The day after the UK voted to leave the European Union I posted my opinion to the effect that many people would die as a direct result. I have not changed my mind. In fact, after the events of this week, I’m more certain than ever.
On Sunday, Theresa May declared a so-called ‘hard’ or ‘clean’ Brexit. In March 2017 she will trigger Article 50 setting the formal divorce in motion; she insists that the UK will take control of its own borders. That is, once the two-year divorce negotiations are concluded there will be no free movement of people. Many in the EU have already made it clear that free movement of people across borders is a condition of membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)—the single market.
EU Commissioner Juncker suggested that the EU should respond with intransigence. This sentiment was echoed by François Hollande and Angela Merkel. The Europeans will play hardball. Unless the UK allows free movement of people they will not be admitted to the EEA; they will not be part of the single market. Many tariffs and trade barriers will be reintroduced. This will have severe consequences.
Let’s begin with the cessation of passporting. Passporting, the ability to sell services across borders into markets where a company—a bank, say—has no branch, is a major factor in London’s status as a (perhaps the) centre of the global finance market. According to the Wall Street Journal, without passporting banks and other businesses face “extreme disruption.” Britain is the fifth largest national economy in the world as measured by GDP. It’s the fastest growing of the G7 countries and has been for 4 years in a row. Given that about 12% of that economy (not to mention 2.2 million jobs) is based on financial services, loss of passporting will have major consequences. It’s very likely that many global banks will decamp from London and set up shop in Amsterdam (where passporting will continue). A few might operate from Dublin (ditto) but Dublin, while a lovely city, does not have the energetic hum that attracts high-fliers.
Unemployment will rise. Tax receipts will fall. The government will have more people to help with less money. Add the imposition of a whole slew of trade tariffs for goods as well as services, and you start to see the beginnings of a problem whose proportions might eventually reach crisis.
Markets last week began to notice. On Friday the British Pound fell off a cliff, plunging to 1.18 USD before recovering—a bit—to 1.24 USD (ETA: As of 07/26/18 1.3 USD). For a sense of what that means, since the paperback of Hild came out in the UK before Brexit my royalties have dropped 25%. I’m lucky, I get relatively little of my income from the UK. I am not going to suffer that much. The people who are going to suffer deeply are a) immigrants b) UK residents and/or citizens, especially the poor.
Let’s look at residents and/or citizens of the UK first. Take food as one example. According to a report in the Guardian earlier this year, the UK sources more than 50% of its food from abroad. Quartz suggests 27% of all food consumed in the UK comes from the EU. So the first piece of the picture is to immediately crank up the price of more than one quarter of the island’s food because of various tariffs. Then add in the fact that the pound is worth considerably less than it was and so will buy less for the same price. This means that now more than 50 percent of food will cost more, and probably a lot more. Don’t forget many people have also lost their jobs and that the government’s income from tax revenue is down as a result.
Now consider that the UK sends 70% of its food products to EU—or did. To some degree UK food will be more attractive to buyers in Europe because the exchange rate will reduce the price, but that price will be more than offset by the additional tariffs. No problem, right? “We just stop selling our stuff and go self-sufficient.” Well, no. The UK’s biggest foodstuffs export category? Beverages. Biggest imports? Fruit & veg, followed by meat. I love beer, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one who would choose dinner over a pint.
When food becomes scarce and expensive, who suffers most? The poor. Given that many in the UK are already using food banks (food bank use is at a record high) think how many will go without in the future. Let me spell it out for you: there will be fewer jobs paying less money; that money will buy less food; fewer people will be able to donate to food banks; so while demand on food banks will accelerate the resources available will plummet. Some schools are already reporting that 1 in 5 children are going hungry. At a guess (it’s just a guess) this will more than double. Imagine: 40% of all children in the UK hungry. Perhaps you should re-read Dickens to refresh your memory of what that looks like. While you’re at it, ponder the passages about stench and pollution because without the need to stick to the EU’s many environmental regulations companies will ignore inconvenient and costly measures to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil in which we grow what food we can.
Child hunger leads to malnutrition. Malnutrition has long-term consequences. The effects will be with us for many years. Probably longer than the Second World War—when the government could enforce food rationing and mandate the ploughing of private land into fields.
So Brexiteers, are you happy yet? Will you be happy when your pretty garden has been dug up, when you can’t get your nice wine or chocolate anymore, when while there’s lots of good old British beer (except, oops, not so many hops to go around because that land use has been turned over to vegetables, rubbish vegetables at that because, hey, this isn’t Greece or Italy or the south of France, the climate is much less friendly and imported fertiliser is very pricey) you can’t get an orange. Oh, and you’ll have to do the hoeing and harvesting and equipment maintenance yourself because all those handy low-paid immigrants will have vanished. (There again, you could rent a few starveling urchins to grub about on the cold stony soil. But replacing them all the time because of their annoying tendency to die off might get a little tedious.) Also, if you happen to get your foot crushed by the tractor (y’know, if you can afford the petrol to run a combustion engine) you won’t be able to get medical attention because a huge percentage of NHS doctors and nurses have gone back to where they came from. I certainly would, if I had to deal with MEPs who dressed like brownshirts, or Blood and Honour fascists stomping around in my town . But, hey, it’s probably okay. After all, you’ve got your sovereignty back. Famine and fascism are just details, right? Besides, given the crisis you’ll turn to law and order candidates, someone who will promise swift justice to miscreants, just as a temporary expedient of course, a strongman (because women can be strongmen too) who promised to close the borders and keep those nasty, resource-sucking immigrants out.
According to the latest figures (2015) from United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), last year 65.3 million people, the highest number on record, were forced from their homes. There are, for example, 2.5M refugees in Turkey, most of whom want to go to Europe and live a life free of terror, bombs, and the other horrors of war. Many of them want to go to Germany or the UK. Angela Merkel has consistently championed the acceptance of those in need but more and more countries (like Hungary) are turning their backs. Theresa May, promising a ‘clean Brexit’ has just joined their reactionary group. She is a stongman-in-training; she is going to pander to the fearful, xenophobic, and wrong-headed Brexiteers and essentially close Britain’s borders.
This is heart-breaking, inhumane, and fatal for tens of millions of people who desperately need help. Many of them now will die. Some are already being ‘repatriated’ to their country of origin where nothing good awaits them. There are times, frankly, when I hate the kind of world that will permit this. In my opinion human displacement will only grow. I believe it’s a direct result of the chaos provoked by climate change. I believe there’s no stopping it; to try is as futile as trying to hold back the tide. We should accept the change, accept the people, and help our fellow human beings.
But that’s not how others see it. What’s happening now is a general rise in anti-immigrant sentiment which is really a rise in Us v Them antagonism. For someone who has been Othered her whole life (a queer, crippled, immigrant woman) this is disturbing.
It’s disturbing not just for me—as I said earlier in this post, I’m luckier than most—but for those UK citizens who are second- or third-generation immigrants from, say, India or Pakistan who are being verbally abused and physically attacked by the bigots who have been unleashed by Brexit. It’s disturbing for universities whose multi-national and collaborative EU research grants are now at stake. It’s disturbing for companies and government agencies who can no longer hire experts who are not UK citizens. It’s disturbing and unsettling for everyone—even those who aren’t disturbed yet, because they will be.
Let’s look at the polities. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland share a border which, after the Good Friday Agreement (that finally ended 30 years of sectarian violence), is currently an informal affair. European citizens from the UK (Northern Ireland) and Ireland (Republic of Ireland) can move freely between the countries. As a result, the peace accords have become a living thing. But a hard border—the cessation of free movement of EU citizens between countries—will imperil the agreement. Once again, Ireland will probably be a place of strife and suspicion. (On the other hand, weapons will be scarcer: AK47s will cost more; Heckler & Koch will cost a lot more, as will Semtex.)
Scotland wants to remain in the EU; its citizens voted heavily in favour of Remaining. It will seriously consider leaving the union in order to do so; Wales may follow. So five years from now instead of a peaceful United Kingdom with a purring economic engine powering the fifth highest GDP in the world there will be a squabbling set of little countries separated by hard borders and seething with resentment, violence, and economic inequality.
It’s not only the UK that will break; I believe it’s entirely possible that the EU will gradually fray and dissolve. The GDP of the European Union is the second largest in the world; if that machine falters the impact will be widespread. Given that trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also looking very dicey I think we’re in for hard times.
Some of these hard times will be a direct consequence of all the dog-whistling that right-wing politicians have indulged in over the years that, with the campaign to leave the EU, have now flared into open hostility. Some of them stem from the global changes that provoked the sentiments behind the vote. Chicken or the egg; it doesn’t matter what’s cause and what’s effect. The end result for me is that I am no longer thinking of moving back to the UK. I am no longer considering Europe. I’ll stay in North America. If Trump is elected (still unlikely, but still possible) then I’ll start thinking about Canada. If they’ll have me…
 Admittedly inflation at this point could (maybe) rise, which would go a long way to wiping out the national debt. But inflation is just one among a host of factors. And inflation has not followed expected paths in the last few years, so really no one knows.
 I will vote for Clinton but her decision to condemn the TPP was not smart. Politically I understand why she thought she had to, but it was a foolish move. And, oh yes, I have things to say about Trump but that’s for another post.
 ETA 7/26/2018: Look what happens when so many people stick their heads in the sand. Even I couldn’t quite believe that so many people would be food enough to elect Trump.