The International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, Bank of England, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), 600 prominent economists, current and former Nato chiefs, CEOs of multi-national corporations who’ve warned about the economic and security pitfalls of Brexit are all barefaced liars, conspirators or know-nothings. That’s what my fellow Britons gearing up to vote for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) genuinely believe.
“They don’t have a clue,” one of my friends told me with conviction and when I reeled off the above list to another, his answer was, “Rubbish! I can’t stand that IMF woman”, with reference to the IMF chief, Christine Lagarde. A third launched into a diatribe concerning Polish supermarket employees who kept him waiting at the checkout. He’s adamant that he intends to vote Leave, while admitting when pressed that staying is the sensible option.
Yet, another characterised those in the Remain camp as representing the toffee-nosed middle classes waging a class war against ‘salt-of-the-earth’ working people. “Britain stood up to the Nazis and we’ll never be Europeans,” she added.
Not a single one produced a viable argument that wasn’t purely based on emotion, nostalgia for the good old days or prejudice and won’t be swayed by Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer’s warning that a massive £30 billion (Dh161.39 billion) “black hole” in the budget would elicit a series of emergency budgets, major tax hikes and spending cuts affecting healthcare and the police force.
And they are not one bit impressed with Prime Minister David Cameron’s suggestion that coming out would erode the UK’s security — mere scaremongering tactics argue the Leavers who, if they get their way, are certain both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be out of job. On this, they may be right, but political instability will be an additional burden on the currency and markets.
From my perspective, I worry that the D-Day scheduled for Thursday will witness Britain shooting itself in the foot. Yes, the country will survive, but at what cost? Potential job losses, the migration of multi-nationals to European capitals, the reduction in the value of the sterling, stifled economic growth and the possible imposition of EU trade tariffs making exports to a market consisting of over half a billion consumers uncompetitive.
Anyone who imagines the leaders of EU states will look favourably on Britain’s demands when the Union itself will take a beating, is dreaming. Revenge will be the name of the game unless the benefits to Europe are perceived as vastly outweighing the disadvantages.
United States President Barack Obama’s warning that the UK will bleed influence on the world stage with the implication that its usefulness to its transatlantic partner will diminish, was written off as gross interference in Britain’s affairs. For almost all Britons, this has become an unusually-hot button issue with sensitivities running high. There’s a lot riding on their shoulders; the opportunities available to their children and grandchildren for a start — and, notably, the majority of teens and those in their 20s with internationalist leanings are keen to stay in, especially those with ambitions to live and work abroad. This is one divorce from which there’s no return.
What this misguided referendum has produced is division and hatred. Politicians are openly disrespected, or were until the brutal murder of parliamentarian and Remain campaigner Jo Cox by a lunatic shouting “Britain First”. Her death has touched hearts and vigils have been held all over the country in recognition that she was a person who had time to listen to the concerns of her constituents and worked for humanity’s most vulnerable within and beyond her own country’s shores.
She was a shining star in a political class that’s taken to hurling invectives and using dirty tricks to get their points across. The Brexit group’s poster child, Britain’s Justice Secretary Michael Gove, scared voters with an untrue and racist message that staying will lead to an invasion of more than a million Turks with a propensity for criminal acts. This is not only offensive to the Turkish people, but false when five EU countries have objected to Turkey’s entry.
The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, Nigel Farage, uses similar tactics. He’s under fire for emblazoning a fleet of vans with a blatantly racist poster showing a Getty image of migrants and refugees queuing to enter with a white man photo-shopped out. “We must break free of the EU and take control of our borders,” it reads.
Firstly, the EU has raised the drawbridge on those poor souls and secondly, the UK opted out of Schengen. In reality, those who might have to pack their bags and go home are Europeans who do jobs Britons don’t want, have opened successful small businesses and pay taxes. Moreover, nobody can predict how up to 1.8 million British citizens living and working in Europe will fare.
Nevertheless, hope reigns. The tragic loss of Cox may have impacted the public mood and history tells us that polls often get it wrong. There are millions who’ve yet to decide and once inside the privacy of the polling booth, a percentage of Leavers may experience a last-minute attack of cold feet. With the great unknown looming, it’s always safer to stick with the familiar.
— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.