Brexit ‘the end of the world’ regardless of outcome?

Shane Hickey examines what might yet emerge in a post-referendum Britain

So what would a post-Brexit Britain look like? Will a vote to remain settle the UK’s euroscepticism problem once and for all? The answer is, of course, that no one knows.  Photographs: AFP Photo

So what would a post-Brexit Britain look like? Will a vote to remain settle the UK’s euroscepticism problem once and for all? The answer is, of course, that no one knows. Photographs: AFP Photo

 

Amid the exasperating litany of lies, half-truths, estimations, projections, guesstimates and forecasts that have come from both sides about what a post-referendum Britain will look like, broadcaster and former Conservative MP Giles Brandreth perhaps summed it up best.

“Nobody knows which way it is going to go and nobody knows which way it should go. All we do know is that it will be the end of the world.

“If we vote exit, apparently, everything will collapse. Already Barbara Windsor has committed suicide on EastEnders in anticipation of Brexit.

“Houses will be worthless; there will be a third world war - it’s going to be appalling.

“But of course, if we stay in, we will be overwhelmed by 200 million people a week arriving on our shores, most of them apparently from Turkey but not delightful.”

So what would a post-Brexit Britain look like? Will a vote to remain settle the UK’s euroscepticism problem once and for all? The answer is, of course, that no one knows.

Surely there is some realistic idea?

The treasury select committee of parliament has produced one of the more succinct reports which manages to quell the bluster from both sides in the search for facts. Although soberly entitled The Economic and Financial Costs and Benefits of the UK’s EU Membership, the report gives a colourful and straight take on what could happen post June 23.

OK, so if Britain votes to leave, what happens straight away?

It won’t be a case of “June 23, they’re in; June 24, they’re out”. However, there will almost inevitably be turmoil on the markets, especially on the value of sterling (HSBC economists envisage the drop in value could be 20 per cent).

Even chief Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s former adviser said it would be an economic shock which depresses economic activity in the short term. That economic uncertainty could remain for as long as it takes to decide what the UK’s relationship with the EU would be.

What exactly the British government’s plans are in the case that there is a Brexit are not clear, as they have not been spelled out for fear of helping the opposition.

Under the rules, the departure of a state from the EU is covered by Article 50. This lays down a two-year negotiation to sort out the terms of parting.

Crucially, however, the clock does not start running immediately, and it is up to the British to decide when to start it if they do vote to Leave, so, in reality, a final departure could take far significantly more than two years to unfold.

Just as well, because every minute would be needed to sort out the chaos created by such a vote.

And if there is a vote to remain, does that mean the British people are happy to be part of Europe?

Far from it, looking at the polls. Since the beginning of this lengthy lead-up to the referendum, both Leave and Remain have jostled at about equal shares - although Leave appears to have sprinted ahead in the last few weeks.

The main issue is immigration and the perception of EU workers moving to the UK for work without restriction.

Even with a vote to Remain, this complaint is unlikely to dissipate. In the committee’s report, it is pointed out that the new compulsory national living wage - introduced this year at £7.20 (€9.06) per hour - may increase the attractiveness of Britain to migrant workers.

Leave campaigners constantly cite this figure as being many multiples of the average wage in some eastern European countries, conveniently omitting that the cost of living in London, for example, is also many multiples of its equivalent in Bucharest or similar cities.

Dare we ask - what happens long-term if there is a vote to leave?

First up is trade. As Britain would be out of the EU, it would have to agree a new relationship, which would require the consent of all of the member states’ governments. No easy task.

Back in the UK, there would likely be a push for there to be limits to migration from the rest of Europe. A consistent call from the Leave side is for there to be a quota-style system imposed, as to what workers are needed and when.

However, in its corner, the UK would be coming to the table as the largest single trading partner for goods, ahead even of the US.

That said, “the goodwill of other EU members could not necessarily be relied upon”, the report succinctly puts it.

Moreover, the Leave side has not detailed what Britain’s relationship to the single market would be. What is clear is that trade with the EU will drop.

The question is whether this drop can be counter-balanced by what Britain gets with a Brexit - independent trade, more liberal regulations and a changed approach to migration.

Where is the rest of the world when all this is happening?

Will the UK be able to negotiate trade deals with other countries while simultaneously doing them with the EU?

Will Britain have the same access to foreign markets as it has as a member of the EU?

Any answers are speculation.

But the US and China have said that an EU trade deal is of greater importance than one with just the UK. Then again, it could actually be easier for them to deal with a single country rather than a bloc.

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