Why the doom and gloom over Brexit?
© Getty Images

I received a text early on Friday from a friend in London who was “shattered” and “deeply worried” by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.  He described the referendum result – which the Leave campaign won by 51.9% to Remain’s 48.1% - as a “a victory for the haters, the selfish and the racists.” Without doubt, the sense of extreme disappointment and embarrassment, particularly among young people in Britain’s cities, is palpable.

It was certainly a shock. But Britain’s unhappy marriage to the European Union was no secret, so should the impending divorce be such a surprise?

ADVERTISEMENT

Undoubtedly, the issue of how to control immigration accounted for a sizeable part of the Leave campaign’s support.  It became impossible for campaigners to raise the subject without being accused of racism and so very few politicians from established political parties even tried, leaving a grateful media to focus disproportionate attention on the nationalistic mutterings of a vociferous minority. Like it or not, controlling immigration is an issue of great importance to the working and lower middle classes residing in the rest of England and Wales whose economic situation is quite different to voters in London; ignore it and you will be punished at the polling booths.

But immigration only tells half the story; the Leave campaign was popular for other reasons too. 

The referendum offered an opportunity to give a black eye to the political establishments in Westminster and Brussels. Only London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain: London is the establishment, and Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own agendas. Calls by Westminster and Scottish MPs (who seem to forget that they lost their Independence Referendum in 2014) to ignore the result or hold a 2nd plebiscite only reinforce the feeling held by much of the electorate that they are not listened to.

Judging by my experience as a lobbyist in the UK for many years, it seems that many people in Britain want a European economic union, but very few want a European political union, which is what the EU is unashamedly striving to be. On Friday, a Brussels bureaucrat announced that Britain’s impending departure would put the European project for ever-closer political and social integration "on hold."  

And therein lies the problem. Ordinary British citizens want to do business freely with Europe, they want to go on vacation to Spain and Italy without a visa, and some of them want to work or study in France and Belgium. Perhaps they take for granted the many good things that have come out of the EU, such as the freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in the EU and robust consumer protections. But very few Brits are enthusiastic about unelected bureaucrats from culturally different countries deciding how we should live and work. And nor, I suspect, are most ordinary voters in France, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere. The Remain campaign failed to deal with the inherently undemocratic nature of the EU.

So is post-EU Britain doomed? Not necessarily so.

When the dust settles, perhaps some foreign investors will think twice about locating in the UK. Britain was a perfect place for non-Europeans to invest because its citizens speak a global language, it has a stable government, and it offered access to the whole EU market. No longer.

And yet London remains a city of huge global financial, commercial and cultural significance, where international companies and entrepreneurs will surely continue to do business. The UK will always be a significant trading partner to the EU, and it is in nobody’s interest for that to change. Other economies flourish outside of – but trading with - the EU, just as Britain survived and even prospered by not adopting the European currency.  

The decisions that taxed our political leaders’ brains before – how to control immigration, whether extraditing a suspected terrorist will infringe upon his human rights, what is the correct curvature of bananas – still need to be taken whether Britain is inside or outside the EU. Where we need to negotiate new trade agreements, we shall do so – and US Congress will need to play its part here. And London and Manchester and Edinburgh and a host of other fabulous British cities will continue to be as exhilarating and attractive to European talent as before. I have no doubt they will be allowed to stay.

The Leave campaign did not get my vote. And, sure, it is rather embarrassing.  But British people are a successful, intelligent and resilient folk. We remain intertwined with Europe, if not the European Union; we still trade with our former colonies; we survived American independence. I have a feeling we shall be just fine.

David Sowells is a British citizen living in Washington, D.C. He was a lobbyist in London for 15 years before moving with his family to the U.S. in 2010.  He is the Principal of Tricuro Communications.