we are talking to each other as equals, and not pushing petty values upon ourselves.
Do not act solely for the love of our country, though admirable, it will hold us back as a collective. Act for the love of our planet, and for our species as a whole. Talk. Engage. Let's move forward as one into the future and forge a stronger, more connected future than one that drives us today.