By Archie Berens, Special to Gulf News
Many people believe that Britain is currently the closest it has come to a civil war since 1649.
Some hope that October 31 will not be dissimilar to the Millennium Bug, and that come November 1 — like January 1, 2000 — things will carry on, and that good old British spirit will overcome disruption and we’ll find a way, whether or not a divorce settlement is agreed with the EU.
Others are running scared of the doom-mongers in the media, and genuinely believe there will be shortages of food and medicine, gridlocked motorways, power cuts and riots.
Do not be surprised when sensationalist sections of the media latch on to any such incidents, as portents of long-term chaos and instability. It’s easy to forget that while the people of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, it was only by a narrow majority. It was therefore inevitable that many of those on the wrong side of the result would seek to undermine it both in the media and in Parliament, and will continue to do so.
Multitude of issues
That has been only too apparent in the last three years and their cause has been aided by a number of factors: a counterparty that has made negotiating the terms of an exit as difficult as threading a rope through the eye of a needle; two changes of prime minister (including one who didn’t even want to leave the EU); factions within the Brexit camp itself; the entry of the courts and the sovereign into the political process, in contravention of fundamental British constitutional principles. And an ill-conceived and unnecessary election resulting in a parliamentary deadlock that makes consensus on all but the most obvious matters virtually impossible.
Now, however, as we enter the end-game and the reality sinks in that Britain has to leave the EU — and may well do so in less than a fortnight — it’s worth reminding ourselves of some basic incontrovertible facts. They should serve as a reminder that the British economy remains one of the largest in the world, and that its institutions, systems, laws and people make it highly conducive to doing business, investing capital and accumulating wealth.
Details that don’t fit
These tend to be conveniently overlooked by the doom-mongers and supporters of Britain’s continued membership of an entity that many believe is riven with bureaucracy, corruption, obstruction and over-regulation.
* Fact one: Britain is one of the oldest countries in the world and has managed worse crises and greater economic and geopolitical change than this.
* Fact two: Britain has the most flexible labour markets in Europe, as well as one of its most benign fiscal systems.
* Fact three: leaving the EU will free it from restrictions on subsidising key industries, the most obvious example being the Common Agriculture Policy, which can be replaced by a more targeted type of farm subsidy that rewards good environmental stewardship.
* Last but not least, fact four: Britain will look more outwardly at non-EU markets, including the United Arab Emirates. On the morning after the Brexit vote, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stated that Britain had been a friend before it entered the EU and would remain one after it had left.
The details of departure are being frantically finalised and the sands are shifting fast. The most recent noises emanating from the discussions, especially around Ireland, have sounded more positive than at any time since 2016.
But even if no deal can be reached and attempts at imposing an extension of the departure deadline fail, talk of “crashing out”, “disaster” and “chaos” are likely, in anything other than the short term, to prove exaggerated and misplaced.
To return to historic precedent: after the early setbacks of the plague and fire of London, the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War led to a period of great prosperity, enlightenment and cultural advancement.
Archie Berens is Managing Director at Hanover M.E.